Join Ian Robinson for an in-depth discussion in this video Exploring the interface of After Effects (CC 2014.1), part of After Effects CC Essential Training.
- In this video, we're going to take a big-picture look at the interface of After Effects, how it's divided up, and some of its key functions. Again, it's important to focus on the fact that this is going to be a general view. Since there are so many buttons and switches, it's important to understand how the interface works as a whole before we get bogged down with the intricacies of how each and every single button and switch functions. So the first time you launch After Effects, you should notice this welcome screen. Notice it's divided up into two halves.
The right half is pretty straightforward. You can see we can create a new composition, create a new project, go to Help and Support on the Adobe website and browse through different help topics, or browse a couple of videos for getting started. On the left side here, you have some options where you can actually sync the settings in After Effects with your Creative Cloud account, or set up a different Creative Cloud account, or better yet, open recent projects, so, for example, I have a recent After Effects file, 00_08_Exploring_Interface.
I don't necessarily want to open that, so I'm just going to go ahead and go down to the lower-left corner of the After Effects welcome screen here, and disable the welcome screen. I don't want this to pop up every single time we open After Effects. Let's go ahead and close the welcome screen just by clicking the Close button in the lower-right corner. Anytime you want to open a project, if it's already existing, all you have to do is go up under File and choose Open Project. So, I want you to navigate to your Desktop, and in there you'll see your exercise files, and go to the 00 chapter, and I want you to open the 00_08_Exploring_Interface After Effects project.
Want to go ahead and click Open, it's going to take a second to load, but once it loads, you'll see over here in the left-hand side, I have this panel called the Project panel. Now, I like to draw parallels to other applications as I'm explaining things, so the way I look at the Project panel is very similar to how Adobe Premiere Pro functions. You can have multiple sequences in a Premiere Pro project, and inside of After Effects, you can have multiple compositions. So I have one composition here called 3D Logo, and another one called Training Swoosh.
Go ahead and just click once on the Training Swoosh comp, and you'll notice in the top of the Project panel, you'll get a thumbnail, and it'll show you the resolution, the duration of the comp, as well as its frame rate. Now, just to make sure everybody's looking at the same thing, go ahead and just double-click on that Training Swoosh comp. You may have noticed down here in the Timeline, I have this blue highlight that popped up. See, if I click in my Project panel on the left side, notice now that's highlighted. When you click down here in the Timeline, notice that this is highlighted.
When I'm explaining the Timeline, I like to think of it more like the Layers panel inside of Adobe Photoshop. In Photoshop, on the left-hand side of the Layers panel, you'll see eyeballs, and in After Effects you'll see the same thing. I can turn the visibility of layers off and on just by clicking on the different eyeballs. These also control the hierarchy as to how things are viewed within the project. I have this H+ logo, and it's on top of my video layer, so I'm seeing it on top of the video layer.
Whenever you click on something in the Timeline, notice it's also selected in the Composition panel. The Composition panel and the Timeline actually function together, so if I click on a layer in the Timeline, it'll automatically get selected in the Composition panel. If I go ahead and just click on anything in the Composition panel, it will select the corresponding layer here in my Timeline. Notice I scrolled down in the Timeline. The way that works, if you just hover your mouse over the Timeline and scroll with the scroll wheel, you can scroll up and down, and view all the different layers.
Whenever something is actually selected, let's scroll back up here and click on layer 5, you'll see a bounding box around that layer letting you know that it's selected. And if it's a 3D layer, you'll see these icons letting you know that it exists in x, y, and z space. But we're getting into too much detail right now. Let's go back to explaining how the Composition panel and the Timeline are linked. If you look in the upper-left corner of the Timeline, notice we have this time indicator, this shows me where the current time indicator is within the project.
The current time indicator is over here in the middle of the Timeline, see this thing that looks sort of like a blue guitar pick? If I go ahead and click on that and drag it to the right, notice I'm scrubbing through the project. As I'm scrubbing down the Timeline here, you can see I have graphics that are appearing. In addition to being able to organize things by a vertical visual hierarchy of layers stacked on top of each other, you can also organize things as to when they appear in time, using the Timeline, the same way you would edit multiple clips of video together inside of Premiere Pro.
I like to think of After Effects as kind of a mix between Photoshop and Premiere Pro. It's Photoshop over time, if you will. What if I want to move my current time indicator to a specific point in time? Well, I can go ahead and just click in the number field here in my Timeline. Let's go ahead and click on that once. And let's say I want to move to five seconds. I'll just type "500" and press Return on my keyboard, and that'll move my current time indicator. Notice in the Composition panel here in the lower-left corner, I also have a current time indicator.
If I go ahead and click in that area here, let's say I want to move to four seconds, I can type "400," and press Return or click OK, and now, notice, my current time indicator is at four seconds. So like I said, they do function together. To control how a layer appears in time, you can trim layers. And the way you do that is pretty straightforward. I'm going to move my mouse over layer 5 here, just on the left-hand side, and notice when I get to the left side, I get these double arrows. If I go ahead and click and drag on the left side of that layer, I can trim where that layer actually starts.
So as I'm dragging, if I hold down Shift, it'll actually snap to my current time indicator. I also know that this layer won't appear until four seconds in my Timeline, because we look in the upper-right corner of the interface, I have this Info panel. And in here it very clearly shows me my In point and Out point for that layer. Let's go back down to the left side of layer 5, and just click and drag, and I want you to see how this dynamically updates in the Info panel as I'm dragging.
I didn't want to change the In point for that layer, so I'll just Command-Z, Command-Z, or Ctrl-Z, Ctrl-Z, to Undo twice and get back to its original state. Notice when I did the Undo function, that also popped up in the Info panel. How do I view things in real time? Well, if you look just below the Info panel, I have a Preview panel, and this has time controls on it. I can click this left button, and that'll take me to the first frame in my composition. The way After Effects will play back video, it loads up the frames of the video into RAM, and once all the frames are loaded into RAM, then it will attempt to play back in real time.
Let's go ahead and go to this rightmost button in the Preview panel, that's your RAM Preview button. If you go ahead and just click that once, that's going to load up the frames, and notice as the frames are loading, I'm getting a green line at the top part of my Timeline. That green line is letting me know that these frames are getting loaded. Once they're all loaded, look back in the Info panel here again, and you'll notice as the video is playing back, you'll see exactly whether or not the video is playing at a full frame rate.
Notice, mine is not quite playing at real time, I'm just going to let it roll back one more time here. There we go, now it's playing back in real time. Now I can see exactly what this footage is going to look like if I were to go ahead and output this file. If you want to stop playback, all you have to do is press the spacebar on your keyboard, and that will stop playback. Now, as far as the interface goes, we have a few more sections to cover. I want to jump to the upper-left corner of the interface.
This is your toolbar, the toolbar contains all the various tools you'll need to actually make adjustments to the different assets in your After Effects project. Rather than getting bogged down in each individual tool, I just want you to understand that these tools are divided up into sections. This first section here are my selection tools. My next section here allow me to go ahead and rotate, or adjust the cameras, if I have 3D cameras. These are positioning tools, if you will. These next tools are your creation tools.
I can create shapes, I can create Bezier paths, I can create text, and notice underneath, in the lower-right corner of some of these tools, there's an arrow. Well, if you click and hold on that tool, you'll see with the arrow that I have multiple options for that tool. And if you look on the right-hand side, I have quick key commands that I can go ahead and use to select and move through that tool. So I'm just going to go ahead and select my Rectangle Tool here, and I'm just going to keep pressing the Q key on my keyboard, and notice as I press Q, it'll just cycle through the different tools.
If we click and hold on the Pen Tool here, notice I have G here and I have G down there. So if I just press G, notice it's going to toggle back and forth between those two tools. All right, now as you're working through the different tools, it's important to understand exactly what tool you have selected. So, for example, with the Pen Tool, if I move over my Composition window here, it's letting me know that I'm going to actually start drawing things in my project. So, as a general rule, as you're getting started in After Effects, make sure that you have the Selection Tool active, which is the V key, or just this arrow tool.
That way, the worst thing that can happen when you click on an area is that you actually just select that individual layer. Now that we know a little bit about how the interface functions, and where some of the different elements are, let me just show you how we can actually move things around in the interface. If you move your mouse in between any of the panels, you should notice two lines with arrows. And that means, if you go ahead and click and drag in the direction of the arrows, the different panels will dynamically resize dependent upon what direction you're dragging.
So here, if I drag on the left side, you see I can resize this to the left or right. What if I want to move a panel? Well, I can move panels just by hovering my mouse over the top of the word on the panel, so for the Project panel, if I want to move this, I can go ahead and click and drag. And notice, as I hover over each of these different panels, I get these purple icons. And the purple icons are letting me know where I'm going to drop that panel. So, for example, if I just want my Project panel to be on the right side of the Composition panel, I'll go over here to the right side, and I'll get this purple, kind of trapezoid shape.
So when I let go, now it's on the right-hand side. What if you've moved things around, and you just want to reset the interface? Well, you can do that by adjusting the workspace, which is in the upper right-hand corner. So if I go ahead and click on this pull-down, I can reset my standard workspace, so when I click Reset "Standard" it's going to ask me, "Are you sure you want to do that?" I click Yes, and now I'm reset back to where we started. We'll get more into the workspace later, but notice if I go ahead and click on the pull-down, you can see I've got titles of each different workspace, and each title pertains to the specific job function that you could be doing inside of After Effects.
There's one last thing I'll show you, and that will conclude our tour of the interface. Anytime you're working in an individual panel, if you think you need more information within that panel, you can go ahead and click on these little lines within that panel, so let's go down here to the Timeline, just to the right of the name in the Timeline, I'm going to click this little box. And this will show me some of the different options I have within the Timeline. So for example, in the Timeline, if I wanted to go to my Columns here, I can enable what are called Modes.
So if I go ahead and click on that, now notice I have these pull-downs, and if I click on those, these are the different blend modes that you would get within the Layers panel inside of Photoshop. I don't necessarily want those, so I'm just going to go ahead and click off of that, and if I want to hide those, I can just click back on that button again here, go to my Columns, and hide the Modes. Each of the different panels has a set of these menus. All you have to do is just click on these lines to access. In older versions of After Effects, this menu was hidden in the upper-right corner of each of these different panels, but now it's just right here on these three lines.
So that concludes our general interface tour, and as I said before, we'll definitely get deeper into all of these tools and functions as we continue to move throughout the course.
- Video terminology
- Creating your first composition
- Using layers, masks, blend modes, and track mattes
- Parenting objects
- Building complex objects with Pre-compose
- Exploring the ray-traced 3D renderer
- Understanding the order of effects
- Creating 3D projects from Illustrator files
- Lighting a scene
- Animating type on a path
- Using Keylight for green-screen footage
- Archiving projects
Skill Level Appropriate for all
Q: This course was updated on 6/18/2014. What changed?
A: We added new movies to the "Fundamentals of After Effects" chapter, reorganized and re-recorded the "Up and Running" and "Keying Green Screen Footage" chapters, and added new movies on Color Finesse 3 and masking individual effects.
Q: When I try to open a project file, After Effects tells me I need to update my system, since the file was made with version 13.0. But I already installed the most recent After Effects update. Why can't I open the project?
Q: This course was updated on 11/03/2014. What changed?
A: We updated 25 movies to reflect changes to the Creative Cloud 2014 release of After Effects. This includes the new optimized user interface and enhanced Cineware and CINEMA 4D Lite pipeline. The new movies are labeled with the "(CC 2014.1)" tag.