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Shape layers are one of the significant new features that were added to After Effects back in version CS3. Shape layers are a way of bringing the vector drawing tools of Illustrator into After Effects and allowing you to animate them. Here we would like to give you a quick overview of how to create and edit shape layers. Now those of you who are familiar with After Effects may remember the Mask tool and the Pen tool. These tools now double up to create shape layers. For example, I will just draw out a quick rectangle here. If you already have a layer selected, these tools can either create a new shape that will be added to the existing shape layer or they can mask that shape layer. Now which they do is determined by these two buttons, either create a shape or create a mask.
But again, if you have got nothing selected, you are creating a shape layer. I am going to delete this layer for now. There are also additional buttons along the top Tool menu about your Fill Options. In this case, I am going to go and do a Solid Color Fill and a Fill with say 65% Opacity. Fill Color, I will go ahead and pick something of more in the blue range. Stroke Options, Solid Color, the Gradient Stroke or no stroke at all. I will select Solid Color and also what the color of that stroke is going to be. I want to go ahead and pick something in the goldish range, just for something different here.
And finally you can pick ahead of time how wide your stroke will be. I will set it to about 3 pixels for now. Any of these parameters can be edited after the fact. You can use this Shape tool menu to decide what general type of shape you are going to draw: a Rectangle, a Rounded Rec, an Ellipse, a Polygon or a Star. I am going to start with the Star tool just because it has the most options, so it will give us the idea of some of the things we can do with shape layers. Once I have selected the tool, I just click and start dragging out my shape in the Comp panel.
Now before I release my mouse, I do have some control over the initial shape. I can rotate it or change its scale. If I add the Shift key there is no rotation, it will be straight up and down. If I add the Spacebar before I release the mouse, I can change what its initial position is going to be, and I can also use the Cursor key to control things like how many points my star has and how much it's rounded. Very much of strong outer rounding, so it could have a clover look or strong outer rounding to create these interesting intermediate shapes.
Now I am going to go back to something that's more of a sharp edged star. Hover these by mouse and you see down in the Timeline panel I have a brand new shape layer. Now shape layers are built out of series of operators and the order of these operators has a big impact on what the final shape looks like. The contents of my shape layer currently create a shaped group called Polystar. It's called a Polystar because it can either be a star or a polygon. I will switch it back to star for now. Even though, I am done drawing my shape. I have got control here over things such as how many points my star has, where its offset in the window, how much it's rotated and some very fun parameters like the Inner Radius and Outer Radius, and here is where we can really start to customize what our shape looks like. The Rounding parameters are particularly interesting as you start to create some very interesting flower like non-standard shapes, not just a straight sharp edged star. You can see we can have a lot of fun there.
In addition to the Polystar Path, I have got Stroke and Fill operators and these can be reordered for Fill over Stroke or Stroke over Fill. Now many other shape operators I can add as well including additional shape paths, additional fills and strokes and also all sorts of Shapes operators like Pucker & Bloat, Twist, Trim Paths, Wiggle Paths, all sorts of fun stuff to modify a shape after the fact. Now when I have a shape layer still selected I can go ahead and drag out a second shape and add it to this layer. I will pick Rounded Rectangle for now, drag it out and as I mentioned before you can go ahead and use the Cursor controls to change things the rounding of the layers.
By default, After Effects will create a second independent shape group for this new shape I just drew and I can turn groups on and off individually. Now what's important is individual shape groups can have things like their own fill and stroke. For example, I will select my Rectangle Path and change the Fill Color of just that particular group. You notice that it changes while my original group stays the same. You can also drag shape operators in between shape groups. For example, I can put my Rectangle Path as part of my Polystar group. Now you see they get the same stroke and fill because they are inside the same group. I will drag it back out so it could have its own group.
Each shape group has its own Transform Parameters. These decide how much it's offset. For example, I can go ahead and center up the rectangle and by the same token center up a Polystar. There we go. In addition to the transform for the whole group, the parametric shapes such as Polystar also have their own Position offsets. I will make sure those are all nice and centered for now. Good. Now in addition to the normal things such as Scale and Position and Rotation there is also some additional parameters inside the transform for the group, such as ability to skew it. Notice I can go ahead and create slanted or leaning rectangle and other similar shapes.
You will also notice there are stopwatches near most of the parameters for shape layer. Virtually every parameter of a shape can be animated and that's where the real fun comes in having vector shapes inside After Effects. I will turn off the shape layers and I will make sure I deselect it otherwise I will just be adding more shape paths to the shape layer. But in this case, I want to create a brand new shape layer so I need to make sure no one is selected. I will select the Pen tool and this will allow me to create a freeform path. I can go ahead and select a different Fill Color and Stroke Color for this new shape. There we go. Something of that range. Start clicking and dragging with the mouse and you will see my new shape layer will start to be filled in with this freeform path. Then click on the first point to close. I will twirl open my new shape layer and you will see again it has a shape group, Shape 1. It has a path that does not have any parameters. It's just a freeform path that I drew, but it has Stroke and Fills before, it has a Transform section and I can add more shape operators to it.
I will select V to go back to my normal Selection tool. There are a few ways for changing the shape after the path. If I have got a rectangle around the whole thing, I can go ahead and scale entire shape around its anchor point. I can even do some rotations with it. Again, a rounded shape anchor and I can select individual points inside and edit the Bezier Paths for the shapes and again I can edit these pen paths just like I did mask paths. Hold the G key for example to go ahead and break and make a discontinuous point to get a sharp corner in my shape. You can combine a freeform pen shapes with parametric shapes on the same shape layer and again have fun either having them inside their own groups or dragging them in between groups to go ahead and change how they interact with each other and how they intersect.
So it's a basic of creating shapes. There is not a lot of magic to it. There is a just a lot of parameters and virtually any of these parameters can be changed after the fact. So don't get hung up too much on creating a shape; spend more time exploring all the things you can do to a modify shape after the fact.
After Effects CS4: Apprentice's Guide to Key Features is a series of guided tours with Chris and Trish Meyer. It is designed as a gentle introduction to some of the major features of After Effects CS4. This quick–start course is for beginners who already know how to animate, users who are not familiar with the latest version, or those who need to get up to speed with advanced tools. Chris and Trish cover features such as text animators, shape layers, expressions, and motion tracking. These guided tours are also included with the second edition of Chris and Trish Meyer's book, After Effects Apprentice (Focal Press).
To learn the basics of animating in After Effects CS4, check out After Effects CS4 Getting Started with Chad Perkins in the lynda.com Online Training Library®. To go deeper, see Chad's After Effects CS4 Essential Training. To get an overview of the new features in After Effects CS4, watch After Effects CS4 New Creative Techniques with Chris and Trish Meyer.
To purchase After Effects Apprentice—the book—go to www.amazon.com.
- Understanding 3D Axis Arrows and Camera Tools
- Working with Text Essentials and Animators
- Using Tracker controls