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When you start up After Effects, you will usually be greeted by this helpful Welcome screen. It includes quick links to the most recent projects you've opened, shortcuts to either open another project or start a new composition in a blank project, as well as shortcuts to other sections of the help file. You can always disable it if you don't like it. I tend to keep it open, and I will just close it for now. If you ever want to get back to it, it's not underneath Window, it's underneath Help. Help, Welcome, and Tip of the Day. You can also open up projects under the normal File menu, File > Open Project.
All After Effects projects end with the suffix .aep. I will select it and click Open. After Effects contains frames, each which contains several different panels of information. All these are enclosed in a unified application window. On the Mac, if you want to move the window, you just grab the bar along the top and reposition it, put it back up there. If you want to resize it, there is a little Resize icon down in the lower-right corner. On Windows, if you want to do either of these, first you need to restore down and then you can drag the edges to go ahead and resize it as you like.
Now as I mentioned, each major division of the user interface is known as a frame, and frames may contain multiple panels, or windows of information. For example, in the upper-right corner, this frame contains the Info panel and the Audio panel, and I can switch between them easily. If a frame contains so many panels you can't see them at once, a little scroll- bar will appear along the top of the frame allowing you to move between the different panels that are contained inside that frame.
These frames and panels can also be resized and rearranged. We will talk about that more in a separate movie. Here I want to focus on what these major panels are. In a typical arrangement, the leftmost panel is the Project panel. This is where you gather together all of your source material, all of your footage items that you will be using, and it also holds references to all of your compositions, all of the composites of various materials you are going to be putting to create final movies. You can create folders inside the Project panel, and we recommend doing so because it's a great way to keep resources and your compositions organized; otherwise a project can quickly become a mess.
When you double-click a composition, it typically opens into two panels: the Composition panel, which is your visual interface into the comp, and the Timeline panel, which is your temporal-- or time-based--view into your composition. Opening one composition opens these two panels automatically, and again we'll talk about navigating these two panels in a lot more detail in a separate movie. In the Timeline panel is the Current Time Indicator. Its location indicates what is currently being viewed in the Composition panel up above. As you drag it to a different location in time, it will show you what's happening at that frame at that moment in time in your composition.
Along the top Application panel is the Tools panel. This includes various shortcut tools to go ahead and zoom in, rotate, pull out 3D cameras, create text, create paths, and other common tasks. Quite often you will revert it to the Selection tool; it is the tool you will be using most often. As you hover the cursor over these tools, not only will you see their name, but you will also see the keyboard shortcut to activate them. The right side of the display is typically reserved for other panels which show additional information, such as the Info panel which shows things such as what color is underneath your cursor in the composition, the Audio panel which shows your levels, previewing the step through frames, or to RAM-preview your whole composition, effects, character palette, and paragraph palettes for creating text, et cetera.
We will be going to each of these panels in much greater detail as we use them in the various lessons. Pay attention to which panel is selected. This yellow outline indicates that a panel is selected and forward. If you are finding that a tool or a keyboard shortcut is not working, it's probably because you have the wrong panel forward; you just need to click the panel that you need to go ahead and get the menu item or the tool that you are looking for. That's the general overview. Now in the next movie, let's talk about how you can customize this user interface and save your favorite layouts.
The After Effects Apprentice videos on lynda.com were created by Trish and Chris Meyer and are designed to be used on their own and as a companion to their book After Effects Apprentice. We are honored to host these tutorials in the lynda.com Online Training Library®.
- Understanding the user interface
- Customizing the user interface
- Importing sources, including using Adobe Bridge
- Managing compositions
- Previewing work
- Rendering (exporting) a creation