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AFTER EFFECTS Apprentice
Real-World Skills for the Aspiring Motion Graphics Artist
By TRISH MEYER CHRIS MEYER
Copyright © 2009 Trish and Chris Meyer
All right reserved.
Chapter One Basic Animation
Building your first animation while you learn a typical After Effects workflow.
* In This Lesson
16 creating folders in the Project panel 17 creating a new composition 17 importing files and folders 18 interpreting alpha channels 19 adding layers to the Comp panel 20 changing the Background Color 20 scrubbing parameter values 20 interactively transforming layers 21 animating Position; RAM Preview 22 navigating between keyframes 22 adding a background layer 23 dragging footage to the Timeline panel 24 editing a keyframe's Bezier handles 25 editing spatial keyframes; motion paths 26 animating Opacity, Scale, and Rotation 28 arranging and replacing layers 30 adding solid layers 30 applying, copying and pasting effects 32 rendering 33 understanding the comp's alpha channel 34 importing layered Photoshop and Illustrator
* Getting Started
Make sure you have copied the Lesson 01-Basic Animation folder from this book's disc onto your hard drive, and make note of where it is; it contains the sources you need to execute this lesson. Our versions of these exercises are in the project file Lesson_01_Finished.aep.
In this lesson, you will learn how to build a typical After Effects project. Although the design itself is simple, you will learn principles you can use over and over again in the future. For example, you will see how to import sources while keeping your project file organized. As you add layers to a composition, you will learn how to manipulate their transform properties, as well as how to keyframe them to create animations. Along the way, you'll learn important tricks and keyboard shortcuts. We'll also discuss how to handle alpha channels as well as layered Photoshop and Illustrator files.
In the Pre-Roll section, we discussed the basic hierarchy of an After Effects project: Sources are called footage items; when you add a footage item to a composition ("comp" for short), it is then known as a layer. Potential sources can include captured video, Flash or 3D animations, photographs or scans, images created in programs such as Photoshop or Illustrator, music, dialog ... even film footage that has been scanned into the computer.
Layers are individual objects that can be arranged in a comp's space and animated around that space, similar to symbols in a Flash project or models in a 3D animation program. The order they are stacked in the Timeline panel determine the order in which they are drawn (unless they are in 3D space – we'll get to that in Lesson 8). Layers can start and end at different points in time.
All properties in After Effects start out static: You set them, and this is the value they have for the entire composition. However, it is very easy to enable keyframing for virtually any property, which means you can set what their values will be at different points in time. After Effects will then automatically interpolate or "tween" between these values over time. Once you enable keyframing, changing a property's value automatically creates a new keyframe – you don't have to explicitly say "make new keyframe."
You have considerable control over how After Effects moves between keyframes. In this lesson, we'll demonstrate editing the motion path for position keyframes, and in the next lesson we'll dive into further refining the speed at which After Effects interpolates between values.
Layers can be smaller or larger than the composition and its "resolution" (pixels per inch) is ignored by After Effects. In addition to fading a layer in and out using its opacity, a footage item may also have an alpha channel that determines where the image is transparent and where it is opaque.
But before you start arranging and animating, you need to know how to make a new project and comp, as well as how to import sources – so let's get started!
Starting a Project
In this first lesson, you'll create a simple animation of a winter scene. To see where you'll end up, locate the movie First Animation_final.mov in this lesson's folder, and play it a few times in QuickTime Player. (To keep things simple, we "pre-baked" the title and snowflake designs; the original sources are included in our finished project. You'll learn how to create text in Lesson 5, and how to animate Shape Layers in Lesson 11.) Bring After Effects forward when you're done, and we'll guide you through building this animation from scratch.
1 When After Effects is launched, it creates a new, blank project for you. In the upper right corner of the application window, locate the Workspace popup, and select Standard. To make sure you are using the original arrangement of this workspace, from the same popup select Reset "Standard" (it's at the bottom). A Reset Workspace dialog will appear; click Discard Changes.
2 The Project panel can quickly become a confusing mess of sources and comps. To avoid this, let's create a couple of folders to help keep it organized. Click on the New Folder icon along the bottom of the Project panel. A folder called Untitled 1 will be created. It defaults to its name being highlighted; to rename it, type "Sources" and press Return (on a Windows keyboard, this is the main Enter key – not the one on the extended keypad). You can rename it at any time; just select the folder and press Return to highlight the name.
3 Click in a blank area of the Project panel to deselect your Sources folder; the shortcut to Deselect All is F2. Now create a second folder. If you like, try using the keyboard shortcut: [??] [??] Shift N non Mac (Ctrl Alt Shift N on Windows). Rename it "Comps" and press Return.
(If the Sources folder was selected when you created the Comps folder, Comps will be nested inside Sources. Place it on the same level by dragging the Comps folder outside of the Sources folder.)
Saving a Project
4 Save your project by typing [??] S (Ctrl S). A file browser window will open; save your project file in this lesson's folder (Lesson 01-Basic Animation), and give it a name that makes sense, such as "Basic Animation v1".
It is a good idea to give projects version numbers so you can keep track of revisions; it also allows you to take advantage of the nifty File > Increment and Save function. Instead of just saving your project, Increment and Save will save your project under a new version number, leaving a trail of previous versions in case you ever need to go back. The shortcut is [??] [??] Shift S (Ctrl Alt Shift S). After Effects also has an Auto Save function; it's under Preferences > Auto-Save.
Creating a New Composition
5 Select the Comps folder you created in step 3. That way, the new comp you are about to create will automatically be sorted into it. Then either select the menu item Composition > New Composition, or use the keyboard shortcut [??] [??] (Ctrl N).
A Composition Settings dialog will open in which you can determine the size, duration, and frame rate of your new comp. At the top will be a popup menu for Preset, which includes a number of common comp sizes and frame rates. You can also enter your own settings. For this starting composition, uncheck the Lock Aspect Ratio box, then type in a Width of 640 and Height of 480. Click on the popup menu next to Pixel Aspect Ratio and select Square Pixels (we'll discuss pixels that are not square in the Tech Corner at the end of Lesson 3).
The last parameter in this dialog is Duration. Highlight the value currently there, and enter "4.00" for four seconds. Then make sure the remaining settings are at their defaults: Frame Rate of 29.97, Resolution of Full, and Start Timecode of 0;00;00;00. Don't worry too much if you miss something; you can always edit them later under Composition > Composition Settings.
A good habit to get into with After Effects is naming your compositions as you create them. Enter "First Animation" in the Composition Name dialog, then click OK. Your new comp will open into the Comp and Timeline panels.
6 Your comp will also appear in the Project panel, inside your Comps folder (if it's not in there, drag it in). If you cannot read the entire name in the Project panel, just place your cursor along the right edge of the Name column and drag it wider. Finally, save your project.
There are two main ways to import footage into After Effects: using the normal Import dialog, and using Adobe Bridge (covered in Pre-Roll). We'll explore the Import dialog here, but feel free to use Bridge if you prefer. (You can also drag and drop from the Finder or Explorer, but that can be awkward as the After Effects application window tends to take up the entire screen.)
7 It's time to import some sources into your project. First, select the Sources folder you created in step 2. Then use the menu item File > Import > File. Navigate to the Lesson 01-Basic Animation folder you copied from this book's disc, and open the folder 01_Sources. Select Snowstorm Title.tif and click Open.
8 The Import dialog will be replaced with an Interpret Footage dialog. This file has an alpha channel: a grayscale channel that sets the transparency of the RGB color channels. There are two main types of alpha channels: Straight, which means the color has been "painted beyond" the edges of the alpha channel, and Premultiplied, which means the color is mixed ("matted") with the background color around the edges.
If you knew what type of alpha your file has, you could select it here. Since you don't, click Guess. In this file's case, After Effects will choose the Premultiplied – Matted with Color White option, which is correct. Click OK, and it will appear in your Sources folder.
9 Now it's time to import some more sources. Make sure the Sources folder (or a file inside it) is still selected, and use the shortcut [??][??] (Ctrl I) to open the Import dialog. Select Snowflake.mov, and click Open. This is an animation created using Shape Layers in After Effects (these are the subject of Lesson 11). We then rendered it as a QuickTime movie with an alpha channel.
10 Finally, double-click on an empty area of the Project panel – this will also open the Import dialog. Select the folder named Movies, and click the Import Folder button. This will import all the contents of the folder for you with a single click; it will also create a folder with the same name in the Project panel. Drag the Movies folder inside your Sources folder, and save your project.
Building a Comp
Now that you have your sources, you can add them to your comp, arrange them, and have some fun animating them. First, make sure the Timeline and Composition panels have the name of your comp (First Animation) in a tab along their tops. If not, double-click this comp in the Project panel to open it.
11 Select the footage item Snowstorm Title.tif in your Sources folder in the Project panel, and drag it over to the image area of the Composition panel. While keeping the mouse button down, drag it near the center of the comp: You will notice After Effects tries to snap it into the center for you. With the mouse button still down, drag near the four corners of the comp: After Effects will try to snap the outline of the source against these corners.
Place it in the center, and release the mouse. It will be drawn in the comp's image area, and appear as a layer in the Timeline panel as well. (To get this snapping behavior when you try to drag an already-added layer in the future, press the [??] Shift (Ctrl Shift) keys after you start dragging a layer.)
Excerpted from AFTER EFFECTS Apprentice by TRISH MEYER CHRIS MEYER Copyright © 2009 by Trish and Chris Meyer. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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