Adobe After Effects Tutorial: Understanding the After Effects panel system in After Effects
What you’ll learn in this After Effects Tutorial:
This tutorial provides you with a foundation for working with Adobe After Effects interface. It is the second lesson in the Adobe After Effects CS6 Digital Classroom book. For more Adobe After Effects training options, visit AGI’s After Effects Classes.
Adobe After Effects Tutorial: Understanding the After Effects panel system in After Effects
By default, After Effects uses a docked, panel-based interface to organize the work area. The entire interface configuration is called a workspace, and After Effects includes a variety of pre-built workspaces to accommodate different working styles and tasks that you may need to accomplish. You can also set each panel to move or float, independently.
The default After Effects workspace is named Standard.
After Effects panels
The After Effects interface is divided into panels, where you will do most of your work. Some panels are for previewing footage or animation, and others set options for the tools, while others are for creating animation. All the panels in After Effects are accessible through the Window menu. To help you better understand the panels, we’ve divided them into two groups: Primary panels, which you will use more frequently, and Secondary panels, which you will use less often.
Composition Panel in After Effects
The Composition panel is one of the most important panels in After Effects. It is the preview window and the main animation space that you work in when building an After Effects project. You can build your animated projects in this panel, and it has features you can use to change how your composition previews. Perhaps you want to create, show, or hide guidelines. Or maybe you need to isolate the alpha channel of your composition so that you can see which areas are transparent and which are opaque. This can all be accomplished in the Composition panel. In this exercise, you will work with the Composition panel to change the preview resolution of the display and learn how to reveal a composition’s alpha channel.
A. Rulers Composition. B. Flowchart Selector. C. Selector. D. Composition. E. Always Preview Toggle. F. Magnification. G. Guide & Grid Options. H. Toggle Mask & Shape Path Visibility. I. Current Time. J. Take Snapshot. K. Show Snapshot. L. Show Channel and Color Management Settings. M. Resolution. N. Region of Interest. O. Toggle Transparency Grid. P. 3D View Pop-up. Q. Select View Layout. R. Toggle Pixel Aspect Ratio Correction. S. Fast Previews. T. Timeline. U. Composition Flowchart. V. Reset Exposure. W. Adjust Exposure.
1 With the lesson02_StartingProject-working still open, look in the Project panel and double-click on the composition named Viewing Comp Alpha to make it active. This makes the composition visible in the Composition panel and also reveals the comp timeline in the Timeline Panel.
Double-clicking on any composition in the Project panel makes that
This composition includes a single layer named cityScene.psd. It was created from a Photoshop document that contains transparent areas. The color blue that you can see behind the buildings is the background color of the composition itself. It is visible only in the area where the Photoshop document is transparent. In video programs, transparency is often referred to as Alpha, or the Alpha Channel. You can change the display of the Composition panel to confirm which areas are transparent.
2 With the Viewing Comp Alpha composition active, click on the Show Channel and Color Management Settings button () located at the bottom of the Composition panel. From the list that appears, choose Alpha.
All the RGB color information has been hidden because you are showing only the Alpha channel of the composition. This leaves only a black-and-white representation of the comp. When viewing alpha information, the black area represents fully transparent sections while the white areas are fully opaque and gray areas are semi-transparent.
Viewing a composition’s alpha information like this is a good way of confirming which parts of a layer are fully transparent and which are not.
3 Now that you have seen that the background of the image is fully transparent, return to the standard display by clicking on the Show Channel and Color Management Settings button and choosing RGB from the list.
4 Click on the Resolution/Down Sample Factor Pop-up button at the bottom of the Composition panel and choose Quarter from the list that appears.
You can use this menu to vary the quality of the Composition panel’s preview. Note that this affects only the display of the composition, not the way it outputs when you render your projects. Down sampling can be necessary to create longer and faster previews when you are working with complex compositions that might otherwise take a long time to preview.
Notice that this preview appears much more pixelated, or blocky, than the original, which was displaying at full resolution. At the quarter resolution setting, the program only renders every fourth pixel, and then scales up the result to fit in the Composition panel. This allows it to build the preview much faster and can be helpful for reviewing complex animations. This lowered resolution is for preview purposes only; it does not affect the final output quality when you output your file.
At the Quarter setting, the original composition’s resolution is reduced by three quarters, but is still displayed at its original size, which results in the image degradation you see here.
5 Click the Resolution/Down Sample Factor Popup button at the bottom of the Composition panel and this time choose Half.
The image appears to be a higher quality than when it was generated at quarter resolution in the previous step. This is because it is now rendering every other pixel to build this preview, resulting in double the quality of the previous setting, which was previewing every fourth pixel.
6 Click on the Resolution/Down Sample Factor Pop-up button one last time and choose Auto from the list that appears.
Notice that the menu now displays the setting of Full, but that it is surrounded by parentheses. The parentheses indicate that the display is currently using the Auto setting. The Auto setting adjusts the resolution of the Composition panel to render only the pixels necessary to preview the composition at the current zoom level.
The Auto setting gives the best image quality, and at the same time avoids rendering unnecessary pixels by actively adjusting the Composition panel’s preview based on the Zoom percentage you are currently using. For example, if you are viewing a comp at 25%, the Auto settings will set the Resolution/Down Sample factor to Quarter to preserve system resources and provide a faster preview.
7 Choose File > Save, or use the keyboard shortcut of either Ctrl+S (Windows) or Command+S (Mac OS) on the keyboard. Do not close this file, you will need it later in the lesson.
You should quickly look at two other panels before getting into another exercise in the lesson.
Effect Control Panel in After Effects
The Effect Controls panel is not part of the default workspace, but
Use the Effect Controls panel to edit effects you have applied to layers in your Compositions. While this panel is not a part of the Standard workspace, you can access it using the Window menu by choosing Window > Effect Controls. To access effects you have applied to a layer, you must first select the layer by clicking it in either the Timeline or Composition panels, or by using a keyboard shortcut. The layer numbers in your active composition correspond to the digits on the number pad if you are using a full-size keyboard. If you do not have a layer selected, or if the selected layer doesn’t have any effects applied to it, this panel remains blank. While it is not a part of the Standard workspace, the panel will be added the first time you apply an Effect to any layer. You will use the Effect Controls panel many times throughout this book, but especially in Lessons 5, 7, and 9.
Flowchart Panel in After Effects
The Flowchart panel is an organizational tool, a way of visualizing the content of your compositions as objects.
The Flowchart panel provides an organizational chart, or a graphical representation of the relationship between compositions and footage items in your After Effects project. The Flowchart panel is a passive tool that displays the relationship between elements in your project; you cannot use it to change those relationships. This panel can come in handy when working with very complex animations that may contain multiple nested compositions. To view the flowchart for a Composition, you must first select that composition in the Project panel or make it the active Comp in the Timeline, then chose Composition > Composition Flowchart. You will not use the full flowchart panel in this book, but will instead work with a companion feature, the Mini-Flowchart view, in Lesson 7, “Working with Audio,” when you begin working with audio files.
Footage Panel in After Effects
When working in After Effects, you will use the Footage panel to preview individual pieces of footage. Double-clicking on any piece of imported media in your Project panel causes it to preview in the Footage panel. You can also use the drop-down menu at the top of the panel to choose footage to preview.
In this exercise, you will open a footage panel in order to use it to preview an imported video file.
A. Time Ruler. B. Always Preview Toggle. C. Magnification. D. Guide & Grid Options. E. Current Time. F. Take Snapshot. G. Show Snapshot. H. Show Channel and Color Management Settings. I. Region of Interest. J. Toggle Transparency Grid. K. Toggle Pixel Aspect Ratio Correction. L. Reset Exposure. M. Adjust Exposure. N. Set IN Point to Current Time. O. Set OUT Point to Current Time. P. Duration. Q. Ripple Insert Edit. R. Overlay Edit.
1 With the lesson02_StartingProject-working project still open, locate the Forest.mov file in the Project panel. It is in the folder named sourceFiles.
2 Double-click the Forest.mov file in the Project panel. This opens the Footage panel allowing you to preview the video clip.
3 Press the spacebar on your keyboard to preview the animation in this video file.
Once it has played through one time, you can press the spacebar again to stop the playback. Notice that the Footage panel has many of the same buttons and menus that are present in the Composition panel.
You can also click on the Time Ruler to stop the playback as well. Once stopped, you can move the Time Marker, the yellow wedge on the Time Ruler, backward and forward to preview the animation.
4 In the Project panel, double-click on the footage item named cityScene.psd to open it in the footage panel.
An alternative method for viewing footage is to select the footage item from the pull down-menu at the top of the Footage panel.
From the Magnification ratio drop-down menu, choose Fit up to 100% to fit the footage item in the panel. Note that you can always view a footage item or composition at a magnification higher than 100%; however, when viewed at values much greater than actual size (100%), footage and comps tend to appear pixelated and degraded.
Fit up to 100% can be used with the Composition, Footage, and Layer panels to auto-adjust their magnification setting.
5 Click the Show Channel and Color Management Settings button located at the bottom of the Composition panel. From the list that appears, choose Alpha. You can view the individual channels for footage items in the panel the same way you do when previewing compositions.
6 Return to the standard display by clicking the Show Channel and Color Management Settings button and choosing RGB from the list.
Click the Composition panel’s tab and choose the Transform Properties comp for the list that appears. Alternately, you can double-click on the Transform Properties composition in the Project panel.
7 Choose File > Save, or press Ctrl+S (Windows) or Command+S (Mac OS) on the keyboard. Do not close this file, you will need it later in the lesson.
Layer Panel in After Effects
Once added to a Composition in the Timeline panel, a footage item becomes a layer inside of that comp. In fact, any item that is added to a Composition becomes a new layer; this can include audio, video, text, solids, lights, cameras, and more. One of the aspects you will get used to when working in this application is that every item in the Timeline panel is its own independent layer. Double-clicking a footage layer in the Composition panel opens it in the Layer panel. A footage layer contains a file that has been imported into the Project panel, as opposed to an item that is created in After Effects, such as text or a composition. Some effects, such as paint, motion tracking, and stabilization, cannot be applied in the Composition window but must instead be applied in the Layer panel. Here, you will explore the Layer panel.
Next, you will learn how to jump back and forth between your composition and layer panels.
A. Time Ruler. B. Always Preview Toggle. C. Magnification. D. Guide & Grid Options. E. Current Time. F. Take Snapshot. G. Show Snapshot. H. Show Channel and Color Management Settings. I. Region of Interest. J. Toggle Transparency Grid. K. Toggle Pixel Aspect Ratio Correction. L. Comp Button. M. Reset Exposure. N. Adjust Exposure. O. Duration. P. Effect/Layer Controls Editing drop-down menu. Q. Show rendered result for current view. R. Set OUT Point to Current Time. S. Set IN Point to Current Time. T. Alpha Boundary/Overlay Opacity. U. Alpha Boundary/Overlay Color. V. Toggle Alpha Overlay. W. Toggle Alpha Boundary. X. Toggle Alpha.
1 With the lesson02_StartingProject-working project still open, double-click the Viewing Comp Alpha composition in the Project panel.
2 In the Timeline panel, double-click the cityScene.psd layer to reveal it in the Layer panel.
Like the Footage panel, the Layer panel is not a part of the Standard workspace, but is added to the interface when you double-click on a footage layer. This panel can also be opened by choosing Window > Layer.
Notice that just like in the Footage panel, many of the buttons and menus here are similar to those of the Composition panel. From the Layer panel, you can preview the alpha or other color channels of a layer, or adjust a layer’s duration.
Double-clicking a footage layer opens it in the Layer panel. However, when you double-click a text layer, it allows you to edit the text. When you double-click a composition layer, it reveals the composition’s timeline in the Timeline panel.
3 Click the Comp Button () at the bottom of the Layer panel to return to the composition that is associated with this layer. This reveals the Composition panel by moving it in front of the Footage and Layer panels in the interface.
4 Choose File > Save or press Ctrl+S (Windows) or Command+S (Mac OS) on the keyboard to save the project. Do not close this file, you will need it later in the lesson.
Project Panel in After Effects
The Project panel contains references to all the footage files (video, audio, and images) that you have imported into your After Effects Project. It also contains all the Compositions that you have created in your current project. The media items are denoted as references because of the way the program treats imported files. When imported, your media files remain in their original location on your hard-drive; After Effects creates a link to them. If these files are modified outside After Effects, the application generates a new preview and updates your project accordingly. This linking system is helpful because you can still manipulate imported objects in their original programs, such as editing an image in Photoshop. While very useful, linking files in this way can also cause problems: if you move, rename, or delete your original media files, After Effects will lose the link, and it will be unable to display the content.
When working with imported media files in After Effects, you should always remember where the files are located and what their names are, because your project files need to be able to locate the objects you import in order to display them.
A. Thumbnail preview. B. Search text field. C. Columns. D. Interpret Footage. E. Create a new folder. F. Create a new Composition. G. Color depth. H. Delete selected project items.
1 With the lesson02_StartingProject-working project still open, choose Window > Workspace > Reset “Standard.”
Choose Yes in the confirmation dialog box that appears, to confirm that you want to reset the Standard workspace to its original configuration.
2 Click on any part of the Project panel to select it and make it the active panel. You can tell that a panel is active when it has an orange outline around it.
Press the tilde (~) key on your keyboard. The tilde key acts as a full screen toggle, enlarging the active panel to full screen size or returning it to normal size if it has already been enlarged.
3 Notice that once expanded to full-screen mode, the Project panel reveals several previously hidden columns. Currently, the items in the panel are listed in alphabetical order, but this can be adjusted so that they are listed in a hierarchy determined by any of the columns.
Click on the title bar for the Type column and notice that the panel’s content reorders so that similar file types are placed near each other.
By default, the content of the Project panel is organized into an alphabetical list, but you can change this to suit your preferences.
4 Again press the tilde (~) key on your keyboard to return the Project panel to its normal size in the workspace.
Changing the display size of the panel doesn’t affect the project, so there is no need to save the file again, but keep the file open because you will need it again later in this lesson.
Render Queue Panel in After Effects
The Render Queue, not the File > Export command, is how you render out your project as a video file so you can view it or take it to another application.
Once you have completed your animation, you use the Render Queue panel to produce, or render, your project to deliver it for final output. Whether you are producing content for broadcast or broadband distribution, the Render Queue is your tool for exporting. You can use this panel to add multiple compositions, set the render options and destinations for each, and then render the compositions sequentially. In this book, you will use the Render Queue in Lesson 12, “Outputting After Effects Projects.”
Timeline Panel in After Effects
The Timeline panel is one of the main panels used for creating animations. Each composition has its own independent Timeline panel, where you can animate layer and effects properties, position layers in time, and change the layer blending modes.
When working with two-dimensional layers, the stacking order of the layers controls which layers appear farthest back, or behind, the other layers.
The Current Time Indicator, also called the playhead, is the red vertical line that runs perpendicular to the Time Ruler. It indicates the current frame that is being displayed, moving as the animation or composition is played.
The default display of the Timeline panel is the layer bar mode. It displays the composition time as a Time Ruler across the top of the panel, while layer names and properties are displayed to the left. The layer bar mode can also be switched so that the panel displays the Graph Editor, an advanced tool for animation that allows for more precise control of animated properties. Here, you will work with the Timeline.
You will reveal a composition in the Timeline and Composition panels, and change the stacking order of its layers to change the entire appearance of the composition.
A. Current Time. B. Search Field. C. Composition Mini Flowchart. D. Live Update. E. Enable Draft 3D. F. Hide “Shy” Layers. G. Enable Frame Blending. H. Enable Motion Blur. I. Brainstorm. J. Auto-keyframe. K. Graph Editor. L. Current Time Indicator (playhead). M. Work Area Bar. N. Add Composition Marker. O. Expand/Collapse Layer Switches Panes. P. Expand/Collapse Transfer Controls Panes. Q. Expand/Collapse In/Out/Duration/Stretch Panes. R. Zoom In/Zoom Out Timeline.
1 With the lesson02_StartingProject project still open, double click the Working with the Timeline composition in the Project panel to make it active.
In the Timeline panel that is revealed, notice that this composition includes three different layers.
The first layer is named Star Outlines and has the same Composition icon () that you see next to some of the items in the Project panel. This is a nested composition, or a comp that is placed inside of another comp. You will learn more about nested compositions as you progress further through this book. The second layer is named cityScene.psd and is composed of a single Photoshop document, while the third and final layer is named Double Single numbers.mov and contains a single imported video file.
The current layer stacking order makes it difficult to see the city and background video files because the white lines on top are so overpowering. You can fix this by adjusting the order.
2 Click and hold on the Star Outlines layer and drag-and-drop it below the Double Single number.mov layer.
Just like in graphics programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, layers can be dragged above or below each other in the display to change their stacking order.
Look in the Composition panel and notice that the cityScene.psd layer is now located above the white lines, leaving them visible only in the areas where the cityScene layer is transparent.
As you can see, the stacking order of layers in the Timeline panel is directly related to the way they display in the Composition panel.
3 Choose File > Save or press Ctrl+S (Windows) or Command+S (Mac OS).
4 Close the project by choosing File > Close Project.
Continue to the next After Effects Tutorial: Understanding the After Effects workspace in After Effects >