Know the Basics: After Effects Part 5: Animation

In part 5 of our "Know the Basics: After Effects" video series, we look at how we can use animation to adjust the properties of assets over time.

Previous tutorials

Know the Basics: After Effects Part 1: Interface
Know the Basics: After Effects Part 2: Timeline
Know the Basics: After Effects Part 3: Effects
Know the Basics: After Effects Part 4: Titles

One of the most powerful features of After Effects is the ability to animate the majority of properties using key frames. This could be key framing the opacity of an object over time or the movement of a shape for example. These key frames can be further customised by using curves to control exactly how your properties change over time.

Step 1: What is key framing?

The reality is that in most videos that you'll create you'll want a certain amount of animated content and that's where key framing comes in. This might be setting the position at one point in time and then moving it to a different location at another point in time. After Effects can interpolate the values for the time in between. This is key framing.

Use key framing to animate properties of your layers and your effects.

Use key framing to animate properties of your layers and your effects.

Step 2: Moving text

One of the simplest ways to demonstrate animation is by moving some text. For example, we might want the text to rush in from off-screen so that it makes a dramatic entrance. Do this by selecting your text layer in the timeline and hitting 'P'. This brings up the position property. Hit the stopwatch icon located to the LHS of the 'Position' text'. This will create a key frame at the current position. Navigate to a different point in time and change the position values. You'll notice that it creates a new key frame automatically. Movement done!

Use key framing to move any of your layers over time.

Use key framing to move any of your layers over time.

Step 3: Editing values

Once you've created your key frames you may want to edit the values you previously chose. You can do this by right clicking on your key frame and selecting 'Edit Value'. This can be done for any layer property. It'll bring up a dialogue box with the specific values that you can edit. Simple change them and hit 'OK'.

Edit the values if you didn't get them right first time.

Step 4: Easy ease

With animation you'll likely want to make your movement smooth rather than it being so abrupt. The easiest way to do this is to the right click on a key frame and select 'keyframe assistant' and 'Easy ease'. We'll get into curves in a minute but easy easing basically adjusts how the interpolated values between key frames are calculated over time.

Smooth out your animation using easy ease key frames.

Step 5: Copying key frames

At times you'll want to copy your key frames to other points in the timeline. Do this by selecting the key frame and using the standard copy shortcut for your platform. With the key frame on your clipboard simply navigate to a new point in time and paste the key frame.

Copy key frames to save time creating identical frames.

Step 6: Using the curve editor part 1

Now for something a little more complex! The curve editor lets you customise your key frames and how values are interpolated between key frames over time. To view the curve editor use the button on the timeline which is at the far right of the list of icons at the top. Its right next to the motion blur icon. You'll now see your previously created key frames with lines linking them. This line represents how the values will change over time.

Use the curve editor to fine tune your animations.

Step 7: Using the curve editor part 2

To edit the curves of a position property you'll need to separate the x and y dimensions by using the 'Separate Dimensions' icon at the bottom of the curve editor. Then if you select an easy eased key frame you'll notice it gives you a handle(s) to be able to adjust the curve. The simplest way to get used to how the curves affect your animation is to play around with them! Getting used to the curve editor will enable you to make your animations look much more believable.

Use the curve editor to fine tune any type of key framed animation in your scene.

Step 8: Scaling text

Another use for simple animation would be to scale your text. This could be to show the text getting bigger over time and this can add a sense of drama as it enters the shot. Do this in the same way that we key framed the position property. You can access the scale property by selecting the layer in the timeline and hitting S.

Scale the text to give it impact.

Step 9: Key framing effects part 1

Aside from animating the standard properties of layers you also have the capability of animating the properties of any effects you've added to your layers. For example, you may want to animate the 'Exposure' of your footage so that it looks like it's fading into shot. This can also be achieved by animating the opacity value.

Effects can be key framed in the same way as standard layer properties.

Step 10: Key framing effects part 2

To do this simple add the 'Exposure effect to your layer. Go to the 'Effect Controls' window and open it out till you see the 'Exposure' property. At your first frame click the stopwatch next to the property and set this to something like -10 and then navigate to a couple of seconds afterwards. Change the value back to 0. If you play it back then you'll see it gradually appearing.

Animating an exposure effect is a great way to reveal a piece of footage.

Animating an exposure effect is a great way to reveal a piece of footage.

Top tip: Animation curves

I covered this briefly in the tutorial but I wanted to re-emphasise its importance. In the real world objects don't usually move in a linear fashion. A ball for example will slow down towards the end before stopping. It is this sort of movement that we can re-create with curves.

Make your animations believable by using curves.

Related links

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Know the Basics: After Effects Part 1: Interface
Know the Basics: After Effects Part 2: Timeline
Know the Basics: After Effects Part 3: Effects
Know the Basics: After Effects Part 4: Titles