Learn How to Use Trace Paths

Free After Effects Video Tutorial & How-To Guide

The Trace Path feature in After Effects animates an object to follow a path. Follow along with this tutorial to use Trace Paths.

Download Project Files here.

Tired of animating complex paths keyframe by keyframe? Want an easy way to move your objects without the tedium of frame by frame? Trace Paths makes doing all of that loads easier. Learn how to use the technique in this tutorial from Noble Desktop!

Draw Path

  1. Go to Layer > New > Shape Layer.
  2. Use the Pen tool to draw out a wavy line, starting from NY, going to TX. Then go to WY and then CA.
  3. Use the Convert Vertex tool to adjust Path as needed.

Trace Path

  1. On the Path layer, toggle open Path > Contents > Shape 1 > Path 1.
  2. Click on the word Path next to the stopwatch.
  3. Go to Windows > Create Nulls from Paths. 
  4. Click on Trace Paths.

Parent Truck

  1. Turn Visibility on the Truck layer.
  2. Place the Truck over the Null itself.
  3. Drag the pick whip from the Truck layer to the new Trace Paths layer.
  4. If need be, Rotate the Truck to be perpendicular to the Path.

Animate Null 

  1. With the Trace Paths layer selected, hit U to open up all animated keyframes. 
  2. Drag the last keyframe out to 0;00;05;19;
  3. Move the Playhead to 0;00;00;15;
  4. Change the Progress to 0.
  5. Move the Playhead to 0;00;02;00;
  6. Change Progress to 41%.
  7. Move the Playhead to 0;00;02;15;
  8. Change Progress to 41%.
  9. Move the Playhead to 0;00;04;00;
  10. Change Progress to 71%.
  11. Move the Playhead to 0;00;04;15;
  12. Change Progress to 71%.

Animate Path

  1. Now animate the Path. Toggle open Path. 
  2. Click the arrow next to Add.
  3. Add Trim Paths.
  4. Toggle open Trim Paths.
  5. Move the Playhead to the origin.
  6. Hit the stopwatch next to End to set a keyframe.
  7. Change End to 0.
  8. Move the Playhead to 0;00;00;15;
  9. Hit the diamond to set a keyframe.
  10. Move the Playhead to 0;00;02;00;
  11. Change End to 45.
  12. Move the Playhead to 0;00;02;15;
  13. Hit the diamond to set a keyframe.
  14. Move the Playhead to 0;00;04;00;
  15. Change End to 72.
  16. Move the Playhead to 0;00;04;15;
  17. Hit the diamond to set a keyframe.
  18. Move the Playhead to 0;00;05;19.
  19. Change End to 100.

Add Dashes to Path

  1. On the Path layer, toggle open Path > Contents > Shape 1 > Stroke 1.
  2. Toggle open Dashes.
  3. Hit the plus sign next to Dashes twice to add a Dash and a Gap setting.
  4. Change Gap to 20.

Assets from Vecteezy.com

Video Transcript

Hello. This is Tziporah Zions from Noble Desktop. And in this tutorial, I will show you how to make a Trace Paths animation in Adobe After Effects. So we're going to start with creating a path using the pencil. We're going to be using the trace pass command for this technique, which is found in the creating all three parts panel that all of us parent this trap to create it all and have it move along the path.

After that, it's just adjustment. We'll look at the path itself, and we'll be done. So here's what the product looks like when it's done. So this is what the finished animations can look like. So you can see the truck drives along. It stops in different states, and yeah, it goes along. This kind of wooly path that we've laid out for it, so yeah, this is a fun technique for animating objects along more organic and complex paths, rather than having to keep every little bend and stop and curve along the way.

This does far less hassle and time. It's really mostly done with a push-the-button parenting object and some path adjusting. We'll be relying on this map file here, this truck vector, and paper texture over everything. Our main focus is getting the truck to move it, and we want behind it. So you can find this project file.
Those assets include in the video description below. So let's get started. So we're going to go up to here to layer new shape, layer upon the result, and using the pen over here, we're going to draw the line that goes from New York to Texas. What's in the middle? Texas is like Austin about to I do California. There we go.

And let's change the settings on this. I want it to be eight pixels wide in the stroke; I want the color to be white, so I think pick injustices needed so long, I'm OK with mine. I might really just like this area. Smooth anchor point. It's a little more straight here. We'll decide that kind of thing. But I really only know how I want to adjust later on.
So now the main thing is let's go up to window in. All we did here is create nulls for paths. This is Adobe after fact side which one version currently active. And with that, I am going to let's make this wider I'm going to hit with this layer selected trespass. Sorry about that. So I'm actually going to have to have the path of selected contents at one pass.

That's how I got to do trespass. Yeah, it only really works if you've got all that selected. So I'm glad that I showed you that since that's a common error and you can see I myself am doing it. Now, check this out as a script of the timeline, you can see that that NULL actually follows along this white path, which is pretty crazy.

So what we're going to be doing next is let's center this truck layer right on top of the knoll. It's actually moving up here, truck all the way over there. It's very much so now let's take this truck and let's center this truck. So what's the point of the origin and let's have this truck kind of like centered right on the low and let's pick with it to this purple layer, the nutrients path layer to that now is from this letter that was created when we had trace paths OK, so this truck is supposed to follow the now, which follows the pass.

So let's strip through all right. Looks like it's driving along. But yeah, that's so that's how those I might actually want to rotate my truck just of it. Right at the start, we have our rotate and then go on to get it rotating just a little bit. So lines will pass a little bit more. But I want to show you what that is.

So I'm going to name this one. The pass which by the way, if I were to like edit this patch, let's see if like my convert vector tool like that actually changes the path that the truck goes on so check it out as a script for my timeline so if we play ahead of Origin, check this out as a script.
In the timeline, the truck goes up that peaks, right? So if you want to edit the path that the truck goes, you just edit the, you know, the path itself. All right, now that that's back to normal. So let's actually animate this thing. So what really we're going to be animating is a trace path because a truck is packed into that you to see all my keyframes.

I'm actually going to stretch this out so this ones quite quickly. So I'm going to extend that last key from all the way out there. And let's see. So I want my truck to stop for about say 15 then 15, 16. I'm going to hurry this keyframe frame paste it over here and that'll give it hold for about 15 frames.

And then I'm going to go over to Texas and let's actually move more, little more. Come on, come on, get over there, you know, add Austin. OK, and I'm going to hit a key from here on this progress keyframe the progress keyframes to hold it there also maybe you know about the same distance as the first holding and to copy this keyframe the first my first Texas keyframe pasted over here that'll give it another hold.

And then finally let's head over to Wyoming's a little bit further over here and actually let's pull it back just a little bit because it looks a little bit weird when it's crusting over there. So I'm going to keyframe and you got it. We are going to move this right over here another 15 frames just about actually it's squish that right over there and yeah, that should be about it.

So if we were to preview this, you know, it would head on over to, let's say, Standard York and then it would head on over to Austin, hold there for a bit and then head it right over to Wyoming. Hold there a bit. I apologize. My device is acting a bit. So it's not really agreeing to give me a preview.

All right. I by the way, I actually edited some of the keyframes so you can move around the keyframes, the progress, few frames to adjust the flow and speed of your truck. So to preview it, you can see that the truck stops and starts a little bit in each of the states that it visits. And if I were to manipulate, you know, these keyframes, this progress keyframes, you know, that would slow and start the track as well.

So that's another way to also alter the speed of the animation. You know, just everything is round. All right. So the next thing that we're going to be doing is we're going to get this path to animate as it kind of extends out beyond the truck as it does along. So open up contents on your passport and go to trim paths.
That's going to give us this little animator down here, toggle open. And we've got this thing called start and End. And that just refers to when the line starts, it ends, as you can see here, are going to be just animating this end option over here. So to start with, let's get let's make the end all the way back to zero and we're going to be animating it.

We're going to you to consolidate that. We're going to be animating it similarly to this progress far as well. So we're going to copy our initial value we're going to paste it over here, just about to match up with that one. You know, move over to over here. So the, you know, the truck drives a little bit. We're going to, you know, increase the value of our end over here.

So it falls right through the truck. Again, Toppy, you know, move over to the end of the truck. Stay in Austin, Austin, Texas, copy paste that value, head over to Wyoming again, move the value of the end trail. And right behind the truck, I'm on a little more little, little more. Not too far back OK. And now that we've set those Q frames for the past, let's toggle open path.

Let's go to contents, talk a little bit shape we're going to be making a dash line for this kind of thing. So let's head over to the contents shape one stroke. We're going to change the line. Cap to a round cap runs off the edges and open up dashes. Let's add dashes with that. So that's a plus dash to be dash should be set to ten and we hit the plus again and the gaps should be set to 20.

All right. There you go. So this technique can be used pretty much with any kind of object. You can even parent sets to this. For that, you need some effect with a position property. With an X or Y, you can write a linking expression, set a factor, just pick the limit to the null like we did with this truck.

And there you go. Try this technique with text layers, your pieces of footage. The path itself can have effects applied to it as well. So don't stop there. Maybe try animating start running airplane, follow the path of butterfly text, go from one to another vehicle driving around race, class, and anything else you can think of. So that's all for this tutorial. I hope if enjoyed learning how to pick a trace path animation and know the after-effects. This has been Tziporah Zions for Noble Desktop.

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