Learn More About After Effects
After Effects is a powerful program with a wide variety of uses, and although it might seem daunting to newcomers, it’s actually quite intuitive and easy to get started. All you need is a quick lesson in After Effects vocabulary and an idea.
After Effects is popular software used alike by animators, artists, entertainment companies, ad agencies, and compositors. You’ve heard the name before, seen it online, and of course, witnessed work made with it.
So...what is it exactly?
In a nutshell, After Effects is a motion graphics, digital compositing, and visual effects software. What that means is that the program has three uses, all which can overlap.
Applications for After Effects
The first application is for motion graphics. Motion graphics is a branch of animation that primarily deals with text, flat shapes, and objects as major components. The difference between motion graphics and animation is that the latter relies on sequential images to tell its story, whereas motion graphics can be viewed mainly as moving graphic design.
The second use of After Effects, digital compositing, is the method for combining different pieces of footage to create a seamless product. Think of it perhaps like the Photoshop of video, where the goal is to take multiple unrelated pieces and combine them in such a way they create a single, holistic piece.
Lastly, visual effects, or VFX, is both the creation and integration of effects that can only be produced digitally. Magic sparkles, a dragon, or someone breathing fire are all examples of VFX. After Effects has a massive library of pre-created effects as well as the tools to create your own. You can then combine your computer-generated effects with live-action footage to produce fantastical videos and otherworldly footage.
A point of note here is that as powerful as After Effects is, its strength lies within the above applications. It’s not a video editing tool as Adobe’s Premiere Pro is (Noble Desktop offers courses and articles in that program as well).
The difference between the two lies in how they handle footage.
A video editing software is most useful for lining up video clips, splicing them, adding transitions, and audio. It’s optimized to playback footage without stuttering and can handle large amounts of raw footage.
After Effects works in layer stacks, allowing different objects that may not even be footage to interact with one another. It’s best used to create video effects rather than transitional footage.
However, when it comes to motion graphics, what After Effects is made for, it’s hard to beat.
Who Uses After Effects?
Now, who uses After Effects? You’ll see it utilized mainly by animators, motion graphic artists, compositors, ad and entertainment companies, and designers. You probably see loads and loads of After Effects pieces every day without noticing it, it’s that ubiquitous. Think of advertisements you see on YouTube or maybe your favorite fantasy show. Even popular movies use the program extensively, as it’s the industry standard for nearly any kind of effect.
For instance, Nickelodeon, the studio behind Spongebob Squarepants, uses After Effects to layer on lighting and textures in their animated works. Pixar, the studio who made Toy Story and The Incredibles? They use After Effects to put together their animatics (an animated storyboard). Star Wars? That’s right. In recent movies, After Effects was used as well to produce some of those signature special effects.
It’s not just limited to entertainment uses, either. After Effects is a staple of advertising as well. Nathan Love, who created iconic ads for Sweet N Low, Come From Away, and Bank of America, rely on After Effects for their edgy, poppy motion graphics. Walk into a TD Bank and watch the video reel playing behind the teller’s heads; that’s After Effects, in your everyday life.
The best thing about this software though is not just the endless incredible effects it offers or its intuitive digital compositing capabilities. It’s not even its ability to track motion within footage so you can add animation that moves with the figures in the video.
What makes After Effects really great is how accessible it is. All that graphics power is easily at your fingertips. We’ll teach you how to harness it.
Key Terms and Tools for After Effects
After Effects can work with nearly any file type, allowing the user to animate them using keyframes and effects. In this section, we’ll go over different tools and terms within the program to give you a feel for the software. This is by no means a comprehensive list as After Effects is an extensive, powerful program with literally hundreds of options for the creator to pick from. However, this group of terms is enough to start your projects off with and with usage and time, you’ll be picking up more and more.
- Composition: Essentially the “canvas” where all your images, effects, and text are presented. This is what creates your video when rendered.
- Layers: Elements of a composition, whether a vector file, soundtrack, or bitmap image. They can either lay on top of each other within a stack or be modified to interact with each other visually. They can even be gathered up and organized into smaller compositions themselves.
- Timeline: The Timeline panel shows the length of the video. It allows the user to manipulate the keyframes and layers on a piece.
- Playhead: A marker showing where the video is currently paused at.
- Keyframes: A marker on the Timeline showing a change in an attribute of an object; usually the position, opacity, or size with a few other options.
- Opacity: The transparency of an object.
- Position: Where the object is in the Composition’s frame.
- Scale: How big the object is.
- Layer Modes: Special settings that allow the colors of an object to interact with the layers below it in different ways.
- File Panel: Usually found on the top left of the interface, it shows all the files the user is working with in the Project.
- Anchor Point: The point of reference on an object that After Effects uses to determine position and/or orientation.
- Selection Tool: Allows the user to choose which element they want to currently work within the Composition or Layer stack.
- Hand Tool: Allows the user to slide around the Composition window if they’re too zoomed in to see the entirety of the Composition.
- Zoom Tool: Allows the user to magnify the Composition so they can work in detail, or to make it smaller to see the whole piece.
- Rotation Tool: Allows the user to revolve an object around an Anchor Point.
- Pan Behind (Anchor Point) Tool: Allows the user to change the location of the Anchor Point of an object.
- Shape Tool/Rectangle Tool: Allows the user to create a shape in the Composition. When used in conjunction with a selected object, will create a mask in that shape. The default is the Rectangle Tool but other options are available within the same tool.
- Mask Tool: Allows the user to hide parts of an object within the Composition window.
- Pen Tool: Allows the user to draw out a shape or mask manually.
- Text Tool: Creates text within the Composition and is controlled by the Text Options panel.
- Effects and Presets Panel: This panel provides the myriad premade visual effects that come with After Effects, such as lighting effects, particle simulations like rain or smoke, and countless others. Presets are a premade combination of effects together that can be stored within the program, and both effects and presets are available from this panel. It can help to think of them as If effects are sandwich ingredients, presets are premade sandwiches, and this panel is the to-go sandwich counter.
- Keylight: An incredibly powerful digital compositing tool within AE. Keylight provides the user with the ability to separate figures out from a background within a piece of footage, provided the background is a simple solid color. You may have heard of the term “greenscreen” in this context. The user can then replace the background with anything else they desire or place the figure into a completely different composition. It’s one of the cornerstones of digital compositing, made easily available through After Effects.
So there you have it! A basic rundown of what After Effects is for, who uses it, and a couple of terms to get you started. After Effects is a powerful program with a wide variety of uses, and although it might seem daunting to newcomers, it’s actually quite intuitive and easy to get started. All you need is a quick lesson in After Effects vocabulary and an idea.