After Effects for absolute beginners

Adobe After Effects is ‘professional motion graphics and visual effects for film, TV, video, and web’, ‘Photoshop for moving images’.

First lets look at the layout of the program, it’s made up of panels and these are the main ones you’ll be using:

Project Panel
This is where all media files for your project appear. These files can be still images, audio or video, and they must be imported either by double clicking on the panel, or drag and drop, or by file > import.


Timeline Panel
A graph plotting the timeline of your film horizontally. Each new item added from the project panel becomes a new layer.


Composition Panel
This shows the current frame of the film your working on as it will actually appear on screen. So as you move along the timeline the image in the composition panel will change.


So lets create a quick film where all it does is fade to black. First go to:
File > New > New Project
Composition > New Composition > Preset ‘HDTV 1080 24’, Duration 10 seconds, Background set to white.

You should now have the current frame (a white rectangle), in the Composition Panel and the Timeline Panel should stretch to ten seconds:

Now go to:
Layer > New > Solid > OK
This will create a black layer, the same as solid layers in Photoshop. The frame in the Composition Panel will show as black, and the black layer will get its own layer in the Timeline Panel. Press ‘T’ to bring up the layer’s opacity, and set to ‘0’:

Now move the Current Time Indicator (that yellow tab) to the 2 second mark:

Now click on the stop-watch to the left of the opacity label, this creates a keyframe. Up to this point, the black solid layer will be at 0% opacity:

Now move the Current Time Indicator to the 4 second mark, hit the stop watch and change the opacity to 100%:

Now move the Time Indicator to the start of the timeline and hit play in the Preview Panel (in red below) to see your fade to black:

Note how AE makes a smooth fade from 0% to 100% opacity over the two second interval, this is known as ‘interpolating’. Interpolating between two keyframes is the basis of a lot of AE animation, including character movement: Move an arm from one keyframe to the next and AE will create the fluid movement in between.

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