After Effects Tutorial #4 – Basics of Video Editing Part 2

Last week we learned about rendering and all kinds of effects, previewing and text layers. Today we’re going to discuss how important it is to keep your layers organized, no matter the layer type, in Adobe After Effects. Before we move onto animation there are a few more tips you have to memorize. Many of these tips have to do with layers. Think of layers as your guide throughout the editing process. Layers are important because without them you wouldn’t be able to edit your project.

Layer: In After Effects layers are the colorful boxes you find in your Timeline. Layers represent the footage, still image, audio, etc of a given project. 


How to Hide Layers

Layers, like your kids, can sometimes be considered shy. You can mark a layer as shy and then use the Hide Shy Layers switch at the top of the Timeline panel to hide the layer. This technique is useful for making room in the Timeline panel and is another organizational skill. If you’ve been reading these tutorials since the beginning you’ll understand how important organization is: It’s the key!

Keep in mind; shy layers are still rendered, both for previews and for final output. To leave out layers be sure to use the Video switch or make the layer a guide layer.

  • To switch a layer between shy and not shy, click the Shy switch for the layer, or select the layer in the Timeline panel and choose Layer > Switches > Shy.

Anchor Points

As we discussed in the last lesson, each layer has properties, many of which you can modify and, bingo you guessed it, animate. Do you remember how to modify and animate these layers? Using keyframes is the key. When you click the drop down arrow of a certain layer’s name the Transform group, which includes Position and Opacity, properties will appear. Here you add certain features to a layer such as adding masks or effects, or by converting the layer to a 3D layer.

The diagram below shows how to toggle these options on or off:

Transformation Group
Transformation Group

*Note:  Any property that has a stopwatch can be animated!

Before we go any further let’s have a discussion about anchor points. To clarify, an anchor point is the small dot in the center of your media that is used as a compass of direction. Let’s say you moved your anchor point to the right, then if you rotate your image it will follow the position of the anchor point. It is important to set an anchor point for a layer before you begin animating. If you were animating a cartoon character that’s split up into many different layers to represent body parts, you would want to move the anchor point of each foot to the leg and hand to the arm so each part rotates around that point for the whole animation.

How to move the anchor point:

  • Drag the anchor point using the Selection tool in the Layer panel
  • To move a layer anchor point in the Composition panel without moving the layer, select the layer and use the Pan Behind (Anchor Point) tool to drag the anchor point.

Video Editing Prompt: Practice dragging your anchor points around. Then use the Transformation options to see how your layer moves around whenever the anchor point’s position is changed.

Parent and Child Layers

Given the example above, now would be a good time to discuss Parent and Child Layers. A parent layer is a dominant layer. For example your character’s body or face would be a parent layer. After a layer is made a parent to other layers the other layer is called the child layer. The child layers would be your character’s hands, feet, nose, eyes, etc. Let’s say a parent layer moves 10 pixels to the right of its starting position, what do you think will happen? The child layer will also move 10 pixels to the right of its position.

You can still animate child layers independently and not having to worry about their parent layers.

How to parent a layer:

The Pick-Whip
  • To parent a layer, in the Parent column, drag the pick whip from the layer that is to be the child layer to the layer that is to be the parent layer.
  • To parent a layer, in the Parent column, click the menu of the layer that you want to be the child, and choose a parent layer name from the menu.
  • To remove a parent from a layer, in the Parent column, click the menu of the layer to remove the parent from, and choose None.

Video Editing Prompt: Create a parent layer and use the pick whip tool to connect the child layers to it. Then move your parent layer around and see how the child layers follow it. 


Making 3D Camera Layers

Adobe After Effects Camera Settings

It’s amazing how After Effects allows any layer to be a 3D layer, except an audio-only layer of course. We’re not going to discuss z-axis positions, x (width) or y (height) because, as promised, this is a beginner’s tutorial.  Making 3D layers is complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it you will be able to enjoy your cartoon or book characters jumping out of the screen.

You can add effects to 3D layers and create and animate camera and light layers to view or illuminate 3D layers from any angle. We’re going to cover how to animate 3D layers in the next lesson. In this lesson we’re going to be talking about how to create camera layers.

Create a camera layer

  • Choose Layer > New > Camera, or press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+C (Windows) or Command+Option+Shift+C (Mac OS)

You can modify and animate camera settings so the camera will act like an actual camera with all of its behaviors—from depth-of-field blur to pans and zooms—to synthetic effects and animations.

Cameras will only affect 3D layers and 2D layers with an effect with a Comp Camera attribute (See list of effects for more information).

How to make a layer 3D

In the next lesson we will discuss how to parent a camera layer to a 3D layer, how to create and animate a character in Photoshop to After Effects and how the Puppet tool is one of the most powerful tools in the software. Let us know what you just learned and feel free to share your projects in the KidLit.TV Facebook group for critique.

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