Chapter Two – The Anatomy of After Effects (AE Series)

Looking for Adobe After Effects beginner tutorials? You’re in the right place! KidLit TV is presenting step-by-step tutorials just for you. Last week we posted the basics of Adobe After EffectsIn last week’s Chapter 1 article, you’ll find information you’ll need to get organized, speed up your work, and other great resources for getting started. Now on to chapter two!  

Chapter Two – The Anatomy of After Effects

Now that we’ve organized all of our files and studied our videography terminology, let’s begin with the editing process.

More organizational skills 

Before you start adding effects to your footage or creating animations, it’s best that you take your organizational skills to the next level. Let’s start by creating storyboards.

Term used: storyboards – a sequence of drawings, typically with some directions and dialogue, representing the shots planned for a movie or television production.

Composition Settings:

We’ll talk more about rendering settings and compression later on in the lesson. For now we’ll talk about composition.

Composition of Adobe After Effects CS6. Image from Anthony Manna's 'The Orphan' illustrated by Giselle Potter
Composition of Adobe After Effects CS6. Image from Anthony Manna’s ‘The Orphan’ illustrated by Giselle Potter

Compositions are the framework of your movie. For example an HD composition would be 1920 x 1080. A standard composition is made up of its own timeline and multiple (colorful) layers that are, you guessed it, your footage, audio, etc. You can drag and drop your footage right into the composition box, your Project Files section or directly into the composition’s timeline.

Create a composition

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  • Choose Composition > New Composition, or press Ctrl+N (Windows) or Command+N (Mac OS).
  • To create a composition from a part of a footage Drag your footage item to the Create A New Composition button at the bottom of the Project panel or simply choose File > New Comp From Selection.

Duplicate a composition

  • Select the composition in the Project panel.
  • Choose Edit > Duplicate or press Ctrl+D (Windows) or Command+D (Mac OS).

Note: There are many more composition techniques to discuss, but they are mainly for advanced users.

Each composition name will appear in the Project panel. If you double-click a composition in the Project panel it will open the composition in its own Timeline.

Timeline button

Screenshot of timeline icon

If you click this button at the bottom of the Composition panel you’ll activate the Timeline panel for your chosen composition.

Note: For a list of our go-to shortcuts, check out our chapter 1 article.

Comp button

comp button
Screenshot of comp icon

Clicking on this button in the upper-right corner of the Timeline panel will activate the Composition panel for your chosen comp.

Flowchart button

Screenshot of flowchart icon

Finally, if you chose to click this button at the bottom of the Composition panel you’ll activate the Flowchart panel for your chosen comp.

Importing footage into After Effects

Like with every video editing software you can import media files into your project either by using the Import dialog box or simply by dragging and dropping. If you imported your footage successfully then your items will appear in the Project panel.

First method of importing footage:

  • Choose File > Import > File, choose File > Import > Multiple Files, or double-click an empty area of the Project panel.
  • You can do any of these steps:
  • Select a file, and then click Open.
  • Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) multiple files to select them, and then click Open.
  • Click a file and then Shift-click another file to select a range of files, and then click Open.
  • (Windows only) Select an entire folder, and then click Import Folder.
  • Import footage items by dragging

Tip: You can drag and drop layers on top of each other and use transparency features to decide which layer will be shown and which will not be.

Second method (Dragging and Dropping): 

  • Drag your footage from Windows Explorer (Windows) or the Finder (Mac OS) into the Project panel.
  • Hit Shift + Click to select multiple files in your folder/Finder. Click, drag and drop into the Project panel.

Creating Layers

Once your footage is uploaded into your composition a layer will be created. You can reposition it in the Composition panel. In the Timeline panel, you can change a layer’s duration, starting time and even stack the layers in the correct order!

Layers in Adobe After Effects CS6
Layers in Adobe After Effects CS6

This part in the lesson will keep you the busiest because with this you can perform many tasks such as drawing masks in either the Composition panel or the Layer panel. Other tasks like the popular tracking motion and paint tools will only work properly if preformed in the Layer panel.

Heres a list of Adobe After Effects Layer options: 

If you don’t know the definitions to each term make sure you look back to our first lesson.

  • Text
  • Solid
  • Light
  • Camera
  • Null Object
  • Shape Layer
  • Adjustment Layer
  • Adobe Photoshop File

Now that you’ve been educated in the anatomy of After Effects take the time to practice creating compositions, uploading footage and manipulating layers. By next week you should be familiarized with all of the terms and the basic anatomy of the software. We’ll start editing in our next lesson so until then tell us what you’ve learned and practice, practice, practice.

Go to Chapter Three!

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