Adobe After Effects Chapter 5 | Master Animations

All about animation and keyframes

Do you want to learn how to animate in After Effects but don’t know how to get started? In last week’s lesson we talked all about how important layers serve in the animation process. When people think of animation they freeze up and think “How is it possible for me to animate something?”. The problem is that if you haven’t studied any form of animation whether traditional or CGI then you will automatically think that it’s impossible for you to animate your project. While it may be easier for someone with an animation history to do this, anyone can learn to animate in Adobe After Effects if they learn the basics.

You can animate anything in After Effects. For example, you can animate the Scale property of a layer from one size to another by using keyframes in the Transformation Properties. The way you tell if you can animate something is by looking for a property with a stopwatch button  to the left of its name in the Timeline panel or Effect Controls panel.



From the beginning of this series we have talked about keyframes. These little diamond shaped icons are used to set limits for motion, effects, audio, and many other properties, to change the settings over time. When you set a keyframe in place it marks the point in time when you change or give a value of a layer’s property.

To activate a keyframe all you have to do is click the little stopwatch and a little diamond will appear in your Timeline.

Note: Click the stopwatch once to activate a keyframe. Click it twice to deactivate a keyframe. If you do not activate a keyframe then the value of your footage, image, etc will stay the same.

Some tools, such as Motion Sketch and the brilliant Puppet Tool, will automatically set keyframes for you to match the motion that you sketch on your object. We will talk about these tools later on in the lesson, but first let’s talk about the Graph Editor.

The Graph Editor

Graph Editor
Graph Editor

The Graph Editor stores all kinds of property values using a graph. There are two types of graphs available in the Graph Editor:

Value graphs: These show property values

Speed graphs: These show rates of change of property values.

What’s great about the Graph Editor is each property is represented by its own curve so if you’re a beginner you’ll be able to view and work on one property at a time, or for advanced users you can view multiple properties all at once.

We aren’t going to talk much about the Graph Editor in these lessons, but you can visit the Peachpit Press website to find out more about them from Antony Bolante. He provides information, tips, illustrations and articles all about the Graph Editor.

One of the greatest animation tools in After Effects: The Puppet Tool

In this section of the lesson we are going to be talking all about the Puppet tools in After Effects. The purpose of the Puppet tools is to quickly add natural motion to vector graphics, still images, shapes, and text characters. And because KidLit.TV is all about kid lit, this tool will be the handiest when you’re making your book trailers or promotional videos. You can make the alphabet dance, you can make your book character run away from the villains or make the villains fall into a pool of dirty water. The Puppet tools are able to do any form of animation. All you need is a little bit of understanding of anatomy and then you’ll be able to become a puppet master.

Note: You can find and use the Puppet tools in the Tools panel to directly apply and work with the effect in the Layer panel or Composition panel.

Each Puppet tool is used to place and modify a specific type of pin:

Puppet Tools
Puppet Tools

Puppet Pin tool

Use this tool to place and move Deform pins.

Puppet Overlap tool

Use this tool to place Overlap pins, which indicate which parts of an image should appear in front of others when distortion causes parts of the image to overlap one another.

Puppet Starch tool

Use this tool to place Starch pins, which stiffen parts of the image so that they are distorted less.

The simplest explanation of the Puppet tool is that is works by deforming part of an image according to the positions of the pins that you place and move. These pins act as your images bones and muscles. For example if you place a pin on a character’s shoulder the shoulder will move, but if you put a pin on the shoulder, elbow and hand then each section will move accordingly to your command. You guessed it! These pins define what parts of the image should move, what parts should not, and what parts should be in front when parts overlap. You can also use the Puppet tools on parent and child layers which we talked about in last week’s lesson.

To animate with the Puppet tool all you have to do is press CTRL (Windows) and COMMAND (Mac) and click on a pin. Then move your mouse back and forth and you will see yellow, highlighted lines following the movements of your choice. You’ll then be able to playback your animation and see what changes you’ve made to your image.

Video Editing Prompt: Make an animation by using the puppet tool and submit your work to the KidLit.TV Facebook Group for critique.

Now that you’ve learned the animation basics in After Effects be sure to study these techniques before next week’s lesson. Tell us what you’ve learned and let us know what you’d like to learn next!

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