After Effects is a motion graphics and compositing software made by Adobe Systems Inc. It can be used for non-linear editing, but is not specifically designed for it like Final Cut, Avid and Premiere Pro are.
Compositing and Motion Graphics fall under the postproduction category of Visual Effects, or as people in the business like to call it, VFX. Don’t get this confused with special effects, which are on-set mechanical and camera effects. When it comes to VFX, After Effects is unquestionably the go-to software. Now, some may argue for Apple’s Motion or Cinema 4D, but neither of these has the capacity for VFX that After Effects does. Motion is a great software for motion graphics, but its layout is not as good, and it’s compositions usually seem to come out a little gimmicky an unprofessional. And while Cinema 4D is a fantastic CG-I software, a huge part of VFX, it only specializes in that category. The objects made there are usually imported into After Effects in the end.
At first glance After Effects can look a bit confusing, but after knowing some key concepts and tools, VFX in this program becomes a snap! Here’s a basic overview of the layout and some key concepts of After Effects, featuring some compositions from a Harry Potter wand duel I made with my friend a while ago.
The composition screen is the work place of your composition. You can move clips and other effects around where you want them to be, and when you play the composition it shows all the effects you have added in real time. Although the workplace does not only include the frame of the shot, motion graphics can be placed outside in the grey area of the screen. They can be animated into the frame, or you can animate a camera to reveal an object, but we will get into that another time. It is often best to set the playback option to “third” or lower when you are composing. This will make the frame seem blurrier, but it will allow After Effects to play it back quicker. Also, the final rendered shot will be in full quality.
The Project Menu is pretty self-explanatory. Just like in a non-linear editor, the project menu holds all the clips and graphics you are going to use in your compositions. They can be sorted into folders based on the type of media they are.
Like non-linear editors, After Effects has a timeline, but unlike the editors, After Effects’ timeline holds layers which represent clips, graphics, effects cameras, etc. that all contribute to the desired effect in the composition. In this Harry Potter composition it includes the original clip, 2 layers for the magic spells, 3 layers of lens flares, one for dropping particles, one for a camera shake, and one for a directional blur. I will go further in depth about the timeline in future posts.
The tool bar holds a variety of options you can use to edit things in your composition. The most common is the selection tool, which you use to move layers and select options in the program. Tools like the brush, clone, and eraser tools, which are similar to ones in Photoshop, can be used to edit specific layers. There is also a text tool, which you can use to add text to your composition. Next to it are the brush and shape tools, which allow you to add masks to layers and add shapes to your composition.
There are several tabs in After Effects that appear when you are editing certain objects, but the one you will use the most is the effects tab. The effects tab has many different visual effects that are separated into many categories. Each effect can be used on a layer in your composition and each have a different action to achieve a desired look. There are also many animation presets if you are not sure how to get a desired effect out of the ones provided.
Every week I will touch upon a different technique used in VFX, most of them pertaining to After Effects. These include, chroma keying, masking, cloning, title sequences, lens flares, color correction, and much much more!
One more important thing to know before taking a stab at VFX: Visual Effects exists in every mode of production. If a certain visual effect is desired, you need to know how to plan your script, and set up your equipment and actors accordingly! “Movie Magic” is not as magical as it seems. If a visual effects clip is not shot or prepared correctly in production, you are going to have a frustrating time in postproduction.
If you want to see some of the projects I have made my channel on YouTube is CKproductions1000. We release a new video every other Friday!