Advanced Video Camera and Editing

After Effects

Creating a Slide Show

The objective of this exercise is to use still images, apply text and move them through 3-D space.

Choose a subject that names cities or landmarks, names insects, or identifies celestial objects like planets and asteroids. For this exercise we'll show different types of galaxies, but you can follow the instructions to do any subject you wish.  

Before you begin in After Effects, always create a project folder and then inside create an Assets folder. Also, we need to collect the assets so take time to Google images that you'd like to use. Choose images that are at least 800 x 600 or larger. 

For this example, there are six types of galaxies. Six images are a really good starting point for the number that you should use in your exercise. The more images, the more practice and the better you'll understand the concepts through repeated actions. 

Types of Galaxies

Elliptical Galaxy
Spiral Galaxy

Irregular Galaxy

Barred Spiral Galaxy

Lenticular Galaxy
Peculiar Galaxy

Find an image for each, making sure that the image file is labelled properly and stored in the assets folder. Now you’re ready to open After Effects, but don’t forget to name your project and save it to the project folder.

File > Save As > Save As


Step 1: New Composition

Composition > New, or Command + N

Go ahead and make the Composition dimensions 1920 x 1080, the frame rate 29.97 and the duration change to 15 seconds. Don’t forget to name the Composition and then click OK.

Step 2:  Create a Background

Layer > New > Solid – make sure to name the layer, e.g., Background

Click Make Comp Size and then OK.

Step 3: Change the background into a gradient

A gradient is simply a solid with two or more colours that blend smoothly with each other.

Go to the Effects & Presets tab and type Ramp in the search field. 

Drag the Gradient Ramp effect to the Background clip in the Time Graph. 

Then, go to the Effects Controls tab in the Project Panel and change the Ramp from Linear to Radial. Change the colour to anything you desire, but remember to make it visually appealing.

You can also slide the X and Y coordinates for the Start of Ramp and End of Ramp to varying the range of the colours in the gradient. You might get results that looks similar to the image below.

Step 4: Create Text

The text will appear on top of the Background.

Select the Text tool and click on the Composition window. Start typing. For our example, we’ll begin with a title: Types of Galaxies. Choose a nice font. Many broadcasters use Helvetica, Geneva or Arial. You can also add a Drop Shadow effect. Simply type Drop Shadow in the Effects & Presets and drag the effect to the text clip in the Time Graph.

Enable the Title/Action Safe on the Composition. It’s the button on the lower left corner of the Composition panel. The Title Safe will help you position the text. Make sure you use the Selection Tool to reposition the text - Command + V

Turn the main text layer into a 3D layer by clicking the box under the 3D cube.

Step 5: Import the Assets

If you haven’t done so, import the asset folder you left in your project folder. You can either use File > Import or you can even double-click in the empty space of the Project Panel to open the Import window. Import the entire Assets folder, which will then show up in the Project Panel. 

Step 6: Create a Camera

To move in 3-D space we’re going to need a camera. 

Layer > New > Camera

Use the existing presets and click OK.

Step 7: Create a Null Object

You might have said, “What?” To explain, a Null Object is useful for controlling the movement of all the layers in your composition without having to add keyframes to every single layer, which would just be too complicated. Just think of it as a marker with Position, Rotation and Scale properties. We need a Null so that all the layers we create will follow the camera in 3-D space. To do so, we have to parent the other layers to the Null Object – that way, when we move the Null, the other layers, or “children” will also move as one.

Layer > New > Null Object

The Null appears in the Timeline. Select the 3D box to the right to make the Null object a 3D layer. 

Now, "Parent" the Camera to the Null layer – this will make all the layers follow the camera moves. To the right of the Camera, click the Parent tool – it looks like a spiral. Then drag from the spiral to the Null object layer and release. Now, whatever you do, what you do with the camera will affect the Null object.

Step 8: Create a Line

Once animated, the line will guide our eyes to the next slide, connecting the text with the images.

Layer > New > Solid

Name the solid Line 1. Choose a colour that is visually appealing and click OK.

It’s not a line yet! You need to stretch out the solid in the Composition window. But first, it helps to zoom out to see what you’re doing. The controls for zooming out in the Composition are located to the lower left of the panel. Choose 12 % for starts. 

Grab the edge of the boundary box on the right of the solid and stretch it out.

Then squash the solid into a line with the desired thickness. Make it the same thickness as the text. 

Make Line 1 a 3D layer.


Then drag the vertical arrow (green Y axis) to move the line below the text. And then pull the horizontal arrow (the red X axis) to align the start of the line with the start of the text. You might need to zoom out in the Composition to see the line entirely.

Step 9: Animate the Camera

Click on the Null layer and press P for Position properties. You'll see coordinates for the X, Y and Z axis, in that order.

In the Time Graph, move the playhead to about 3 seconds in.

Next to the Position property for Null 1, click the stopwatch icon, which will add a keyframe. 

Move the playhead forward about one second.

It helps to zoom out of the Composition (try 25%) to see what you're doing.

In the Null 1 Position property, click on the X value (from the X, Y and Z coordinates) and scrub the X coordinate to move the camera horizontally. Scrub considerably until the text leaves the Composition frame. Once you release, a new keyframe will be added.

In the Time Graph, highlight the keyframes and right click to select Keyframe Assist. Then select Easy Ease to make sure that the motion doesn’t move too abrupt. 

Make sure to keep the playhead positioned on the last keyframe.

Step 10: Duplicate the Text layer (Types of Galaxies) 

Select the layer and then press Command + D.

Then reposition the text copy (Types of Galaxies 2) at the last keyframe (where the playhead is located). You might still need to be zoomed out of the Composition window about 25% to see what you're doing. Use the Selection Tool to move the text. Tip: Click on the text and then hold down the Shift key to move it horizontal whilst keeping it at the same vertical height. 

Use the Text tool to change the text to say, Elliptical. 

Step 12: Apply the Image:

Drag the image of the Elliptical galaxy to the Composition window. You’ll need to rescale the image whilst also maintaining its aspect ratio. Simply click on the corner boundary box and hold down Shift to maintain the image’s aspect ratio when you change the scale. If the image dimensions are larger than the Composition window, then zoom out to see what you're doing.

Make the first image a 3D layer. Don’t be startled when you see the image disappear. It simply returned to the starting point of the camera move (the first keyframe). Zoom out of the Composition panel to find it and then drag it back into position. 

Step 13: Animate the Line Using a Mask

In the Time Graph, move the playhead back to the first keyframe (or go back to the Null Object and toggle back to the first keyframe).

Select the Rectangle tool (in the tool palette at the upper left of the AE workspace)

Select the Line 1 layer and click in the Composition panel to draw the mask. Position it in front of the line. Don’t be startled when the line suddenly disappears – it’s simply hidden behind the mask. To show the line again, we’ll remove the mask.

Click the Line 1 layer and double-tab the M key to reveal the Mask properties.

Click the stopwatch icon to Mask Path to add a keyframe.


In the Null layer, toggle to the next keyframe and then select Line 1 to add a keyframe to the Mask Path. Zoom out in the Composition panel to see the mask.


Make sure the Line 1 layer is selected. Then click Command T to reveal the mask’s transform box. Click the right side of the box to reveal the horizontal arrow and stretch it until you get to the end of the Elliptical text. The line becomes visible again!

Select the Mask Path keyframes and right click to Keyframe Assist, then click Easy Ease.


Step 14: Add Motion Blur

In the Timeline, click in the Motion Blur box for the Line 1 layer, both text layers and the image. The button looks like overlapping circles.

Step 15: Create a Second Line

Layer > New > Solid

Name this layer, Line 2 – it should retain the same colour you selected for the previous line.

Stretch and compress the solid until you have a vertical line – make sure the thickness matches the text.

Make Line 2 a 3D layer and drag the X- and Y-axis arrows to align it with the edge of the first picture. 

Step 16: Move to the next image

Click on the Null layer and make sure the Position property is visible. In the Time Graph, move the playhead about one second forward from the last keyframe. Click the keyframe button to add a keyframe in this position.

Move the playhead forward another second and in the Position properties of the Null, move the camera vertically. Release to drop a keyframe at the new position. 

Step 17: Duplicate the text

Select the Elliptical text and click Command + D. Reposition the text at the end of the camera move. Click on the Text tool and type, Spiral.

Step 18: Add the next image

Position the Spiral galaxy image in the Composition panel. Rescale to fit and make the image a 3D layer, which will send it back to the starting point. Don’t be alarmed. Just zoom out of the Composition panel to find it and then drag it back to position. 

Step 19: Animate Line 2 by applying a mask

Go back to the next to last keyframe

Click the Rectangle tool

Select the Line 2 layer and click in the Composition to draw a Mask below where Line 2 will start.

Go back to the Line 2 layer and double-tab the M key to reveal the Mask properties

Click the stopwatch next to Mask Path and add a keyframe. Then go to the last keyframe. Zoom out of the Composition panel to see the Mask.  Click Command T to reveal the transform box around the mask.

This time, click the top handle of the transform box and stretch the mask upward until it reaches the end of the Spiral galaxy picture.

Select the two Mask Path keyframes, right click on one of them and select Keyframe Assistant and Easy Ease.

Step 20: Add Motion Blur to the Spiral Galaxy image, Line 2 and the Spiral text.


Step 21: Create a Third Line

At this point, all you need to do is refer to the steps above for creating another horizontal line. This time change the direction of motion, duplicate the text, type in Irregular (for the next type of galaxy) and reposition it. Follow the instructions above for adjusting the camera move.


Exporting the Animation

File > Export > Add to Render Queue


Under Output To, make sure that your export is saved to the proper destination. Click the Render button and the movie will export.