Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Getting Started with

After Effects - 1

(for Mac)

Adobe’s After Effects is an amazing digital motion graphics tool that lets you animate and composite dynamic 2-D and 3-D effects of cinematic quality. Use this software for adding some visual flare and dynamic animation to titles for your video projects.

After Effects is a useful tool for:

·      Creating animated titles

·      Animating logos

·      Add visual flare to your video

·      Tweak problem footage

After Effects is an industry standard and integrates with other applications like Adobe Premiere and Photoshop.

The basic workflow uses six steps:

Importing and organising the footage, which we call assets

Creating and naming Compositions.

Arranging assets into layers.

Adding Effects and animating elements.

Previewing the work.

Rendering and outputting the final composition.



An Asset simply refers to any file that you can import into your project. Before you create a new project, start by making a project folder. Make a new folder inside the project folder and call it Assets. You can always make more folders to help you sort the assets, such as a folder for Video, one for Images, and another for Audio.

Collect all the assets that you want to import and store them in the appropriate folder. You can import entire Asset folders into After Effects. Once they’re imported, start layering them in the timeline. You can then modify the properties and add effects. The work is previewed in the Composition panel, which is equivalent to the program monitor found in Adobe Premiere.

Application Interface

Composition Panel – The large monitor at the centre of AE’s interface is called the Composition panel, which is where you can preview your work, similar to the program monitor in Adobe Premiere. 

Project Panel - To the left of the Composition window is the Project Panel. This is where Compositions live! It’s the panel where you import and store your assets. Each asset is considered a footage item. Always import the footage items from the project folder instead of from other locations, such as USB drives or the computer desktop. If you import from different locations you can easily lose footage and end up with “missing files.” So keep the footage items together in a single location. You can create folders or bins to organise your assets. The Compositions appear as a symbol that is visible in the figure to the right for ACE Demo v.1. You can make multiple Compositions for each project, but it’s always best practice to name each Composition, making it easier to find your work later (don’t just leave it Comp 1, Comp 2, and so on). Make ACE Demo v.2, ACE Demo v.3, etc.

To open a Composition just double-click it. You can always rename the Composition by doing a single-click on it and hit Return to highlight the name field. Hit Return again to set it. Renaming footage items in the Timeline works the same way. 

Finally, the Effect Controls tab in the Project Panel will enable you to change the properties of any effects that you apply to your footage.

Timeline Panel and Time Graph – found below the Composition panel, this is where you can drag your footage items to be layered and then modified and animated. The footage layered on top is always visible above any footage below. For example, if you want text to appear over a circle shape, then make sure in the Timeline that the text layer is placed above the circle layer. The Time Graph shows visually the work area itself and the position of the playhead at different points in time, which is displayed in a counter located in the upper left portion of the Timeline. 

Tool Panel – found in the upper left corner of the interface, the tool panel consists of several tools that enable you to modify elements in your composition. The tools may look familiar to those who often use Photoshop. From left to right: Selection Tool; Hand Tool; Zoom; Rotation; Camera Tools; Pan Behind; Mask and Shape; Pen Tools; Type Tools (for creating text); Brush; Clone Stamp; Eraser; Roto Brush; Puppet Tools. 

There are other panels, some of them we don’t have to go over in much detail until you start learning more advanced skills. But one panel that is especially useful is the Preview Panel.

Preview Panel - to preview a Composition, you can either scrub the playhead across the Time Graph or make it play by pressing the spacebar. But the best way to play a Composition is to use the RAM preview button, which will render all frames in the composition. The rendering gets cached into RAM. Once all the frames have been cached, everything will then play back at normal speed.

Effects & Presets Panel – this is where you can browse certain effects, which you can select and drag to the footage item. 

After Effects has hundreds of different effects. To know what they do, it’s best to experiment – try adding an effect to the footage and see what it does!

Getting Started

Create a project folder

Collect the assets and store them in the appropriate folder(s)

Open After Effects and click on New Project 

Save your project to the project folder (File > Save As > Save As)

Create a New Composition (Composition > New, or Command + N)

New Composition Settings Window

If you know the format that your camera shoots, then use a preset that matches the format of your footage. For example, if you shot in 1920 x 1080 resolution, then you could set the Preset to Custom and change the width and height to 1920 and 1080. Set the frame rate to 59.97 fps. Under the Pixel Aspect Ratio, use Square Pixels. The default duration is 30 seconds, but you can always change it. The duration is read as timecode, with hours, minutes, seconds and frames. If you want to change the duration to 10 seconds, then highlight the duration field and type 1000 (without colons) and hit return. 

Import the Assets

There are at least three ways to open the Import window:

  • File > Import, and then select the files you want to import

  • Right-click in the Project Panel and select Import

  • Set the pointer in an empty area of the Project Panel and double-click

The assets will show up in the Project Panel. You can always rearrange, rename and set up new folders (bins). A good practice in your workflow is to create a new folder to store the Compositions, especially if you end up making several versions of your project. 

Layer the Footage Items

Start your work by dragging footage to the Timeline, creating layers. Apply effects and modify the item’s properties as you see fit. When you add another layer you’ll place it in the Timeline either above or below the first layer, a process called layering, which means that any layers below a layer will be blocked by the one on top; layers above will be visible on top of the one below.


Once you’re satisfied with your work (which usually happens after making numerous tweaks) you're then ready to export the finished Composition. 

Rendering and Exporting finished compositions

To render means that the effects are applied to the composition frame by frame. 

Exporting means that the finished frames are then encoded into a certain movie format.


Exporting Movies

File > Export > Add to Render Queue

Or go to Composition > Add to Render Queue

Specify an output location and then click Render.