Adobe After Effects – 5 Tools & Techniques You Should Be Using

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For most people who work in the video production industry, Adobe After Effects is a part of their everyday lives.  After Effects (AE) is software used for post production and motion graphics and is quickly becoming the industry standard as hardware and software costs plummet, and the need for a six-figure turnkey system has disappeared. The enormous jump in adoption of AE can be attributed to the inherent power and usability of the software but also Adobe’s openness to third-party plugins and scripts.  Here, we’ll touch on a few techniques and add-ons that will help take your work to the the next level.

1. Expressions – Anyone who has ever edited a video or created an animation is familiar with keyframing, setting points on a linear timeline where a change occurs. In After Effects, simply keyframing every animation can be stifling. Most times, keyframes are limited to one value, and creating random movements over a length of time can become overwhelming.  Expressions are essentially mini scripts within AE where the user can “create relationships between layer properties and use the keyframes of one property to dynamically animate other layers” ( Adobe Expression Basics ). The user can also create simple randomization of an individual property for any layer. Adobe also makes this powerful technique user friendly by adding the pick whip tool. The pick whip is a graphic object that allows the user to copy the properties of one layer to another without using any code.  Expressions completely open the door to smoother animation, randomization, and complex calculations within After Effects.  For a jump start on some easy Expressions, check out “5 Easy After Effects Expressions” via AE Tuts+.

2. Graph Editor – When I first became serious about motion graphics and AE, I was incredibly excited to discover the Easy Ease feature in the Keyframe Assistant.  Easy Ease changes the speed of the keyframes, slowing down the movement instead of coming to an abrupt stop. While this is a huge leap compared to normal keyframes, the timing is preset which does not allow for complete customization.  The Graph Editor is a simple (and quick) way to completely customize speed and movement and give your animation a unique look. To learn the basics of the Graph Editor take a look at Adobe’s Animation Basics Documentation.

3. BG Renderer – Working either as a freelancer or in a small post production house, most of us cannot afford to have multi-machine render farms for our AE work.  From the incredible site, this third party plugin is a life saver and essential for anyone who has spent 8 hours rendering only to notice a glaring mistake.  BG Renderer is a script that allows you to render your comps in the background while you continue to work in After Effects.  This is an incredible time saver, especially if you are working on a large project with a number of Pre-Comps.  The new “Pro” version also includes the option of a growl notification, email, sms, or iPhone push notification when your render is complete.  ( $14-99 – $34.99 | BG Renderer )

4. Trapcode Particular – From Red Giant Software, Trapcode Particular is the premiere particle system plugin for After Effects.  Whether you’re creating particles as the focal point of a comp or as a subtle accent, Particular gives the user complete flexibility.  Not only does the particle system react to AE’s native 3D Cameras, but the custom particle feature includes the option of adding a true 3D object as a particle…all within the After Effects interface. ( $399 | Trapcode Particular )

5. Optical Flares – If you are interested in After Effects and aren’t familiar with, you’ve been wasting your time.  Video Copilot is an After Effects tutorial site run by Andrew Kramer ( @videocopilot ) containing dozens of free After Effects tutorials. Along with some of the best tutorials on the web, Andrew has developed a number of useful third party plugins for After Effects. One product that I use on nearly every project is Optical Flares.  Dubbed as a “Creative Lens Flare Studio”, Optical Flares creates completely customizable camera lens flares. The plugin also comes packed with presets that range from Michael Bay explosion to subtle sunshine.  Whatever type of shot you’re compositing, Optical Flares adds a level of realism unachievable with native effects. ( $124.95 | Optical Flares )

Have a technique you’d like to add to the list? To join the discussion, or show off some of your own work, comment below or follow me on twitter @fdc245.

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