Week 06

Week 06 – Topics

Grouping Layers
Motion Graphic Genres
Announcement: No class on Tuesday, March 29
I’ll be in Seattle at the An Event Apart Conference. See class notes next week for more assignments due April 5.

  • parenting, nesting, and expressions defined
  • assigning a parent
  • parenting, opacity, and effects
  • parenting with null objects
  • using guides
  • nesting comps
  • editing precomps
  • navigating composition hierarchies
  • nesting a common source
  • sizing precomps
  • locking panels
  • precomposing a group of layers
  • precomposing a single layer
  • render order explained
  • splitting work between comps
  • using precomposing to re-order
  • continuously rasterized layers
Week 06 – Assignment

1) Create a small project using graphics and text that uses Parenting, Nesting and Precomposing. Bring in the files to our next class April 5 and be prepared to upload to my dropbox. Please upload the entire folder including your .aep and.mov files. Be careful to setup your file structure correctly.

Keep in mind the following:

Parenting is where one layer’s animation can influence that of others.

Nesting and precomposing compositions are ways to bundle together layers, keyframes, and effects into one comp and treat the result as a single layer in another comp.

Include the following in your project:

  • Using graphics and text, sssign one of your elements as a parent and animate using scale and rotation. Remember that the parent’s animation is passed on to the child’s.
  • In a comp, create several of the same images (remember to make use of the Command + D to duplicate) and nest this comp inside of a new comp (Think of the Muybridge example from the textbook.) Create an animation and remember to modify the group in some way so they are not uniform.
  • Add a group of layers (3 or more ) and precompose a group of layers. Animate the precomp.

2) Motion Graphics Critique/Assessment Assignment: referring to the 7 criteria for critique and assessment,  find a Motion Graphics project on Vimeo, you can start by looking here,  and post an entry on your Tumblr blog detailing your critique of the project based on the 7 points outlined in the class notes below. Also, what genre does it best represent?

3) Reading for Next Week: Chapter 11: Shape Layers. I will post an assignment for this chapter to the class notes next week.

Motion Graphics: How do you assess and critique?

Seven Critieria

  • Structures and Composition
  • Image and Image Type
  • Symbols and Symbol types
  • Time
  • Sound
  • Intent
  • Meaning
1. Structures and Composition

How is the screen space being used?

2. Image and Image Type

What is the nature of the image? What is implied?

3. Symbols and Symbol types

What symbolic forms are being used? Why?

4. Time

Analyze carefully the use of time, note the time break for the change/cut/transition.

5. Sound

What are the roles of voice, music, and rhetorical sound?

6. Intent

What is the collective intent of all the visual, sound, and pacing elements?

7. Meaning

What is the collective meaning of all the visual, sounds and pacing elements?

Motion Graphic “Genres”

What are “genres?”

A genre is a category used to classify works, usually by form, technique, or content.

  • Fluid
  • Organic
  • Vector
  • Hand-drawn
  • Collage
  • Film
  • Kinetic typography
  • Information design
  • End tag

This is animation that flows smoothly from shot to shot, from design frame to design frame, It’s as though morphs are going on when, in reality, it’s just seamless graphic elements moving from one scene to the next. Psyop is king of this style.


This genre feels real, though still artistic. Often the frame is dark and moody with hints of photo-real textures and many exaggerated lens flares. Visual effects are becoming more prevalent in motion graphics and could be listed here. Imaginary Forces is known for this genre.


This is based out of Illustrator or other vector programs. Dealing mostly with silhouettes and solid colors, using vector images allows for massive scaling of elements without loss of detail. Brand New School does this genre well.


This genre got popular as a rebellion from clean vector and typically employs paint drips, rough paper, or a jittery stop motion feel. Eyeball‘s rebrand of Comedy Central is a good example.


Also know as “Kitchen Sink” style, collage my involve throwing in everything to the kitchen sink. Just like the collages of cut out magazine images we make in second grade, this style has the same feel, an often frenetic, rapid animation style. Stardust does this well.


this style is seen in film titles and trailers. There is a pacing common to trailer graphics and they have a heavy focus on typography. Picture Mill does good stuff here.

Kinetic typography

the technical name for “moving text”—is an animation technique mixing motion and text. This text is presented over time in a manner intended to convey or evoke a particular idea or emotion. It is often studied in Communication Design and Interaction Design courses. Some commonly seen examples of this technique include movie title sequences and credits, web page animation and other entertainment media.

Information Design / Data Visualization

Done very well by the creative agency Jess3

JESS3 / The State of The Internet from JESS3 on Vimeo.

JESS3 designed and animated this for the JESS3 lecture at AIGA Baltimore in Feb 2010.

End tag

The End tag is the mainstay of motion graphics, it’s the 5 second graphics presentation of the company logo that comes at the end of a twenty-five second commercial.

Lesson 6 – Parenting and Nesting

Parenting: where one layer’s animation can influence that of others.

Nesting and precomposing compositions: ways to bundle together layers, keyframes, and effects into one comp and treat the result as a single layer in another comp.

With this technique, you “parent” (attach) as many child layers as you want to a parent layer. The children remember their relationships to the parent at the time you attach them. Any changes in the parent’s position, scale, or rotation results in the children being dragged along for the ride. The children may have their own animation as well, but these are not passed back to the parent.

Page 142   parenting, nesting, and expressions defined

The advantage of parenting is that all of the layers involved are in the same composition, which makes them easy to keep track of.

A disadvantage is that changes in opacity are not passed along from parent to child, so you can’t use parenting to fade out a group of layers together. Effects are also not passed from parent to child.


The process of adding a composition to another composition is referred to as nesting comps. The nested comp (often referred to as a precomp) appears as just another layer in the second comp. You can animate, fade, and apply effects to the nested comp layer as if it were a normal movie file. The primary difference is that it is “live”: You can still go back to the first (nested) comp and change it, and those changes will appear immediately in the second (master, or main) comp without the need to first render the precomp.

Another use for nesting is that a single source comp can be nested into more than one master composition. The same source comp may also be nested several times into the same master comp. By doing this, you can easily change the original nested comp, and the change will ripple through to any comp it is nested into. This is ideal for creating repetitive elements such as animated logos that may be used multiple times throughout a project; some animators may refer to this process as creating an “instance.”


When building a chain of nested compositions, ideally you’re thinking ahead: You use several layers to build an element in one comp, then use the result nested into a second comp. However, the creative process is rarely that orderly and logical. You might build a complex composition, only to later think, “You know, life would be easier if I could just group these layers into their own nested comp…” Well, you can: The process is known as precomposing. You can select one or more layers in the current comp and “send them back” into their own comp – called a “precomp”– that automatically becomes a nested layer in the current comp. It’s almost as if you planned it that way ahead of time (you’re so smart…). Once you do this, as far as After Effects is concerned, there is no difference between the resulting precomp and a normal nested comp.


After Effects also allows you to connect virtually any parameter to another parameter. This involves creating small pieces of JavaScript code referred to as expressions. We cover expressions in the next lesson, but in short, basic expressions could be considered a highly targeted form of parenting, where only individual parameters are connected rather than all transform properties at once. The big advantage is that you can connect any parameter you can keyframe – not just position, scale, and rotation.

Tip: Effects applied to a parent are not passed along to its children. To apply the same effect to a group created by parenting, use an Adjustment Layer (Lesson 3), or precompose the parent and its children into a new comp and apply the effect to the resulting layer.

Page 144   assigning a parent

Tip: Choosing a Responsible Parent When grouping together layers using parenting, it is important to think about who should be the parent and who should be the child. A parent’s animation gets passed along to its children. Therefore, the layer that is going to be doing the least animating often (but not always) makes the best parent. That way, the children are free to run around the parent without their animation being passed onto the parent.

1. Open > Lesson 06 > 06a-Parenting.aep.

Twirl open the Comps folder, then double-click the comp Parenting1*starter to open it.


For this animation, let’s make the text and planet scale up as a group, with the text rotating around the planet. We’ll then try to fade them out as a unit.

2. Select the first two layers, then press S to reveal their Scale followed by Shift + R to reveal Rotation and Shift + T to reveal Opacity.

3. To set up a parenting group, reveal the Parent column in the Timeline panel. Either right-click on any column header in the Timeline panel and select Column > Parent, or use the keyboard shortcut Shift F4.

4. There are two ways to assign a parent:

  • Click on the Parent popup for the prospective child Text on a circle.psd and pick its new parent – planet.mov – from the list that appears.
  • Alternatively, click on the spiral icon (the pick whip tool) in the Parent column for the child and drag it to the name of the layer you wish to be the parent.
Page 145   parenting, opacity, and effects

5. Scrub the Scale for Text on a circle.psd; only that layer scales. Return it to 100%, then scrub Scale for planet.mov – when you scale the parent, both layers scale as a group. Note that the Scale value for Text on a circle.psd does not change; its scale value is now shown relative to its parent.

  • Make sure the current time indicator is at 00:00, then click on the stopwatch for planet.mov’s Scale to enable keyframing. Enter a value of 0%; both layers will disappear.
  • Move the time indicator to 02:00 and set Scale back to 100%, returning both parent and child to full size. Press F9 (to make this an Easy Ease keyframe.

6. Now let’s rotate the child layer:

  • Scrub Rotation for Text on a circle.psd; it rotates, but its parent does not.
  • At 00:00, enable keyframing for Text on a circle.psd’s Rotation. Return its value to .
  • Press End, and enter 2 for Revolutions (Rotation’s first value). The second keyframe should read 2x+0.0°. RAM Preview: The text rotates as both scale up together, then continues to rotate without affecting the parent.

7. Parenting passes scale, position, and rotation from parent to child, but nothing else:

  • Move to 10:00, select planet.mov, and press Option + Shift + T to reveal Opacity and enable keyframing.
  • Press End, and set planet.mov’s Opacity to 0%: The text will still be visible. You will have to fade out the Text layer separately. In addition to opacity, effects are also not passed from parent to child.
Page 146   parenting with null objects

Sometimes it is not clear which layer would make the best parent. The solution is to hire a babysitter: a null object. Nulls are layers that do not render, but otherwise have normal transform properties such as position, scale, and rotation.

1. Open the Finished Movies folder, and play Parenting2.mov to see what you will be building.
2. Open Comps > Parenting2*starter . Then press Shift + F4 to reveal its Parent panel, if it’s not already visible.

Parenting Chain

3. When you start parenting, first build any sub-groups that make sense to handle as one element. In this case, the number 9 and the planet form a logo. Click on the Parent popup for Nine, and select planet.mov to be its parent. Now when you move the planet, the number will stay with it.

4. Let’s employ a null object to move the rest of the title layers as a group. Still at time 00:00, select Layer > New > Null Object; it will be added to the timeline.

To rename the null, select it, choose Layer > Solid Settings to open its dialog, and type a name such as “Title Parent Null”, and click OK.

In the Comp viewer, the null will appear as a square outline. The null may be hard to see, so temporarily turn off the Video switch for Muybridge_textless.mov.

Note that a null’s Anchor Point defaults to its upper left corner.

5. Since scaling and rotation happen around the parent’s anchor point, it is important to first move the parent into the desired position before attaching the children to it. The center of the planet would make a good center for scaling this group, so let’s borrow its Position value:

  • Select planet.mov, type P to reveal its Position, click on the word Position to select it, and use Edit > Copy.
  • Then select Title Parent Null and Edit > Paste. The top left corner of the null will now appear centered over the planet.

6. Time to parent the other layers. Click planet.mov to select it. Then Shift + click on Season Finale to select layers 3 through 5. (Don’t select layer 2, as it is already parented to layer 3.) Then drag the pick whip tool for any of the selected layers to Title Parent Null, and they all will become attached to it.

Animating the Null

Now that we have everything set up, we can animate the group. The plan is to have them move forward to make the “9” logo and “Tomorrow” the heroes.

7. Select Title Parent Null. Its Position should be visible; type Shift + S to also reveal Scale. Move to 02:00, then click on the stopwatches for Position and Scale to enable keyframing for these parameters, as well as set their first keyframes.

8. Press ‘ (apostrophe) to turn on the Action and Title Safe grids. These help you position the text in a legal area of the screen.
9. Move the time indicator to 02:15. Increase the scale of Title Parent Null to 150%; the entire group grows larger and a second Scale keyframe is created.

Then click inside the null’s outline and drag it to the left until the planet is positioned just inside the Title Safe lines. The group will move together, and a second Position keyframe will be created. (If only one layer moves, you accidentally grabbed a layer other than the parent null; undo and try again.)

10. To clean up the title, fade out the words to the left: Keyframe the opacity for Season Finale from 100% at 02:00 to 0% at 02:15.

Now that the major structural work is done, you can work with the children without worrying about affecting the parent and the overall move. Animate the planet, Tomorrow, and Season Finale child layers to your personal taste. Turn the Video switch for Muybridge_textless.mov back on to see the title in context.

Tip: Parenting and Scaling Scaling a layer past 100% normally reduces its quality. However, the Scale values for a parent and its children are combined before After Effects calculates how to draw the pixels for each layer. Therefore, if a child has already been scaled down, you can get away with scaling up its null object parent without any loss of image quality for the child – as long as the combined scale values amount to 100% or less.

Page 148   using guides

One of the more powerful features in After Effects is the ability to treat a composition as a layer in another comp. This process is referred to as nesting, and is a great way to group layers together.

Creating the Wide Comp

1. Open . Lesson 06 > 06-Nesting1.aep

Go to Finished Movie folder and play Human Figure in Motion.mov.

2. Sources folder >  sequence Muybridge_[00-09].tif and select it. The top of the Project panel informs you that its size is 270 x 500, with a rate of 10 frames per second (fps). The sequence consists of only 10 unique images, so it was looped 10 times in its Interpret Footage dialog.

Create a new composition. Enter the following parameters in the Composition Settings dialog:

  • Disable Lock Aspect Ratio. Set Width to 2300 pixels (more than eight times the width of the sequence), and Height to 500 pixels (the sequence’s height).
  • Set the Pixel Aspect Ratio popup to Square Pixels.
  • Set the Frame Rate to 10, Start Timecode to 0, and the duration to 10:00.
  • Enter a name of “Figures_group”, and press OK. Resize your user interface frames to give the Comp panel as much room as you can, and set its Magnification popup to Fit Up To 100%.

3. Drag Muybridge_[00-09].tif from the Project panel to the left edge of the Comp viewer – it should snap into place.

4. To help align additional copies of this sequence, let’s take advantage of guides in the Comp panel:

  • Press Command + R to Show Rulers, and make sure Window > Info is open.
  • Click in the top ruler, and drag downward: A blue guide line will appear. Place it even with the top of the comp’s viewing area. Keep an eye on the Info panel while you drag, confirming that the guide is at 0.0.
  • Verify that View > Snap to Guides is enabled.
Page 149   nesting comps

5. Select Muybridge_[00-09].tif, and type Command + D to duplicate it. Drag it a short distance to the right; your guide will help keep it aligned. (You can also press Shift after you start moving a layer to constrain it to the X or Y axis.)

Make five more duplicates, and drag each just beyond the previous copy; there should be seven layers now. Then create one last duplicate, and while dragging it to the right, add Command + Shift so it will snap to the right side of the comp.

6. Type Command + A to select all the layers. Open Window > Align, and click the Horizontal Center Distribution button (bottom row, second from the right). The layers will now be spread out evenly across the composition. Close the Align panel to save space, and save your project.

Nesting the Wide Comp

Next, let’s create a main comp to nest this group of Muybridge sequences into:

7. In the Project panel, select the Comps folder and click the New Comp button. Set the Preset popup to NTSC DV. Change the duration to 06:00, rename it “Figures Main”, and click OK. (You can hide the Parent panel if it appears.)

8. To nest a comp, you have two choices: You can drag your first comp into your new comp, same as adding any footage item to a comp.

Alternatively, in the Project panel you can drag the comp Figures_group on top of the icon for the comp Figures Main and release the mouse to nest it. After either move, Figures_group will appear as a single layer in Figures Main.

9. The next step is animating the nested comp to slide from left to right:
• Select the Figures_group layer; press “S” to reveal Scale and Shift “P” to reveal Position. Set the initial Scale value to 50%.

Page 150   editing precomps
  • The rulers from step 4 should still be active. Drag down a guide from the top and place it around Position Y = 50. Then press Command + R to hide the rulers.
  • Drag the layer so that its right side is aligned with the right side of the comp and its top snaps to the guide.
  • Enable the stopwatch for Position to create the first keyframe.
  • Press End to go to the end of the comp (at 05:29) and drag the layer to the right until its left side is aligned with the left side of the comp. You can use the guide or add the Shift key while dragging to keep it at the same height. RAM Preview. The figures should be marching to the right (if not, check you didn’t pan the layer in the other direction!).

Editing the Precomp

It is common to call a nested comp a precomp, as it renders first, with its result included in the master or main comp. Although the main comp appears to get a “flattened” layer to work with, the precomp is still live: Any changes you make to the precomp will ripple through into the main comp.

10. Double-click on the layer Figures_group to open this nested comp, or select the Figures_group tab in the Timeline panel.

11. Let’s stagger the timing of the Muybridge sequences so that the layers are not all in sync:

  • In the Timeline panel, right-click on any column header, and select Columns > In.
  • For layer 7, click on the In value, enter –1 in the Layer In Time dialog, and click OK. The In time will change to -0:00:00:01.
  • Set the In time for layer 6 to –2. Continue to set each layer one frame earlier in time, ending at –7 for layer 1.

Each copy of the sequence will now look different. After sliding the layers earlier, they run out before the end of the comp. In this instance, that’s okay because the main comp is much shorter than this precomp.

12.RAM Preview. Your staggered timing for the sequence has been automatically rippled up to this main comp.

Finishing the Project

13. Locate Sources > Digital Web.mov and > Code Rage.mov in the Project panel, and add them as background layers in Figures Main. Blend to taste.

14. To better match the background, let’s warm up the gray Figures_group layer plus give it some dimension:

  • Select Figures_group and apply Effect > Color Correction > Channel Mixer. Set to taste; we increased Red-Red to 140 and reduced Blue-Blue to 80.
  • Add Effect > Perspective > Drop Shadow and set to taste. Effects applied to nested comp layers affect all of the elements in that comp, with the benefit of having only one set of effects to edit.

15. Now let’s add a lighting treatment: Select Sources > Alien Atmospheres.mov, and this time add it on top of the other layers in Figures Main. Press F4 to toggle to the Modes panel, and set its mode to Vivid Light. This creates a richer look, with a tinge of the new layer’s blue color. If you don’t like the blue tinge, apply Color Correction > Tint to Alien Atmospheres.mov: Its default settings will convert the layer to grayscale. Feel free to try out different modes for each of the layers until you get a blend you like.

16. If you completed Lesson 5, here’s a chance to put your newfound skills to work! Add your own title to this composition. Choose whatever font you think works best (we used a condensed font so that it would fit on one line but still be fairly tall), and add Effect > Perspective > Drop Shadow to lift it off the background. Then apply a Text Animation Preset, or create your own design using Text Animators. Save your project when you’re done. If you’re curious, our alternate version is saved in Comps_Finished > Human Main_final.

Page 152   navigating composition hierarchies

As you build more complex hierarchies, your new challenge is to visualize how compositions flow into each other, and how you’ll navigate between them. After Effects offers several tools to facilitate this.

Composition Navigator
Along the top of the Composition panel is a series of buttons that represent the currently open composition and the chain of compositions linked to it. (If these buttons are not visible, click on the Options menu in the upper right corner for the Comp panel and enable Show Composition Navigator.)

Clicking on any of these buttons will open the corresponding comp. If more than one comp is linked to the current comp, only one is shown in the Navigator; After Effects automatically chooses which to display (usually the nested comp that you’ve opened most recently).


The Mini-Flowchart is a floating window that provides more detail than the Composition Navigator – for example, it shows all of the nested comps that flow into a composition to open it, including:

  • Click on the arrow to the right of a comp’s name in the Composition Navigator.
  • Click on the Composition Mini-Flowchart button along the top of the Timeline panel.
  • Tap the Shift key when either the Comp or Timeline panels are forward.
  • Select Composition > Composition Mini-Flowchart

In all cases, the Mini-Flowchart will open near where your cursor is. It shows three stages of the composition hierarchy; to move up and down longer hierarchies, click on the arrows between comps. Clicking on a comp’s name opens that comp.

Full Flowchart
The full flowchart shows all interconnected compositions. It may be opened from the Options menu for either the Comp or Timeline panels, or by selecting Composition > Composition Flowchart. It has its own Options menu with several choices on how information is displayed. Additionally, there is a Flowchart button at the top of the vertical scroll bar in the Project panel that shows you all comps in a project. The full flowchart is a good tool to use to help sort out a project you are unfamiliar with. However, unlike other compositing programs that offer a “nodes” flowchart, you cannot actually rearrange a composition from this flowchart view.

Page 153   nesting a common source

The Common Element
1. The idea in this exercise is that your client has three new locations opening in the United States, and they want to highlight this in a five-second animation.

Open Lesson 06 > 06c-Nesting2.aep. Twirl open the Finished Movie folder in its Project panel and play Locations.mov. Notice that the colored backplate and the words “New Location” are common to all three cities. When you have a repetitive element like this, plan your composition hierarchies so that this element can be isolated in a separate precomp, then nest it multiple times. Close the movie when done.

2. In the Comps folder, double-click the composition named MyPlate to open it. It’s only 300 x 100 pixels, and is twice as long as the client requested.

In general, it’s a good idea to create precomps that are longer than necessary, as it’s a hassle to have to go back through multiple precomps and make each one longer at a later date.

Creating the First City Comp

Now let’s create the first of the three City comps and add the individual city names on top of this common plate:

3. In the Project panel, drag MyPlate to the New Comp icon at the bottom of the Project panel. A new comp will open, with MyPlate nested into it. Type Command + K to open the Composition Settings, rename this new comp “City1” and click OK. Then in the Timeline, click on the Lock switch for the nested MyPlate layer so you don’t accidentally move it while creating your text.

4. Click on the Workspace popup in the upper right corner of the application window and select Text to open the relevant tools. The Character and Paragraph panels should appear; if not, select Workspace > Reset “Text” and click OK.

Set the Paragraph panel to the Center Text option, then select the Type tool.
Click in the Comp panel and type the name of the city you’d like to use (it doesn’t have to be the same as ours). Press Enter when done, then spend a few moments using what you learned in Lesson 5 to select a font, size, and color; the other cities will be based on the same style.

Duplicating Comps

5. Once you’re happy with how your text in the City1 comp looks, select City1 in the Project panel and press Command + D to duplicate it. After Effects will automatically increment the number at the end of its name, labeling it City2. Duplicate again to create City3.

6. Open the City2 comp. Double-click the text layer to select the text and type the name for your second city. Press Enter when done.

7. Open the City3 comp and edit the text layer to your third city. When you’re done, press V to return to the Selection tool, and save your project.

If you like, rename the individual city comps so that you can better keep track of who is who. You can do this directly in the Project panel: Select a comp, press Return (not Enter) to highlight its name, type in the city’s name, and press Return again.

Creating the USA Map Comp

Now it’s time to place your individual city comps around a map:
8. In the Project panel, locate Sources > USA map.tif and drag it to the New Comp icon. A comp called USA Map is created that is the same size as the still image map (1480 x 960). It will be created inside the Sources folder; drag it up to the Comps folder.

With USA Map selected, open the Composition Settings: Verify that its duration is 10 seconds and that the frame rate is 29.97 fps. Click OK when done.

9. Drag one of your city comps from the Project panel into the USA map Comp panel, and position it over the state where it belongs (yes, this is a geography test). Do the same with the other two cities. Don’t worry about animating them right now; let’s finish building the comp hierarchy first.

10. Select the Comps folder, and type Command + N to make a new comp.

In the Composition Settings dialog that opens, select NTSC DV from the Preset popup. Enter a duration of 05:00 (shorter than your precomps), change the default name to “Locations Main”, and click OK.

11. Nest the USA Map comp into Locations Main by dragging it from the Project panel to the left side of Locations Main’s Timeline panel. This will center the map in the composition (see figure to the right). Set the Magnification popup in the Comp panel to Fit up to 100%.

Let’s take a moment to contemplate the composition hierarchy you’ve created. Study the Composition Navigator along the top of the Comp panel (above) for Locations Main, and you will see that the nested comps flow from MyPlate to one of your city comps to USA Map to Locations Main. Click on any one of these navigation buttons, and After Effects will bring that comp forward.

Select MyPlate, and tap the Shift key to open the Mini-Flowchart. This flowchart will show you that MyPlate flows into each of your city comps, meaning that changes made to MyPlate will affect all of those comps downstream.

Switch to USA Map, and tap Shift again: The Mini-Flowchart will show you that all of the city comps flow into USA Map, which then flows into Locations Main. Note that you can click on the arrows between comps in the Mini-Flowchart to navigate along the chain. Click on Locations Main to bring it forward again.

12. Now animate the big map inside this smaller comp:

  • With USA Map layer selected, press P to reveal Position, then Shift + S to add Scale.
  • Move to 00:10, and enable the keyframing stopwatches for Position and Scale.
  • Change Scale to 50% or a little larger, and position the map to what looks like a good starting point.
  • Move to 04:20, increase Scale to around 70%, and reposition the map as needed to frame all three of your cities. If your cities are fairly tightly grouped, this simple “push in” animation will suffice. If your cities are more spread out, you might want to do a “pull out” instead (animate from zoomed in on one title to pulling back to include the entire map). In the real world, an animation like this may be driven by a voiceover (narration), in which case you might end up needing to do a more complex “motion control” move (as covered in Lesson 3).

13. This is about the point during a real project that the client calls and says “We changed our mind – it can’t say New Locations; it has to say New Cities!” Fortunately, those words are in a single precomp that feeds all of your city comps:

  • Click on MyPlate in the Comp Navigator to bring it forward. Double-click the layer New Location, type “NEW CITIES”, and press E.
  • Click on Locations Main in the Comp Navigator: all of the city precomps have been updated to say NEW CITIES. And that, my friends, is the power of nested comps and building intelligent hierarchies!

Final Polish
Preview your animation. Once you have the basic move down, bring the USA Map comp forward and experiment with animating the three city layers so they appear at different times.

In Comps Finished > Locations_final we scaled each city layer up from 0% to 100% over 20 frames, and staggered them to start at 01:00, 02:00, and 03:00 as we moved from west to east across the country. Of course, you could also have them spin in and slam down with a huge lens flare! (Just kidding…) On a more serious note though, this project has revealed another common trick advanced motion graphics artists employ: They create a complex world in one oversized composition that is full of detailed animations, and then nest this world into a final comp that moves around their world. This is much easier than trying to animate all of the individual component layers in a single composition

Page 155   sizing precomps

Tip: What Size Should Precomps Be? Precomps do not need to be the same size as the compositions they are nested into. But what size should they be? The answer is based more on intuition and compromise than certainty. Rule number one is that you do not want to have to zoom a nested precomp to be larger than 100%, or you will likely lose image quality. Having some extra size will also give you freedom later to decide how much you want to zoom in or pan around a nested comp (as is the case with nesting USA Map into Locations Main in this exercise). Rule number two is that you don’t want to make a precomp much larger than it has to be. Larger precomps take more RAM and time to render. If it’s just going to be a small button (such as the Plate comp in this exercise), there’s no need for it to be as large as the final comp. In general, when you have a complex chain of comps, try to create a test of the comp hierarchy before you spend time finessing the animation in each potentially wrong-sized precomp.

Page 157   locking panels

Tip: Let’s say you need to alter the color of the backing rectangles in the MyPlate comp and observe what this color looks like against the map layer in Locations Main. How can you see both at once? Open MyPlate comp, select the Rectangular Shape layer, and press # to open its Effect Controls panel. Lock this panel by clicking the padlock icon at the top left. Then bring the Locations Main comp forward. The Effect Controls panel for Rectangular Shape in MyPlate should still be visible. Now you can edit the Hue/Saturation effect already applied to Rectangular Shape while viewing the results “in context” in Locations Main

Page 158   precomposing a group of layers

So far, we’ve demonstrated using nested comps when you can plan ahead and decide what your composition hierarchy should be. As if life always worked out so neatly… More often, you’ll be in the middle of a design and discover that you would be better off if some layers already in the main composition were actually in a nested comp of their own. That’s where precomposing comes in.

1. Save your current project, and open the project file Lesson 06 > 06d- Precompose-Move.aep. In the Comps folder is wiredfruit*starter; open it by double-clicking.

This comp contains five layers: three that make up the title and logo, plus two for the background. After building it, you have the sudden brainwave that it would be cool to warp the title and logo as a unit. However, if you applied a warp effect with an Adjustment Layer, or nested this comp into another and then applied a warp, everything – including the background – would get warped. The solution is simple: Go back in time. Or more practically, select the three layers to be warped and send them back into their own nested comp. Then you can warp the resulting single layer in the current comp. And it’s easier than it sounds:

2. In the Timeline panel, click on layer 1, then Shift +click on layer 3. The first three layers will be selected.

Then choose the menu item Layer > Pre-compose.

The Pre-compose dialog will open. When you select multiple layers, the only option available is “Move all attributes into the new composition.” This means a new composition will be created (with the same size and duration as the current comp), and the selected layers – including their current transformation, effects, and any animation – will be moved intact into that new comp.

Disable the Open New Composition checkbox, enter a name that makes sense such as “apple group”, and click OK.

Nothing will appear to change in the Comp panel, but in the Timeline panel, those three layers will now be replaced by a single layer that points to the new nested comp – or precomp, as we like to call it.

3. You can treat this new precomp layer just as you would any other layer: transform it, animate, or apply effects to it.

Select the single nested layer apple group, and apply Effect > Distort > Warp.

The Effect Controls panel will open. Set the Warp Style popup to Squeeze, and Bend to –100 to get a squished distortion.

To animate the effect, press Hand click on the stopwatch for Bend to enable keyframing. Move a second or two later in the comp, then set Bend to 0 to “come out of” the effect. And that’s the basic technique for precomposing.

Bring the Project panel forward and note that your apple group precomp appears in the Comps folder. Precomps are still live, like any other nested comp. You can double-click it at any time to open it and any changes you make will ripple up to the top comp where it’s nested.

Twirl down the Comps_finished folder and take a moment to explore some enhancements we put into our version:

  • We removed the Drop Shadow from the three individual layers in the precomp apple group_finished and applied it instead to the nested layer in the main comp wiredfruit_finished. Now we have only one effect to tweak (and render), rather than three.
  • We timed the second keyframe in the warp to align with a point in one of the background layers where lines wipe past the viewer (look for the layer marker).
  • In the comp wiredfruit_finished, select the Bend value for the layer apple group_finished and click on the Graph Editor button along the top of the Timeline panel. You’ll see how we played with its value graph to overshoot the second keyframe’s final value, adding a little bounce when it lands. RAM Preview to see this, then see if you can re-create a similar overshooting in your version.

Tip: Anchor Point and Precomps
After you precompose a group of layers, the anchor point defaults to the center of the resulting layer. If you want to scale or rotate this precomp around a different location, use the Pan Behind tool (Lesson 2) to move the anchor point.

Page 160   precomposing a single layer

Precomposing is a great way to group together layers. However, it also comes in handy for individual layers. Sometimes, you need to perform a series of treatments on a layer that must happen in a specific order. Precomposing allows you to divide up the chores across more than one comp, making it easier for you to determine what happens when.

1.  Open Lesson 06 > 06e-Precompose-Leave.aep. In the Comps folder is Red Apple*starter; open it by double-clicking, then press 0 on the numeric keypad to RAM Preview it.

In this comp, the apple is scaling up and gently bouncing around (thanks to Animation Presets > Presets > Behaviors > Wigglerama). The gray color in the apple is a little boring though, so the idea struck us to use the apple as an alpha matte (Lesson 4) and fill it with a colorful movie.

The problem with this brilliant idea is trying to match the fill layer to the apple’s animation. We would need to also scale up the fill, and possibly wobble it to match. Even if we could do that, we would have another problem with the Drop Shadow effect needing to render after the track matte has been composited. What you really want is for the track matte effect to be composited in a separate precomp. This precomp would be used as a source in the current comp, where its existing attributes – effects and keyframes – would continue to be applied.

Pre-compose to the rescue:
2. Select layer 1 (wireframe apple), and choose Layer > Pre-compose. In the Pre-compose dialog, choose the option Leave All Attributes. This will move just the underlying source layer back into a new comp and keep all of the transforms and effects in the current comp. Enable Open New Composition (since you want to work in it), give your new precomp a clear name such as “apple+matte”, and click OK. The precomp will open in the Comp and Timeline panels.

If you open Composition > Composition Settings for apple+matte, you will see that the precomp is the same width, height, and duration as the Apple_loop layer (not the comp you sent it back from), but the same frame rate as the main comp. Close this dialog when done.

3. Bring the Project panel forward, and twirl down the Sources folder. Select the Light Illusions A.mov footage and drag it into the apple+matte comp below the Apple_loop.mov layer.

4. This colorful new layer is considerably larger than the comp. There’s nothing wrong with leaving it as is. But to create a more intricate pattern for the fill, let’s shrink it down to just fit this precomp. With Light Illusions A.mov selected, use the menu item Layer > Transform > Fit to Comp.

5. Time to fill the apple’s alpha channel with this colorful movie. Press F4 to reveal the Modes column. Then set the TrkMat popup for Light Illusions A.mov to Alpha. Rather than gray, the apple will be filled with the background image.

6. Click on the tab for Red Apple*starter and RAM Preview: The colorful apple you created in the precomp appears in this main comp, with its zoom, fade, and wobble intact. Mission accomplished; save your project. As usual, our version of this exercise is in the Project panel’s Comps_Finished folder.

It includes a few extra touches: We applied Effect > Color Correction > Hue/Saturation to the apple and rotated its Hue 50° to make the apple more red than pink, and enabled motion blur for our animating layers.

Page 162   render order explained

Sometimes, After Effects will appear to have a mind of its own: You try to treat an image a certain way, but you get an unexpected result. This occurs because After Effects has a very particular order in which it performs operations, which you need to know and understand. Gaining this understanding is the purpose behind the last few exercises in this lesson. The Order Things Render Frustration often precedes enlightenment. To help make it clear what’s really going on, let’s first work through an example in frustration:

1.  Open the project file Lesson 06 > 06f-Render Order.aep. The Comps folder should be twirled down; focus first on the nested folder Render Example 1. Inside it is the comp Basic Order; double-click it to open it. It contains a single layer: Digidelic.mov.

2. Select Digidelic.mov and apply Effect > Distort > Wave Warp. The default settings are fine; press the Spacebar to play, and notice that this effect even self-animates.

3. With Digidelic.mov still selected, choose the Rectangle mask tool and draw a mask around the center of the layer. Rather than cutting a clean rectangular mask, the mask’s edges are warped as well! From the result, you can deduce that the Wave Warp (and for that matter, any effect you apply) is being rendered after the mask – even though you applied the effect before creating the mask.

4. To see how Transform factors into the mix, scrub the Rotation value (if it’s not visible, twirl down the Transform parameters). The movie, mask, and wavy pattern are all affected. This suggests that transformations are figured into the mix after masks and effects. If this is the look you wanted, fine. But perhaps you wanted a straight-edged mask and to have the image wave inside. Or you might want to rotate the underlying image and not have the mask rotate. Who will win this war of wills: the artist or the software?

First, it is important to grasp that the order in which you apply transformations, masks, and effects doesn’t matter – After Effects will calculate them in the set order of Masks, Effects, and Transform. And there is very little you can do inside one composition to change this basic rendering order – for example, you can’t drag Effects before Masks, or move Masks after Transform.

Page 163   splitting work between comps

Two Comps Are Better Than One

There are hundreds of similar render order issues you might encounter, and there’s almost always more than one way to solve them. However, the simplest solution is often to use two comps. Take our Basic Order comp as an example. If you were to spread the Digidelic layer across two comps, you could then pick and choose the attributes that are rendered in the first comp, and those that are rendered in the second.

5. In the Project panel, drag the Basic Order comp down to the Create New Composition button at the bottom of this panel. This will nest Basic Order into a second comp called Basic Order 2. This new comp will open automatically. The chain now goes as follows: The Digidelic.mov source is in Basic Order, and Basic Order is nested in Basic Order 2 (you can see it in the timeline of the comp that just opened).

6. The tabs for both comps should be visible. Remember that the Basic Order 2 comp renders second, so if you want the mask to render after Wave Warp and Rotation, you need to move the mask into the second comp:

  • Click on the Basic Order tab in the Timeline panel to bring this comp forward, and if necessary twirl down Masks. Select Mask 1 and Edit > Cut. The mask will be removed.
  • Bring the Basic Order 2 comp forward, select the nested layer, and Edit > Paste. The mask will be applied, but will have straight edges because the effects and transformations rendered in the first comp and are not affecting it.

Tip: Precompose Options Compared
The Pre-compose dialog offers two options, and the results differ depending on which one you choose. The term “attributes” refers to masks, effects, transformations, blending modes, in and out points, and so on.
Leave All Attributes:

  • This option is available for single layers only.
  • After you precompose, the precomp will have one layer in it, and the size and duration of the precomp will be the same as the original layer.
  • Any attributes applied to the layer before you precompose will remain in the original comp.
  • The precomp will have a fresh render order, and any attributes applied to the layer in the new precomp will render before the attributes in the original comp.

Move All Attributes

  • This option is available for single layers and multiple layers.
  • The precomp created will be the same size and duration as the original comp.
  • Any attributes applied to the layer(s) before precomposing will be moved to the precomp.
  • The nested layer in the original comp will have a fresh render order, and any attributes applied to this layer will render after the attributes in the precomp.

Open New Composition
Selecting the Open New Composition option has no effect other than if it is selected, the precomp will come forward after you click OK so you can more easily edit it. If it’s not selected, the current comp will remain forward.

Page 164   using precomposing to re-order

In our first example, you fixed the visual problem with the wavy mask by nesting the comp into a second comp, then moving the mask. If the comp you’re working in has only one layer, that method works fine. In the real world, you’ll likely come across a rendering order problem in the middle of a project, when there are already multiple layers in the comp. If you were to nest this complex comp, you would be grouping all of its layers into the second comp – perhaps not what you had in mind. You need a scalpel not a hatchet, as it were – and this is where precomposing becomes your friend.

1. Select Close All from the Comp panel’s dropdown menu to close all previous comps. Bring the Project panel forward, and open Comps > Render Example 2 > Circle. This comp has three layers: Digidelic.mov with a circular mask and effects applied, a title, and a background. The client likes the idea, but insists that the result be a clean circle, not a wavy circle.

2. Select layer 1. If the mask and effects aren’t visible in the Timeline panel, press M to reveal masks, then Shift + E to reveal the effects. Now let’s sit for a second and think this through:

  • The Warp effect needs to be applied before the mask so that the mask doesn’t get warped.
  • The Bevel Alpha and Drop Shadow effects need to be applied after the maskis calculated (if beforehand, they will apply to the rectangular movie).
  • The three color correction effects treat the entire layer, so we don’t need to worry about them.

So – how to accomplish this? If you precompose this layer, you will spread the layer across two comps and can then pick and choose which attributes should render in the first comp (the new precomp) and which should render in the second comp (the current main comp):

3. Select layer 1, Digidelic.mov, then Layer > Pre-compose. Select the Leave All Attributes option (you want the attributes to remain in the main comp for now), and enable Open New Composition. Name your new precomp “Digi_precomp” and click OK. The precomp will be forward, displaying the source movie in its original form.

4. Click on the tab for Circle comp in the Timeline to bring the main comp forward again. The movie in layer 1 has now been replaced with the output of the Digi_precomp. (Note that after you precompose, the layer always twirls up.)

  • Select layer 1, press M, then Shift + E again. Because you precomposed with the Leave All Attributes option, the mask and effects remained in the Circle comp. Let’s move the Warp effect back to the precomp, where it will render first:
  • Select just the Warp effect and Edit > Cut. The distortion will be removed.Click the Digi_precomp tab to bring the precomp forward. Select Digidelic.mov and Edit > Paste. The image should twist. Press E to twirl down effects and confirm that the Warp effect is now in this comp.
  • Click the Circle tab again and look at the Comp viewer: The warped movie is now cut out by the mask as a perfect circle. The precomp (which renders first) is used only to distort the movie; the original comp (which renders second) applies all other effects and the mask.

Quick Quizzler: If you were to rotate this layer over time, would it matter which composition you applied the Rotation keyframes in? (Think…what would the consequences be to the light direction in the Bevel Alpha and Drop Shadow effects? Would using Layer Styles instead of effects allow for a different result?)

Page 166   continuously rasterized layers

In the last part of this lesson, we put a lot of emphasis on the order in which After Effects processes layers:

Masks are calculated first followed by Effects followed by Transforms (such as Rotation) and then Layer Styles.

However, there are exceptions to every rule.

The biggest exceptions are layers that are continuously rasterized: Their pixels are calculated on the fly, rather than ahead of time. Text and Shape layers fall into this category; so do Illustrator, PDF and SWF files as well as Solids when a special switch is set.

In those cases: Transforms are instead calculated first followed by Masks and Effects (although the Timeline doesn’t tell you so!). This can have an impact on how masks and effects look. Open the 06f-Render Order project and turn your attention to the comps inside the Render Example 3 folder:

• In Rotate 1-Layer, the text was created in Photoshop and converted to pixels, so it behaves like a normal pixel-based layer. Scrub through the timeline and pay attention to the direction of the shadow: Unfortunately, it rotates with the text. This is because effects are normally calculated before transforms such as rotation. On the other hand, look at the size of the shadow and the beveled edges relative to the text: As the text scales up, so does the shadow and bevel, which is what you would expect. In this case, transforms occurring after effects is a good thing. Finally, press Nand look at the quality of the text: Here it is being scaled 150%, where it looks quite fuzzy and aliased as you “blow up” its pixels.

• In Rotate 2-Text, the text was created in After Effects and is rasterized into pixels as needed depending on its font size. In addition, transforms such as rotation and scale are applied to the vector text, before it is rasterized. Once pixels are created, masks and effects are calculated. Scrub through the timeline and observe: The drop shadow continues to fall in the correct direction even as the text rotates, which is a useful result of effects happening after transforms. On the other hand, as this text scales up, the shadow and bevel stay the same size regardless of the size of the text, with quite un realistic results – a downside of this rewired rendering order. Finally, press Nand look at the quality of the text: It is quite sharp, even though it is being scaled 150%. Continuously rasterized layers look sharp at all levels of scale. You can solve most of these shortcomings using nested compositions or the Distort > Transform effect. We demonstrate the latter solution in this same folder

To tell if a layer is being continuously rasterized, look for the sunburst icon under the Timeline’s Switches column (above). This switch is always on for text layers. It is not offered for movies and most other layers. For solids and Illustrator layers, you will see a hollow box, which means it defaults to off (layer renders normally), but can be switched on (layer behaves like Text layers). When you have a nested composition, this switch changes roles and becomes a Collapse Transformations toggle: similar to continuous rasterization, but more complex in its implications (so much so that we devote an entire chapter in Creating Motion Graphics to it).


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Instructor for Graphic Design 71