4 Ways to Take Your Editing to the Next Level with After Effects

If you’re in the post production world and you’ve ever wondered what After Effects is all about, this article is for you.

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Over the next few minutes, I’m going to show you a number of things you can do with this powerful program. Think of this as a brief (yet in-depth) introduction. If you think you are just fine working exclusively in your NLE, then this article is definitely for you. If your job requires you to edit video, After Effects can serve as a great resource. And with a plethora of presets and templates available online, there’s never been a better time to jump in and learn the program. You can start with zero experience and be up and running with a finished project in less than 20 minutes. Even if you think that this article isn’t for you, I urge you to read on and discover the power of this excellent tool. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do in Adobe After Effects with four specific examples.

Bring Typography to Life

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Whether it’s in an opening title graphic, a lower third, or perhaps even a social media quote, elegant typography makes your work feel more professional. As a video editor, you’re often tasked with creating some kind of text element to include in your project. While most video editing software is capable of creating dynamic typography, these programs don’t work well with complex motion graphics. Before long you’re bound to encounter a client who wants something more than what your NLE was designed to do. Or maybe you’re an editor who wants to take your graphics to the next level. After Effects is the solution. You can do a lot inside of After Effects. At the top of the list would be creating complex typography. The program provides a variety of different tools to create text and bring it to life with easily-keyframable motion. You can further manipulate the text elements in a 3D space with virtual cameras and lights, and the Cinema 4D render engine.

Working with motion graphics in After Effects can quickly become quite complex, but it doesn’t have to be. The program comes with a number of animation presets that you can easily apply with the click of a button. There are a number of template projects available for free/cheap that have everything set up and ready to go—all you have to do is change the color and text. As you would imagine, After Effects is tightly integrated with the Adobe family of software applications and works seamlessly with Premiere Pro. Adobe allows you to dynamically link an After Effects composition directly into your Premiere project. When using a dynamic link, all of the changes you make in the After Effects project will automatically update in the corresponding Premiere project. Likewise, you can dynamically link a Premiere Pro sequence inside of After Effects.

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Also, if you’ve designed and created your own motion graphic project inside of After Effects, you can quickly export the sequence as a motion graphics template (MOGRT file) from the Essential Graphics panel. This template can now be accessed from the Essential Graphics panel within Premiere Pro. You can even add attributes to the template for further customization inside of Premiere Pro.

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Animate Logos and Graphics

You might find yourself in a situation where you want to animate a logo, either at a client’s request or just because you want to up the quality of your production. Take the image below as an example. This is a great representation of a very simple (yet smart) animation that is bringing extra life to a logo. While this basic animation could’ve been created inside of most video editing programs, it’s much easier to do inside of After Effects, as this is what it was designed to do.

You can be as simple or as complex as you’d like when animating graphics and logos. After Effects works well with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, two programs that are commonly used to create logos. I can import an Illustrator or Photoshop file into After Effects with each element as separate shape layers. Isolating each element as a shape layer will give me the versatility to create complex animations. You can also use shape layers to create your own original motion graphic designs.

As an example, let’s say that you want to bring life to a lower third—making it more dynamic than just static text that dissolves in and out. You can accomplish this by adding various moving elements to the text, such as an animated background layer or maybe even an animated path that moves around the text. You can add these animations via existing presets in After Effects, or you can just manually keyframe everything yourself. Or, as with the example below, you can use premade After Effects template projects.

You can also dynamically link these AE compositions inside of Premiere Pro, or save them out as motion graphics templates for Premiere. If you’re not working in Premiere, you can always export the lower third with an alpha channel, and use it as an overlay.

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If you decide to skip the templates and create your own custom animation, you can save out the animation as a preset for future use in After Effects. Simply select the property or properties you’ve animated and go to Animation > Save Animation Preset.

Dynamically Visualize Data

I find data visualization to be one of the most fascinating applications of motion graphics inside of After Effects. You can create complex and dynamic infographics using text elements and shape layers. Make bar graphs and pie charts grow and shrink with keyframes, expressions, and various effects. The possibilities when working with infographics are quite vast. And again, you can do this with little to no After Effects experience.

Websites like Envato Marketplace and Rocketstock offer template projects which are plug-and-play. With these After Effects projects, all of the work has already been done up front. All of the graphics are designed and created, and the effects, keyframes, and expressions are all in place. All you usually need to do is add your data, tweak a few sliders, and then export. It’s as easy as that. The more complex templates come with documentation and video tutorials to show you how to quickly get up and running.

5 Reasons to Use Adobe AE 05The example below is from an After Effects template available in the Envato Marketplace. This particular sequence is a horizontal bar graph. The creator has set up the sequence so that users can edit a variety of attributes, including the distance between the bars, the width of the bars, the size of the graph, the line colors and values, the text, and a plethora of other properties.

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It would be next to impossible for a new After Effects user to set this up without weeks of practice. Simply animating the graph alone would take quite a bit of time. But, equipped with a template and a short video tutorial from the template creator, an After Effects newbie can modify and create an extremely intricate infographic. This is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t be afraid to dip your toes into the world of After Effects. If you want to get more complex, the latest version of After Effects introduced a feature that lets you create data-driven animations. You can now import and link JavaScript Object Notation files (JSON) to various elements of a motion graphic for some striking results. This is a bit more complicated than using an infographic template, but you can still be up and running in under half an hour. Just check out this tutorial from Adobe instructor Daniel Walter Scott.

Create Visual Effects

In addition to designing typography, animating graphics, and visualizing data, After Effects can also create impressive visual effects. Hence the name After Effects. This is truly where the program shines—as a compositing tool. A composite is when you take multiple visual elements and combine them to create the illusion of one single visual. As with everything in After Effects, compositing can be very simple or extremely complex. There are a number of tools to help composite visuals, including the chroma key, tracking tools, and masks.

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Whether you’re reporting the weather on the local news, or you want to put an actor in a location where it’s impossible to shoot, the green screen can come in handy. With a simple green backdrop and a few lights, you can quickly drop your talent anywhere in the world once inside of After Effects. Working with a green screen in post-production can be as easy as adding a chroma key effect to a layer and then selecting the green color with a picker tool. Voila, now your green screen is keyed out and your subject is on the moon, or wherever you want them to be. While these chroma key tools are readily available in most NLEs, After Effects provides a more conducive environment when working with multiple layers. Again, After Effects is a compositing program. With advanced tracking and masking tools the interface is much more user-friendly than the standard NLE when working on a chroma key.

Tracking is a big part of visual effects, and After Effects has plenty of tools to get the job done. For instance, if you’re using a green screen shot that has any camera movement at all, you’ll need to use the tracker to match the shots in the composite. Trying to accomplish this in an NLE would prove to be quite difficult. The tracker tools can also stabilize a handheld shot, or help you to create your own simulated handheld camera shake. Apply camera movement tracking data to objects or graphics to composite those graphics into your scene. For example, you could attach a fake logo to the side of a building in a moving shot. Or have a callout graphic attach to a person or object that’s moving through the scene. Use tracking in conjunction with masks to really take control over your image. In After Effects you can mask out areas of your screen with shapes or paths. Masking is great for hiding unnecessary areas of a green screen, or isolating areas of the frame. Create a mask with various shape tools or draw a custom mask path with the pen tool. Animate the path of the mask to follow the action within your scene.

All three of these compositing tools are very versatile, and can create amazing visual effects when used alone or in conjunction with one another.

Conclusion

Are you convinced yet? While I’ve only listed four things here, I could in all actuality go on and on giving you examples of things you can create inside of After Effects. If you’re still too intimidated or just plain not interested in learning how to use the program, I urge you to at least download a template and attempt to use it in your next project. Once you actually get a hands-on experience, you’ll soon realize all of the possibilities at your fingertips. Do you think editors can benefit from using After Effects? Let us know in the comment section!

Thank you to Jason Boone for contributing this article.

Boone's short-form documentary work has been featured on National Geographic, Yahoo!, Bing, Fuel, and Current TV. While he's not busy creating tutorials on Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, he vlogs about living as an American expat in Paris.

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