Insider Tips: Quickly Create Complex Motion Paths in After Effects

Insider Tips: Quickly Create Complex Motion Paths in After Effects

Every week, Insider asks one of our expert contributors to share a tip, tool, or technique that they use all the time and couldn’t live without. This week, Laurence Grayson shows the easiest way you can create smooth, complex motion paths in After Effects. 

The easiest way to create complex motion paths in After Effects

One of the ways to introduce motion to your motion graphics is to use keyframes for an object’s position values. But that can get pretty time-consuming for complex paths.

If you’re looking for an easier way, then you should give the Motion Sketch tool a shot. With the object you want to animate selected, open the Motion Sketch window (Window->Motion Sketch).

Use the After Effects Motion Sketch tool to draw a motion path in seconds.
Use the After Effects Motion Sketch tool to draw a motion path in seconds.

When you’re ready, hit the Start Capture button. Then use your mouse, trackpad, or tablet to draw the path you’d like the selected object to follow. When you release the mouse button, the capture process will automatically stop, and all the keyframes you just created will be applied to the object’s Position value.

After Effects drawn motion path
Depending on the smoothing you’ve set, your path may feature dozens of new keyframes.

Smooth sailing

Your motion path might come out looking a little jittery, in which case you’ll want to adjust the Smoothing setting. This s enabled by default and set to 1 in the Motion Sketch panel. If you need more, you can increase this value prior to your path sketching.

If you need to smooth things out after the motion path is created, you can open the Smoother panel (Window->Smoother) and increase the Tolerance Level to turn your shaky mouse path into something more buttery.

After Effects smooth motion path
Dial up the Tolerance will smooth your jittery path.

To change your animated object so that it faces in the direction of the motion path, use After Effects’ Auto Orientation. Go to Layer->Transform->Auto Orient and check the Orient Along Path option.

After Effects orient your object along motion path
Get your object to point along the path with Auto Orientation.

This will make sure it’s pointing in the right direction as it follows the path, but you might need to add a little manual rotation to the layer to get it off on the right foot.

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If you’re looking for tips on getting the best out of your account, check out Shawn McDaniel’s playlist on our YouTube channel.

Thank you to Laurence Grayson for contributing this article.

After a career spanning [mumble] years and roles that include creative lead, video producer, tech journalist, designer, and envelope stuffer, Laurence is now the managing editor for Insider. This has made him enormously happy, but he's British, so it's very hard to tell.

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