Insider Tips: Find What’s Causing Slow Renders 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 how to find the bottleneck that’s causing slow renders in After Effects.

Finding the cause of slow renders in After Effects

Depending on the kind of work you’re doing in Adobe After Effects, render times are an unavoidable part of the job. Most of us have accepted this—sometimes we even look forward to them as a welcome break from hours of pixel wrangling—but what if things seem to be taking longer than you think they should?

If you’re asking the question “Why is my After Effects render taking so long?” you should check out the After Effects Composition Profiler. (It was added back in 2021, but a straw poll of the motion designers I know showed that I wasn’t the only one who missed it. Or just plain forgot about it.)

To enable the Composition Profiler, look for the snail icon down in the bottom-left corner of the After Effects UI, or right-click on the composition panel’s column headings and click on Columns->Render Time.

With the Render Time column now visible, when you preview your composition, you’ll be given a clear color-coded readout of the render time for each layer and any effects, masks, or expressions that are attached to it. (The color coding is based on the speed of a layer in relation to the other layers in your comp.)

Identifying potential bottlenecks for your particular system in this particular composition won’t necessarily make your final renders faster, but it can be extremely helpful to know what layers or effects you can toggle off to speed up your previews. It can also help you assess the impact that certain effects are having on your render times, and whether there’s a faster alternative that might work just as well. Like maybe swapping out that Camera Lens Blur layer and dropping in a Gaussian Blur, instead?

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Laurence Grayson

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.