Insider Tips: How to Create a Staggered Layer Sequence 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 uses After Effects’ Keyframe Assistant to create a staggered layer sequence.

How to build a staggered sequence of layers in After Effects

If you’re using After Effects for motion graphics, the chances are that you’ll be very familiar with staggered layers as this is a common technique when creating stepped animations like this one…

Staggered layer effect
Stepped or staggered layers are often used to create motion graphics

The most obvious method is to create your layers, add your animations, and then drag each one to their new timeslot. And that’s fine if you’re just working with one or two layers. But there’s a much faster way to create a staggered layer sequence in After Effects using the Sequence Layer function.

How to stagger your layers in After Effects 

  1. Select the layers you want to stagger or offset.
  2. Move the playhead to the time you want to stagger the layers by.
  3. Trim the layers to the playhead using Opt/Alt+] or by dragging the layer handles (hold Shift to snap to the playhead position).
  4. Right-click on any of the selected layers and select Keyframe Assistant->Sequence Layers.
  5. In the pop-up dialogue box, make sure that Overlap is left unchecked and hit OK.
  6. With the layers still selected, drag the Out point handle of the first layer to fill the composition.

Even if you’re not trying to create a stepped or staggered layer sequence, the Sequence Layers tool is extremely useful if you just want your layers to run concurrently—and you can choose an overlap if you intend to to create transition effects.

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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.

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