Insider Tips: Repeating Shapes and Layers 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 shares the better way to create repeated shape or layer effects.

When it comes to motion graphics in After Effects, repetition is definitely your friend. You can achieve this in a number of ways. The first of which is to just duplicate layers to get what you want. And this is where most of us start, but it quickly becomes unwieldy—particularly when you need to make changes.

Adding a Shape Repeater in After Effects

If you’re working with a shape layer, then a better alternative is to add a Repeater to it. Look for the Add menu in the Contents properties, and select Repeater from the drop down options.

By default, this adds three new instances of your selected shape. You can then adjust the Repeater properties to get the effect you’re after.

The After Effects Repeater is a go-to for starbursts and other explosive animations. You can keyframe a shape’s path, then add multiple copies with a rotation value in the Transform Repeater properties.

For example, the effect above uses a simple keyframed rectangle repeated 24 times at a rotation of 15 degrees (24×15 degrees being a complete circle). I’ve added offset duplicates of the layer to build up the visual complexity.

Bonus Tip: When you manually draw a shape on a layer, the shape’s anchor point will be off-center. Use Cmd/Ctrl+Double Click on the Pan Behind tool to center it.

The Repeater is one of those tools that rewards experimentation, so try and dial in your own combination of shapes, blending modes, and keyframes and see what you can get.

Repeating After Effects Layers or Comps

The Repeater is a very useful tool, but it only works with shapes in a shape layer. If you’re looking to repeat a shape, image asset, or composition, you should look to CC Repetile in the Effects & Presets panel, instead.

This tool is very different from After Effects’ Repeater. In many ways it’s a lot simpler. But it’s hard to beat when you need repeat any layer several times.

Just add the effect to the asset you want, set the expansion values you need (in pixels) and pick one of the options in the Tiling menu that works for you. Too easy.

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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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