Home *Top 5 Tips Learning After Effects Tip 1: Getting to know Adobe After Effects

Learning After Effects Tip 1: Getting to know Adobe After Effects


Tip 1: Getting to know Adobe After Effects

Thanks for checking out After Effects Beginner’s ‘Top 5 things I wish I knew when I started to learn Adobe After Effects’.

For the next five posts you’ll be able to read my top five tips that will help you understand the tools you have at your disposal, focus on what you want to learn, develop personal projects, get to grips with the fundamentals of motion graphics and learn how to manage your most valuable resource, your time.

As you work through the tutorials on aftereffectsbeginner.com, you’ll discover Adobe After Effects is a multi-faceted, in-depth application that carries out a multitude of diverse tasks. 

It’s a powerful tool and the possibilities can be a little daunting at first, but as you’ll discover, you’ll only use a certain amount of the tools a certain amount of the time.

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”

Zig Ziglar

Getting Started

The best place to start with Adobe After Effects is to first understand what the program is and what it can do.

When I first started learning After Effects I started by opening the application and clicking around randomly. At first this was enjoyable but after a while I found it quite odd because it didn’t seem to do anything. A lot of the menus I clicked were either greyed out or didn’t do anything. After Effects is not like a 3D package where you have instant access to primitive objects, particle systems and lights etc. After Effects initially seemed to lack, well, anything.

After Effects 2020 Default User Interface

So after more clicking around I finally figured out how to make a composition (link to learning from the pros?) and from there I added some video and image files to the project panel.

‘Right, we are in business,’ I thought. So I dragged the videos and images into the timeline of my newly created composition. But still, I couldn’t quite make it do anything and really, I just wanted to do something cool! After a little while I figured out how to drag and drop effects from the effects and presets panel onto the videos in the timeline. I started to change the values on the effects and finally I saw some results. but still, it was a lacklustre experience.

The two main reasons for my limited initial success

1. I didn’t actually know what After Effects could do and, 
2. I didn’t have an end goal in mind. I was clicking about for the sake of clicking.

Setting yourself goals will give your learning structure and direction. It will also help you gauge how far you’ve come.

After Effects is used for a wide-range of digital video tasks from Motion Graphics to Visual Effects, Compositing and Character Animation. Its powerful inbuilt tools enable many disciplines to be undertaken at any one time. You can accomplish a lot with After Effects alone and this is where its power lies.

What is After Effects capable of?

  • Motion Graphics
  • Visual Effects
  • Compositing
  • 2D Animation
  • Character Animation
  • Rendering
  • Integration with Cinema4D
  • 360° Video
  • Expressions
  • Scripting
  • Automating tasks / workflows

For those of you familiar with Adobe’s Photoshop, After Effects is likened to the ‘video’ equivalent. It has a lot of the same effects and blending modes that Photoshop has and it also works on a layer-based system.

One of the great benefits of working with After Effects is you don’t need to be able to use all of the tools. In fact most of the time you’ll only use a small selection of them but it’s always good to know what’s available.

Over the last couple of years my work has focused solely on 2D Motion Graphics. I have rarely needed to touch any of the traditional video tools like camera tracking, footage stabilization or colour correction. The power is in knowing what is available and only using what is needed for the task at hand.

By now you should have a basic understanding of what After Effects is capable of. Let’s have a look at what After Effects doesn’t perform well at.

After Effects and video editing

Aside from the many tools After Effects possesses in its arsenal. Being a non-linear video editor is not one of them. Technically you can edit video but in practice it’s not worth trying to edit more than a couple of clips. The simple reason is editing video is not a primary focus. Adobe’s Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro X are great examples of non-Linear video editors. In addition to using Premiere Pro as a video editor you have the capability to dynamically link compositions into Premiere Pro timelines. This is great for creating graphic and text overlays.’

AFter Effects Timeline

After Effects and 3D

Another area After Effects under performs is in 3D. After Effects has limited 3D capabilities. It can extrude text and shape layers but in essence it’s not a true 3D program. However, in recent years with the rise of Cinema 4D popularity (a 3D Favourite for motion designers), Adobe along with Maxon (Cinema4D’s owner) have introduced a plugin which integrates Cinema 4D scenes into After Effects. This in essence bridges the gap and makes working with 3D scenes possible in After Effects. Again, limited control but its start.

After Effects 3D Space

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