In this series of lessons, we’ll be going through the features and functions of Adobe After Effects. After Effects is a popular piece of software designed to do two main things: Motion Graphics and Visual Effects. We’ll be covering both topics throughout these lessons.
After Effects is available free on a 30-day trial from the Adobe website:
If you have already used up your 30 day trial, it can be purchased outright for $999 or you can subscribe to the creative cloud and gain access for $19.99 per month. Adobe also has lower prices for full time students.
We’ll be using After Effects CS6 (currently the latest version) for these lessons but you’ll be able to follow along on older versions.
If you’re downloading the trial version, once you have clicked on the above link and downloaded the Adobe download assistant, double click on it to launch. Once installed, it gives you a window where you can choose what type of software you’d like to download.
Under “Show me” choose Video and scroll sideways until after effects appears. You’ll need an Adobe ID to download the software, it’s free and quick to setup. Just click the “Create an Adobe ID”.
Once you have an account and are signed in, choose the language you’d like to download after effects in and click download. It will ask you where you’d like to store the file. Anywhere is fine as long as you have enough disk space available, about 1GB.
Once it has downloaded, it will give you the option to try for 30 days, or enter a serial number. Choose which option suits you, and agree to the terms and conditions. It will then bring up this screen. If you click on After Effects it brings up a list of additional content that will be installed. I’d suggest leaving these ticked. It will also show you where After Effects will be installed, by default at
Click Install and when it’s finished, launch After Effects. A desktop icon should have been created but if not you can launch by searching ‘After Effects’ in the windows search bar or mac spotlight, or navigating to ‘
C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects\Support Files’ and double click on
When you first open After Effects, it may give you a warning if you don’t have QuickTime installed. It’s not essential, but if you’d like to export your finished products to the popular QuickTime format it is best to install it. You can download QuickTime for free here:
After Effects should look something like this:
The program is broken up into many separate windows. These windows can help you complete many different tasks. You can expand, shrink, add or remove certain windows depending on what task you’re doing. In the above image I have highlighted the default windows that are present.
To remove any of these windows, click the little “X” next to each name. If you need to bring any of them back, click on the window menu and choose which window you’d like to display.
Under the window menu you will also fine premade ‘workspaces’, these are a combination of certain panels laid out in a particular way to make a certain task easier. In the below image, I have chosen the ‘text’ workspace. Note how the character and paragraph panels are prominently featured, making it easier to work with text.
You can also create your own custom workspaces. . Choose the different panels that you’d like to display, make some bigger and some smaller if you like, and once you’re happy with the layout you can choose Window > Workspace > New Workspace. It will ask you for a name, try and be descriptive and click save. That workspace will now be available under the default work spaces. I find working in after effects is easier with two monitors, and have made my layout look like this:
Next it’s important to understand how After Effects projects work. After effects works within a hierarchy, with Projects being at the top, compositions in the middle, and layers at the bottom:
Project: The project is where all our media and compositions are stored. When you go to the file menu and press save, this saves the project as an after effects project file.
Normally we use one project file for each project we’re working on. For example if we were creating a corporate video for a bank, we would have one after effects project file for that job. If we were then creating another corporate video for an insurance company, we would create a new project file for that job.
Sometimes if a job is very large, it might be easier to split it up into separate after effects project files to save our project file from getting cluttered.
Note that we can import one project file into another if need be.
Composition: A composition is where we can create our motion graphics or visual effects, normally using different types of layers, images and video. You can also have compositions inside of compositions.
Layers: We can create layers inside of compositions. There are many types of layers:
Text, Adjustment, Solid, Light, Camera, Null, Shape, Image, Video.
We use combinations of these layers, along with effects, to create motion graphics and visual effects.
Each of these three hierarchies reside in a separate panel, and we will discuss the major panels in-depth in the next lesson.