In this lesson we will take an in depth look at the project and timeline panels.
The Project Panel
This is where we store everything in our scene. When we import anything into our project or create a layer within our project, they are stored here. Here is the project panel with a few things inside.
We have a composition called ‘Main Comp’. Note how under type, After Effects lets us know that this is a composition. Underneath that we have a folder. To create a new folder, press the folder icon in the bottom left of the project panel. When you create a folder, it’s a good idea to assign a descriptive name.
You can also rename any items in the project panel at any time. To do so, select a comp, layer or folder and press enter. It will then let you rename it. Press enter to accept.
Note how I have a folder within a folder, this helps me stay organised. Inside my EXR folder I have an image. If I want to rename it to a more descriptive name, that’s fine. Changing the name of a piece of footage doesn’t actually change the name on disk, it just changes the name in After Effects.
The solids folder is created by default whenever you create a layer in After Effects. The reason for this is that when working on a decent sized project, you’re likely to create hundreds of different layers. If you weren’t organised, things could get messy quickly. So After Effects is helpful and automatically puts them inside the solids folder.
The project panel also has some very important buttons down the bottom left.
Number 1 is the create folder button we just discussed. Number 2 is the create composition button. You can also create a composition by going to the composition menu > new composition. The shortcut is control + N.
This will bring up the create composition menu, it contains many options. There are some very helpful presets, and today there’s really only two you’ll need to use for general use:
HDTV 720 25
HDTV 1080 25
Both of these formats are high definition and will suit most of your needs. If you have live action footage that is a certain format, you can drag it from the project panel and into the ‘create new composition’ button, and a composition with settings and duration matching the footage will automatically be created, very handy!
Number 3 is the project settings panel. These are more advanced options, and the default settings are fine for normal use. We will discuss these in a later lesson.
Number 4 is the delete icon. If you’d like to delete a composition or layer, just click on it and press the delete button.
The Timeline Panel
Create a new composition (shortcut control + N). Any settings will do. Once created, that composition will show up in the timeline panel. This is a very important panel, it stores all our layers. By default, we don’t have any layers in our composition. Layers can be created under the layer panel. Go ahead and add a new solid layer by selecting Layer > New > Solid. The shortcut is control + Y.
The layer will appear in your composition. Here is a labelled diagram which includes many of the features found in the timeline panel. Note: some of these are more advanced, and many will be covered in later lessons. Don’t worry if you don’t understand any of the following.
- Composition name. You can have multiple compositions in the timeline panel, but only one open at a time. If your timeline gets crowded with compositions you can remove any from the timeline by pressing the little x. The shortcut is control + W.
- Time code. It indicates the current time of the CTI (current time indicator, labelled as 3 in the above diagram). It also indicates the total number of frames in the composition as well as the frame rate (currently 25fps in my example). If you control + click on the time code it will swap between duration in time and duration in frames.
- Current time indicator (CTI). You can drag it along the timeline to visit a different point in time.
- Layer Visibility. When this is turned off, the layer remains in the timeline but is not visible in the composition window. Check or uncheck the eye icon to turn on or off.
- Layer Audio (if applicable). We created a solid, and as such it doesn’t have audio. If you have a layer with audio and you’d like to mute it, simply uncheck the speaker icon.
- Solo Layer. This solos any layers that have this option checked. If you have 100 layers and would just like to view one or two in the composition view, check solo layer on each and they will be the only two layers to appear.
- Layer Colour. This determines the colour of the layer in the timeline. This is very useful for staying organised with many layers. Click on the little red box to change the colour.
- Layer number.
- Layer name. When selecting a layer you can press enter to rename it. After Effects still keeps the original name but displays the new name. You can show the original layer names by clicking on Source Name.
- Blending Mode. These are mathematical operations that blend layers based on their colour and luminance values.
- Track Matte. If you have two layers, you can tell one to display based on the other layers alpha or luminance values.
- Parent. Using the parent you can inherit another layers transform values. For example if one layer moves left to right on screen, you can parent a static layer to that moving layer, and it too will move left to right.
- Frame blending. This option turns frame blending on or off in the composition.
- Motion blur. This option turns motion blur on or off in the composition.
- Brainstorm. This enables you to quickly cycle through random values on selected effects for rapid look development.
- Autokey. When this option is turned on, keyframes will automatically be created if a certain parameter is triggered. For example, simply moving a layers position does not normally create position keyframes. However with autokey turned on, if you move a layers position, position keyframes will be created automatically.
- Graph Editor. This helps you refine keyframe interpolation using a graph and Bezier curves.
You can also find additional options by pressing F4, or clicking on toggle switches/modes.
- Continuous rasterisation. If you’re scaling a solid layer or a vector image and you’d like it to maintain perfect quality regardless of scale, check this option.
- Layer quality. By default this is set to best but if your scene is slow you can make some or all layers draft quality to speed things up.
- Enable effects (if applicable). If your layer has many effects and you’d like to turn off all effects with one click, simply click this option. Click again to turn all effects back on.
- Enable frame blending (if applicable). If you need to stretch or squash the duration of live action footage, you may want to enable frame blending for a smoother result. Note that even if you have frame blending checked, it must also be turned on in the timeline options. See label no. 13 on the previous image.
- Enable motion blur. Checking this option will enable motion blur for the particular layer. Note that even if you have motion blur checked, it must also be turned on in the timeline options. See label no. 14 on the previous image.
- Adjustment layer. Check this option to have the layers effects impact the layers beneath it.
- Enable 3D. Checking this box enables layers to move in the z axis, as well as rotate along X, Y and Z axes.
1 & 2. In and out points. You can play back your work by pressing the short cut of 0 on the num pad. To play back in real time After Effects has to cache your work to ram. Once cached, it will play back from the in point and will stop when it hits the out point. To choose a different in point, drag your CTI (current time indicator) to the point in time you’d like your work to start playing from and press B. You can set the out point by dragging the CTI to a certain point and pressing N. You can also drag the in and out points with your mouse.
3 Using this slider you can view more or less of your timeline. Sliding it to the right zooms out, and sliding to the left zooms in.
4 Using this sliding bar you can navigate to different points in the timeline.
In the next lesson we’ll look at key frames and effects.