Getting Started with Adobe After Effects - Part 6: Motion Blur

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Getting Started with Adobe After Effects

Getting Started with Adobe After Effects - Part 10: Workflow and Rendering

May 28 2013 12:00AM by jamesel   

In this lesson, we will discuss a few different aspects of after effects related to project structure, workflow and rendering.

Project structure:

It’s important to be organised when working in after effects. Most of this organisation is done inside the project panel, and some inside our compositions.

In the project panel, we can create folders to be organised. Normally I’ll have something like this:

create folders

If any one of these folders contains too many items, I’d break it up into sub folders. For example if the images folder was cluttered I would break it up into subfolders such as icons, logos, photos etc.

As projects become bigger and filled with more assets, you will thank yourself that you were organised. Note how I have the main composition as its own, this is the head of the composition tree and where the final project will be rendered from. As you know, you can have infinite compositions inside of other compositions. Any composition that isn’t the main comp can be placed inside the compositions folder.

If you need to clean up your project panel you can do so with three features under the file menu:

layer name

  1. Consolidate all footage. Often we will accidentally import the same piece of footage multiple over the course of a project. We can’t just delete all bar one because after effects will be referencing each of them in separate compositions. Solution: simply click consolidate all footage and only one copy of the footage will remain but will be used instead of the duplicate footage.
  2. Remove unused footage removes any footage that isn’t in any compositions and therefore not in the final product, a very handy feature!
  3. Reduce project removes any items that you aren’t currently selecting in the project panel. This is a great way to isolate a single composition in a large project.

Sometimes it’s tempting to be lazy and import our assets from all over the place. From folders like pictures and downloads, or from external and internal hard drives. A problem occurs when one of those external hard drives is removed or we need to transfer our project to another computer. We can transfer our project file just fine, but all the assets will be missing. There are two solutions to this problem:

  1. Be organised and have every asset in the same folder as the after effects project file. This way when you need to take your project somewhere, you can take the folder it is contained in and all assets will travel with you.
  2. If you haven’t been organised but you need to take the project somewhere or send it over the internet, you can do a file collect from file > collect files. This will take the files from all over your computer and store them in the same folder as your project file so it can be sent or transported without hassle.

It is also handy to keep your actual compositions tidy. When layers are created, they are named whatever type of layer they are. For example when you create a new solid layer it will be called Red solid X, red being the colour and X being the number. It’s important to rename these as descriptive names. Name them after what they do, not what they are. For example if we had 20 adjustment layers all responsible for different glows, naming each “glow” wouldn’t be much help. But if we named then after what they do, then things would be a lot clearer such as “blue light bulb glow”. The shortcut to rename a layer is enter, whilst having that layer selected.

After effects will still remember the original name, which can be handy on occasion. You can toggle between the layer name (what you personally named the layer) and it’s source name by clicking the name tab highlighted below.

source name

Another way to be organised is to give layers colours based on what they are, as at a glance you’ll be able to see what’s what without having to read each name. You can choose from 17 different colours by selecting the label icon below:

layer colours

Note how I’ve grouped things like the roto layers as green, the effects layers as lavender and the slow to compute effects as orange. This is important because we can’t always group layers together because the order we have our layers affects the composition. For example if I have a grain layer on top of a blur layer but wanted to move the grain layer underneath the blur (for organisational purposes), that would be illegal because instead of adding the grain after the blur, the grain would be applied beforehand and would be affected by the blur.

If I ever need to select all the slow to compute effects to turn them off so I can work faster, I can just select the label icon on the glow layer and choose select label group. Then all orange layers would be selected. Fairly pointless in this example with only two layers but you can imagine how it would save time if I had 100 layers.

consolidate all footage

Now let’s discuss rendering. To render a composition we need to be inside that composition in the timeline panel and we can select Add to Render Queue from the composition menu.

Add to Render Queue

Note that if our composition was 10 seconds long but our work area was set from 1 to 3 seconds, only content between 1 and 3 seconds would be rendered. Be sure to have the in and out points exactly where you want them before adding that composition to the render queue.

You can queue as many items in the render queue as you like and after effects will render them one by one. The only problem is you can’t use after effects while it’s rendering, so it’s a good excuse to have a coffee.

Inside the render queue we have 3 main option menus labelled here:

options of render queue

  1. Render settings. These are more advanced options which should be left at the default for everyday use. However if you need to halve the resolution to make it render quicker or change the render duration you can do so in here.
  2. Output module. This is where we choose what type of file we want to render out. The format (1) is which container and the format options (2) are what codec.
  3. This is where after effects will render the final file to.

format options

If you are rendering something that is not the final product I recommend rendering a QuickTime with PNG encoding (if you are strapped for HD space) or TIFF encoding if you can stomach the large files. These are both codecs that won’t lose any visual clarity, so even if you are pre-rendering elements many times or sending them off to other programs and sending them back you won’t lose any quality. If you are rendering the final product for the internet, I recommend using h.264 encoding.

That’s all folks, thanks for reading!

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