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Specifying Composition Presets

With After Effects, you don't need to manually enter all the composition settings (frame size, pixel aspect ratio, and so on); instead, you can select the most common settings from a pull-down menu of presets. If the list doesn't include a preset for your most commonly used settings, you can save your custom settings to the list. You can even delete the presets you don't want. For a brief explanation of some common presets, see Table 4.1.

Table 4.1. Common composition presets


Frame Size


Frame Rate



640 x 480



Full-screen, full-motion video, used by low-end cards


720 x 480



DV standard for North America


720 x 486



Broadcast standard for North America


1920 x 1080



High-definition standard using 16:9 image aspect ratio

Film (2k)

2048 x 1536



Film transfers

Cineon Full

3656 x 2664



Film transferred using the Cineon file format

To select a composition preset:

  1. In the Composition Settings dialog box, choose an option from the Preset menu (Figure 4.4).
    Figure 4.4

    Figure 4.4 Choose an option from the Preset pull-down menu.

    Choose the preset that matches your needs. Presets include common settings for film, video broadcast, and multimedia projects. Individual settings are set automatically. However, you may want to enter a starting frame number and duration for the comp (see "Setting a comp's start-frame number" and "Setting a comp's duration," later in this chapter).
  2. Click OK to close the Composition Settings dialog box.

    The composition appears in the Project panel.

Setting a comp's frame size

The frame size determines the viewing area of the Composition panel. Although you may position images in the workspace outside of this viewing area (what some call the pasteboard), only the elements within the visible frame will be rendered for previews and output (Figures 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7).

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 The frame size defines the dimensions of the viewable area of the composition. Over time, an element may move from the offscreen work area...

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 ...and into the onscreen visible frame...

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 ...and vice versa. Only elements within the visible frame appear in the final output.

Often, the frame dimensions of the final output determine the frame size of a composition. However, if the composition is to be nested in another composition, the frame size may be larger or smaller than the pixel dimensions of the final output. (See "Nesting Compositions," later in this chapter, or see Chapter 16, "Complex Projects.")

The Composition Settings dialog box provides a list of preset frame sizes, or you may enter a custom frame size. The frame size you choose is centered in a workspace that's limited to the same maximum dimensions as imported image files. As with imported footage files, chances are you'll run out of available RAM before you exceed the maximum image size (up to 30,000 x 30,000 pixels, depending on the output option).

For more about the maximum frame size of images, see the sidebar "Wham, Bam—Thank You, RAM" in Chapter 2, "Importing Footage into a Project." If you change the frame size of an existing composition, the Anchor setting determines where the existing layers are placed in the new comp (see "To set the anchor of a resized composition," later in this chapter).

To set the frame size:

  1. In the Composition Settings dialog box, do one of the following:
    • Enter the width and height of the frame in pixels.
    • Choose a preset frame size from the pull-down menu (Figure 4.8).
      Figure 4.8

      Figure 4.8 Enter the frame dimensions, or choose a preset size from the pull-down menu.

  2. If you're changing the frame size of an existing composition, choose an anchor point from the Anchor section of the Composition Settings dialog box (visible when you select the Advanced tab).

Resizing a comp

When you resize a composition, you use the Anchor control to determine how the composition and its layers are placed in the new frame—that is, whether they're anchored in the center, corner, or side of the new frame.

To set the anchor of a resized composition:

  1. Select a composition, and press Command/Ctrl-K (Figure 4.9).
    Figure 4.9

    Figure 4.9 Before the composition is resized, it looks like this.

    The Composition Settings dialog box appears.
  2. To change the frame size of the composition, enter new values in the Width and Height fields.
  3. Click the Advanced tab.

    The Advanced settings pane of the Composition Settings dialog box appears.

  4. In the Anchor control, click one of the nine anchor point positions (Figure 4.10).
    Figure 4.10

    Figure 4.10 In the Advanced panel of the Composition Settings dialog box, click one of the nine anchor positions.

  5. Click OK to close the Composition Settings dialog box.

    The layers contained in the composition align to the position you specified (Figure 4.11).

    Figure 4.11

    Figure 4.11 The layers are anchored to the position you specified in the resized comp.

Setting a comp's pixel aspect ratio

A typical computer monitor uses square pixels to display an image. Professional video, in contrast, uses nonsquare pixels to display images. As a result, an image created on a computer can appear distorted when transferred to video, and vice versa.

One of After Effects' great advantages is that it can compensate for differences in pixel aspect ratios. In fact, when you choose a preset frame size, After Effects automatically selects the corresponding pixel aspect ratio (PAR). If you want to override this setting, or if you enter a custom frame size, you can choose the correct PAR manually.

After Effects compensates for any difference between the PAR of the composition and that of individual footage items. For example, if you add a square-pixel footage item into a D1 composition, After Effects automatically resizes the image to prevent image distortion in the final output (Figures 4.12 and 4.13).

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 Incorrectly interpreted as having nonsquare pixels, this 640 x 480 square-pixel image seems to lose its 4:3 aspect ratio in this 720 x 486 (D1/nonsquare pixels) composition.

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13 Correctly interpreted as having square pixels, the image is automatically resized to compensate for a composition set to the D1 standard.

To set the pixel aspect ratio of a composition:

  • From the Pixel Aspect Ratio pull-down menu in the Composition Settings dialog box, choose a PAR (Figure 4.14).
    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14 In the Pixel Aspect Ratio pull-down menu, choose the PAR that corresponds to your final output.

Frame rate

The frame rate is the number of frames per second (fps) used by a composition. Usually, the frame rate you choose matches the frame rate of your output format.

Individual footage items have their own frame rates, which you can interpret. (See "Setting the Frame Rate" in Chapter 2.) Ideally, the footage frame rate and the composition frame rate match. If not, After Effects makes the frame rate of the footage item conform to that of the composition.

To set the frame rate of the composition:

  1. In the Frame Rate field in the Composition Settings dialog box, enter a frame rate (Figure 4.15).
    Figure 4.15

    Figure 4.15 Enter the appropriate frame rate for the composition.

    Usually, you'll choose a frame rate that matches the frame rate of the output format:
    • NTSC video: 29.97 fps
    • PAL video: 25 fps
    • Film: 24 fps
    • Computer presentation (often via CD-ROM or Web): 15 fps or 10 fps
    Lower frame rates help reduce file size and conform to data-rate limitations.

Setting a comp's viewing resolution

Frame size sets the actual pixel dimensions of the composition; resolution determines the fraction of the pixels that are displayed in the Composition panel.

By lowering the resolution, you reduce not only image quality but also the amount of memory needed to render frames. Rendering speeds increase in proportion to image quality sacrificed. Typically, you work at a lower resolution and then render the final output at full resolution.

To set a composition's resolution:

  1. In the Composition Settings dialog box, choose a setting from the Resolution pull-down menu (Figure 4.16):

    Full—After Effects renders and displays every pixel of the composition, resulting in the highest image quality and the longest rendering time.

    Half—After Effects renders every other pixel, or one-quarter of the pixels.

    Third—After Effects renders every third pixel, or one-ninth of the pixels.

    Quarter—After Effects renders every fourth pixel, or one-sixteenth of the pixels.

    Custom—After Effects renders whatever fraction of pixels you specify.

    Figure 4.16

    Figure 4.16 Choose a resolution from the pull-down menu.

  2. If you choose Custom from the pull-down menu, enter values to determine the horizontal and vertical resolution of the image (Figure 4.17).
    Figure 4.17

    Figure 4.17 If you choose Custom, enter values to determine the resolution manually.

Setting a comp's start-frame number

When you began your project, you set its time display—that is, the method used to count your project's frames. By default, a comp's time starts at zero, but you can set it to start at any time.

To set a composition's starting frame number:

  1. In the Composition Settings dialog box, enter the starting frame number of the composition (Figure 4.19).
    Figure 4.19

    Figure 4.19 If you want to, enter a starting frame number.

    The timebase you set for the project determines whether this number is expressed in timecode, feet and frames, or frame numbers.
  2. Click OK to close the Composition Settings dialog box.

    The composition begins at the frame number you specified.

Setting a comp's duration

Duration—which sets the length of a composition—is expressed in the time display style you set in the Project Settings dialog box (timecode, frames, or feet and frames). See "Choosing Composition Settings" earlier in this chapter for more about time display options. You can change the composition's duration at any time, lengthening it to accommodate more layers or cutting it to the total duration of its layers.

To set the duration of a composition:

  1. In the Duration field in the Composition Settings dialog box, enter the duration of the composition (Figure 4.20).
    Figure 4.20

    Figure 4.20 Enter the duration for the composition.

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