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Animating the Composition

So far, you've started a project, created a composition, imported footage, and applied some effects. It all looks great, but how about some movement? You've applied only static effects.

In After Effects, you can make any combination of a layer's properties change over time by using conventional keyframing, expressions, or keyframe assistants. For this exercise, you'll animate the Position property of a text layer using keyframes, and then use an animation preset so that the letters appear to rain down on the screen.

About the Timeline Panel

Use the Timeline panel to animate layer properties and set In and Out points for a layer. (In and Out points are the points at which a layer begins and ends in the composition.) Many of the Timeline panel controls are organized in columns of related functions. By default, the Timeline panel contains a number of columns and controls, as shown in Figure 24 and described in the following table.




Composition name


Current time


Time graph/Graph Editor area


Audio/Video Switches column


Source Name/Layer Name column


Layer switches


Composition button

The time graph portion of the Timeline panel (the right side) contains a time ruler, markers to indicate specific times, and duration bars for the layers in your composition, as shown in Figure 25. The following table identifies the controls.




Time navigator start and end brackets


Work area start and end brackets


Time ruler


Timeline panel menu


Time zoom slider


Composition button


Navigator view


Composition marker bin

When you click the Graph Editor button, shown in Figure 26, the layer bars in the time ruler are replaced with the Graph Editor.

Before delving too deeply into animation, it helps to understand at least some of these controls. The duration of a composition, a layer, or a footage item is represented visually in the time ruler. On the time ruler, the current-time indicator indicates the frame you're viewing or editing, and the frame appears in the Composition panel.

The work area start and end brackets indicate the part of the composition that will be rendered or previewed.

When you work on a composition, you may want to preview or render only part of the composition. Do this by specifying a part of the composition time ruler as a work area. A composition's current time appears in the upper-left corner of the Timeline panel. You can go to any time by dragging the current-time indicator in the time ruler or by clicking the current-time field in the Timeline panel or Composition panel, typing a new time, and clicking OK. For more information about the Timeline panel, see After Effects Help.

Preparing the Text Composition

For this exercise, you will work in a separate composition. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Project panel to bring it forward and then double-click the bgwtext composition in the Project panel to open it as a composition in its own Timeline panel.

    This composition is the imported, layered Photoshop file. The Background layer and the Title Here layer appear in the Timeline panel, as shown in Figure 27. The Title Here layer contains placeholder text that was created in Photoshop.

  2. You must first make the layer editable. Select the Title Here layer (layer 1) in the Timeline panel and then choose Layer > Convert to Editable Text.

    A T icon appears next to the layer name in the Timeline panel, indicating that it's now an editable text layer. The layer is also selected in the Composition panel, ready for you to edit (see Figure 28).

    You'll start by replacing the placeholder text with real text. Then you'll animate it.

  3. Select the Horizontal Type tool (the button shows the letter T) in the Tools panel, and drag over the placeholder text in the Composition panel to select it. Then type Substrate (see Figure 29).

Animating with Position Keyframes

Now you're ready to roll in some animation! Follow these steps:

  1. Select the Title Here layer in the Timeline panel again, and press the P key to display its Position property.
  2. Make sure that you're at the first frame of the animation by doing one of the following:
    • Drag the current-time indicator all the way to the left of the time ruler, to 0:00.
    • Press the Home key on your keyboard.
  3. Using the Selection tool (the button shows an arrow), drag the text layer down and off the bottom of the Composition panel, out of the viewing area (see Figure 30). Press Shift after you start dragging to constrain the operation to the vertical axis.
  4. Click the stopwatch icon for the layer's Position property to create a Position keyframe. An orange diamond appears in the Position bar for the layer in the time graph, indicating the new keyframe (see Figure 31).

    Keyframes are used to create and control animation, effects, audio properties, and many other kinds of changes that occur over time. A keyframe marks the point in time where you specify a value, such as spatial position, opacity, or audio volume. Values between keyframes are interpolated. When you use keyframes to create a change over time, you must use at least two keyframes—one for the state at the beginning of the change, and one for the state at the end of the change.

  5. Go to 3:00 by doing one of the following:
    • Drag the current-time indicator to the right in the time ruler so that it's positioned at 3:00.
    • Click the Current Time field in the Timeline panel or Composition panel, type 300 (indicating a time of 3 seconds) in the Go To Time dialog box, and click OK or press Enter or Return (see Figure 32).
  6. Now you can drag the Substrate title to its final position onscreen, but since you dragged it off the screen in step 3, you need to zoom out to grab it. With the Title Here layer still selected in the Timeline panel, select the Zoom tool (the button shows a magnifier) and Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) to zoom out so that you can see the text layer on the pasteboard of the Composition panel, as shown in Figure 33.
  7. Switch back to the Selection tool (arrow) and drag the text layer up in the Composition panel, to the top quarter of the viewing area, as shown in Figure 34. Press Shift while dragging to constrain the drag operation to the vertical axis. Your final Position values should be approximately 359, 158. After Effects automatically creates a second keyframe at this position.
  8. Zoom back in to the composition by choosing Fit Up To 100% from the Magnification Ratio pop-up menu in the lower-left corner of the Composition panel.

The blue lines at the top, bottom, and sides of the Composition panel indicate title-safe and action-safe zones. Television sets enlarge a video image and allow some portion of its outer edges to be cut off by the edge of the screen. This is known as overscan. The amount of overscan is not consistent between television sets, so you should keep important parts of a video image, such as action or titles, within margins called safe zones. Keep your text inside the inner blue guides to ensure that it's in the title-safe zone, and keep important scene elements inside the outer blue guides to ensure that they're in the action-safe zone.

Adding Ease and an Animation Preset

Even though this is a simple animation, you'll learn good animation practices right away by adding ease-in controls using the Easy Ease feature in After Effects. Easing into (and out of) animations keeps the motion from being too sudden or robotic.

  1. Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) the Position keyframe at 3:00 and choose Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease In. This action makes the text ease to a smooth stop. The keyframe icon changes to an arrow, as shown in Figure 35.

    So far, the text is moving onto the screen. After it arrives, you don't want it to just sit there. Applying an animation preset will bring it to life.

  2. With the Title Here layer still selected in the Timeline panel, go to 2:10, the point at which the text is almost at its final position. (Remember, you can go to the time by dragging the current-time indicator or by clicking the Current Time field in the Timeline panel or Composition panel.)
  3. Bring the Effects & Presets panel forward, and then type raining in the Contains field to quickly locate the Raining Characters animation presets.
  4. Drag the Raining Characters Out effect onto the word Substrate in the Composition panel to apply it to the text layer (see Figure 36).

    The Effect Controls panel opens so that you can customize the Echo effect, which is a component of the animation preset. The default settings are fine for this project.

  5. Choose File > Save to save your work so far.

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