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Animating Layers in After Effects CS3

Animation is all about making changes over time to an object or image's position, opacity, scale, and other properties. In this step-by-step exercise, the Adobe Creative Team explores some of the fun possibilities for animating a Photoshop file in After Effects CS3.
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This article provides practice animating the layers of a Photoshop file, including dynamically remapping time. In this exercise, you'll learn how to do the following:

  • Animate a layered Photoshop file
  • Duplicate an animation using the pick whip
  • Work with imported Photoshop layer styles
  • Apply a track matte to control the visibility of layers
  • Animate a layer using the Corner Pin effect
  • Apply the Lens Flare effect to a solid layer
  • Use time remapping and the Layer panel to retime footage dynamically
  • Edit Time Remap keyframes in the Graph Editor

After Effects provides several tools and effects that let you simulate motion video by using a layered Photoshop file. In this exercise, you'll import a layered Photoshop file of the sun appearing through a window, and then you'll animate it to simulate the motion of the sun rising through the panes of glass. This is a stylized animation in which the motion is accelerated and then slows down as clouds and birds move through the window's frame at the end.

Getting Started

Download the following files to the AECS3_CIB/Lessons/Lesson06 folder on your hard disk (or copy them from the Adobe After Effects CS3 Professional Classroom in a Book DVD):

  • In the Assets folder:, sunrise.psd
  • In the Sample_Movies folder:,

Follow these steps to review the files:

  1. Open and play the file to see the straightforward time-lapse animation you'll create in this lesson.
  2. Open and play the file to see the same animation after time has been remapped, which you'll also do in this lesson.
  3. When you're done, quit the QuickTime player. You can delete the sample movies from your hard disk if you have limited storage space.

Setting Up the Project

When you begin this exercise, restore the default application settings for After Effects.

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-Shift (Mac OS: Command-Option-Shift) while starting After Effects. When asked whether you want to delete your preferences file, click OK.

    After Effects opens to display an empty, untitled project.

  2. Choose File > Save As.
  3. In the Save As dialog box, navigate to the following folder:
  4. Name the project Lesson06_Finished.aep, and then click Save.

Importing the Footage

You need to import one footage item for this exercise.

  1. Double-click an empty area of the Project panel to open the Import File dialog box.
  2. Navigate to the AECS3_CIB/Lessons/Lesson06/Assets folder on your hard disk and select the sunrise.psd file.
  3. Choose Composition - Cropped Layers from the Import As menu, so the dimensions of each layer will match the layer's content (see Figure 1).
  4. Click Open.

    Before continuing, take a moment to study the layers of the file you just imported.

  5. In the Project panel, expand the Sunrise Layers folder to see the Photoshop layers (see Figure 2). Resize the Name column to make it wider and easier to read, if necessary.

Each of the elements that will be animated in After Effects—the shadows, birds, clouds, and sun—is on a separate layer. In addition, one layer represents the initial, predawn lighting conditions in the room (Background), and a second layer represents the final, bright daylight conditions in the room (Background Lit). Similarly, there are two layers for the two lighting conditions outside the window: Window and Window Lit. The Window Pane layer includes a Photoshop layer style that simulates a pane of glass.

After Effects preserves the layer order, transparency data, and layer styles from the source Photoshop document. It also preserves other features, such as adjustment layers and type, which you won't be using in this project.

Creating the Composition

For this lesson, you'll use the imported Photoshop file as the basis of the composition.

  1. Double-click the Sunrise composition in the Project panel to open it in the Composition panel and the Timeline panel (see Figure 3).
  2. Choose Composition > Composition Settings.
  3. In the Composition Settings dialog box, change the Duration to 10:00 to make the composition 10 seconds long, and then click OK (see Figure 4).

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