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Preparing for Animation

Layers are as essential to motion graphics as letters are to the written word. So, just like each letter has a purpose in composing a word, each layer should have a purpose in your compositions as well. When brainstorming about logo animation, it's always a good idea to start with some solid basics. The animation of a logo can be just as much of a brand mark as the still logo. Always try to ensure that the animation stays true to the brand.

Importing Logos into After Effects

There are three main ways to import files into After Effects (Figure 4.28). Which one you choose really depends on the sources you have at hand:

  • Project files. If you've already animated a logo, you can import one After Effects project into another. This will bring all the compositions and sources into your current project. This workflow is best if you have some standard elements that you need to reuse from project to project.
  • Composition. If your source is a layered Photoshop or Illustrator file, you're in luck. Someone worked hard to create all those layers, so preserve them. Layered files can and should be imported as compositions.
  • Footage. If you're in a hurry or are dealing with flattened sources, your choices are pretty limited. Any graphic you import into After Effects can be imported as footage. This is the most common option if your logo is a flattened graphic or a prerendered movie file with an alpha channel.
Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28 Each of these three import options is designed to help speed up the animation process when importing layered Photoshop and Illustrator documents.

Let's explore the options you have when working with compositions or footage import.


When importing a layered document for animation, choose Composition – Retain Layer Size. This makes animation faster because each layer is individually sized, and its anchor point is placed at the center of each layer as opposed to the center of the composition. With the anchor point already set to the center of each layer, transform properties like scale, position, and rotate will function as expected, centered on each layer. Importing layered Photoshop and Illustrator files as compositions is a great time-saver and results in a smooth workflow.


Anytime you import graphics or video into After Effects you're creating footage. Even when you import a layered Photoshop or Illustrator file as a composition, each layer that was imported is considered to be footage. To look at the specific properties of any footage item in After Effects, just select the footage item in the Project panel and look at the text to the right of the preview thumbnail at the top of the panel. You can find out more information if you Option-click (Alt-click) directly on the footage item.

It's sometimes necessary to change how After Effects interprets footage, such as to specify how the alpha channel or frame rate should be handled. To access the Interpret Footage dialog box, select the footage and choose File > Interpret Footage > Main (Figure 4.29).

Figure 4.29

Figure 4.29 In the Main Options tab of the dialog box you can change the settings for the alpha channel, field order, frame rates, and pixel aspect ratio. If you're being plagued by strange render issues with certain shots, Interpret Footage is always a good place to start your troubleshooting process.

Since most motion graphics projects end up with a range of footage sources (to say the least), it's a good idea to be meticulous about organization. So if you haven't checked out Chapter 1, we covered several techniques for dealing with footage and keeping your projects organized while working in After Effects.

Interpreting Alpha Channels

Alpha channel information can be stored with color channels in two ways: straight and premultiplied. Whenever any footage with transparency is imported into After Effects, alpha channel data is being interpreted. For example, if you select any Photoshop footage in the Project panel, you'll see the words Millions of Colors + (Straight). The + denotes an alpha channel is present, and (Straight) means the footage has color channels that do not include information related to the alpha channel. Photoshop works with straight channels because they have the best color accuracy. Premultiplied channels are most common when dealing with moving graphics. Adobe Premiere and After Effects support both kinds of channels.

If you ever notice a strange "halo" effect around your graphics, it's most likely due to how the alpha channel was interpreted. To fix this, just access the Interpret Footage dialog box and change the channel interpretation (Figure 4.30).

Figure 4.30

Figure 4.30 In addition to changing the interpretation, if you're getting a strange fringe color, you can use the eyedropper to sample the specific color and clean up that edge.

Converting Photoshop Text to Vector Type

One of our favorite integration features between Photoshop and After Effects is editable text. Any editable text in Photoshop that is imported into After Effects can actually be converted into editable text in After Effects. Although this doesn't happen by default, it's an amazingly helpful feature. In the Timeline, just select any layers that were text in Photoshop and choose Layer > Convert To Editable Text. Now the text is exactly the same as it would be if you created it directly in After Effects.

Why should you convert your text in After Effects? Well, it's worth it! You can scale the text infinitely. You can also take advantage of the text animation controls in After Effects. We explore text animation more in Chapter 3, "Typography for the Screen."

Using Continuously Rasterize

Continuous rasterization is applied when the Continuously Rasterize switch is selected on a vector graphic layer (Figure 4.31). This allows a vector graphic to scale without pixelation. Using continuous rasterization does increase render time because the graphic is continuously redrawn using the vector data. When you scale a vector logo over 100 percent and want to prevent the image from pixelating, using continuous rasterization is a must.

Figure 4.31

Figure 4.31 You can select or deselect Continuously Rasterize for each vector layer and choose exactly which layers need to remain sharp when scaling up to 100 percent.

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