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Managing Footage

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Proxies and Placeholders

Sometimes it's necessary to use stand-in files to take the place of actual footage. For example, you may need to start working even though all your source footage isn't ready. (Your client forgot to send the disk, or another production artist is behind schedule—sound familiar?) For the present, you may have to settle for a temporary placeholder. On the other hand, maybe a high-quality image is slowing down previews. A low-quality version of the footage may work just as well for draft versions and speed up your workflow. In such cases, you may choose to use a proxy instead of the actual footage. When you and your footage are ready, you can easily replace placeholders and proxies with the actual footage.


A placeholder is a generic still image that takes the place of missing footage. As pointed out in Chapter 2, After Effects automatically creates placeholders for missing footage. This section shows you how to use After Effects to create a placeholder manually. In the Project panel, the name of the placeholder appears in italic type. Placeholder footage appears in the thumbnail image and in the Composition panel as television color bars (Figures 3.29 and 3.30). (Depending on your background, you'll either recognize color bars as one of the standard test patterns used to calibrate video equipment for color and brightness, or as the weird show TV stations broadcast after 2 a.m.) Naturally, the image size and duration of the placeholder should match those of the footage it's temporarily replacing. If you're familiar with nonlinear editing programs, you might equate placeholders with offline files.

Figure 3.29

Figure 3.29 Placeholder footage appears in the Project panel...

Figure 3.30

Figure 3.30 ...and the Composition panel as standard color bars.


A proxy is a low-resolution version of the actual footage (Figure 3.31). If you're familiar with nonlinear editing applications, you might compare using proxies to using lowquality clips for offline editing (the rough cutting phase, which often utilizes relatively low-quality copies of footage). Low-quality files take less time to process, allowing you to work more quickly. Proxies may also be necessary if you have to work on a less powerful workstation—one with less RAM, for example—than you'll finish on. When you're ready, you can replace the low-quality standins with the high-quality original footage.

Figure 3.31

Figure 3.31 Low-quality proxies (top) don't look as good as the actual footage (bottom), but they also have smaller file sizes and can be processed faster.

Icons next to each item in the Project panel provide an easy way to determine whether source footage or its proxy is currently in use (Figure 3.32). A box containing a black square prj_proxy_on.jpg indicates that the proxy is currently in use; the name of the proxy appears in bold text. An empty box prj_proxy_off.jpg indicates that a proxy has been assigned but that source footage is currently in use. If there is no icon, this means no proxy has been assigned to the footage item.

Figure 3.32

Figure 3.32 Icons indicate whether a proxy is in use or assigned to an item but not in use.

Proxies aren't effective for every circumstance, however. Although they can save time when you're animating motion, other effects—such as keying—can only be properly adjusted when using the footage at output quality.

To create a placeholder:

  1. Choose File > Import > Placeholder (Figure 3.33).

    Figure 3.33

    Figure 3.33 Choose File > Import > Placeholder.

    The New Placeholder dialog box appears.

  2. Enter information that matches the missing footage (Figure 3.34):
    Figure 3.34

    Figure 3.34 In the New Placeholder dialog box, enter information that matches the missing footage.

    • For Name, enter the filename for the missing footage.
    • For Size, enter the pixel dimensions of the missing footage.
    • For Duration, enter the duration of the missing footage.
  3. Click OK to close the New Placeholder dialog box.

    The Placeholder footage item appears in the Project panel in italics.

To replace a placeholder with source footage:

  1. In the Project panel, double-click the placeholder you want to replace with source footage (Figure 3.35).

    Figure 3.35

    Figure 3.35 Double-click the name or icon of missing footage to open the Replace Footage File dialog box.

    A Replace Footage File dialog box appears.

  2. Locate the source file, and click Open (Figure 3.36).

    Figure 3.36

    Figure 3.36 In the Replace Footage File dialog box, locate the missing footage.

    The footage replaces every instance of the placeholder in the project (Figure 3.37).

    Figure 3.37

    Figure 3.37 The actual footage replaces the placeholder footage wherever it appears in the project.

To assign a proxy to a footage item:

  1. In the Project panel, select a footage item to which you want to apply a proxy.
  2. Do either of the following:

    • Choose File > Set Proxy > File.
    • Ctrl-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) the item, and choose Set Proxy > File in the contextual menu (Figure 3.38).
    Figure 3.38

    Figure 3.38 Choose File > Set Proxy > File.

    The Set Proxy File dialog box appears.

  3. Locate the file you want to assign as the proxy (Figure 3.39).
    Figure 3.39

    Figure 3.39 In the Set Proxy File dialog box, choose a file to act as a proxy for the actual footage.

  4. Click Open to select the file and close the dialog box.

    In the Project panel, a proxy icon prj_proxy_on.jpg appears next to the footage item, indicating that a proxy is currently in use (Figure 3.40).

    Figure 3.40

    Figure 3.40 A black box appears next to the item, indicating that a proxy is in use.

To toggle between using a proxy and the original footage:

  • In the Project panel, click the proxy icon to the left of a footage item to toggle between using the assigned proxy and using the original footage (Figure 3.41).
Figure 3.41

Figure 3.41 Click the proxy icon to toggle between using the proxy and using the actual footage.

To stop using a proxy:

  1. In the Project panel, select a footage item that has been assigned a proxy.
  2. Do either of the following:

    • Choose File > Set Proxy > None
    • Ctrl-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) the item, and choose Set Proxy > None in the contextual menu (Figure 3.42).
    Figure 3.42

    Figure 3.42 Choose File > Set Proxy > None to stop using a proxy.

    To the left of the footage item's name in the Project panel, the proxy icon disappears.

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