These 10 quick and easy After Effects tricks are essential for any motion designer!

After Effects is an incredibly deep and scary program, especially for beginners. Every time you open After Effects, you’ll likely learn something new and helpful. In my own experience, I’ve found that there are certainly some tips and tricks that I use a lot more than others and the following ten tips certainly fall into the “more than others” category.  So, if you’re looking to become an AE master, here are ten essential After Effects tricks you need to know.

1. Quick Pan

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Quick Pan

How it’s done: Hold down spacebar and drag

 

It’s no secret that keyboard shortcuts can save you a ton of time in any post-production software, but the single keyboard shortcut that has saved me the most time in AE is the quick pan feature in After Effects.

Normally when you pan in After Effects, you have to select the hand tool by either clicking the hand icon or hitting the (H) key. However, instead of having to switch between two tools, you can simply call the hand tool by holding down the space bar. As soon as you release the spacebar, After Effects will revert back to whatever tool you had selected at the time. By using this quick tip, you’ll likely never use the hand tool by itself any more.

Here’s an article from Adobe that covers the Quick Pan shortcut and more.

2. RAM Preview

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: RAM Preview

How it’s done: Control+0

 

If you’re used to working with video editing software, than you probably already preview your video by pressing the spacebar. However, in After Effects it’s not quite that simple. Due to the strain of the video effects on your computer, you can’t simply playback video in After Effects without rendering out a preview file. This process is known as a RAM preview. To begin a RAM preview, all you have to do is hit control + 0 on your computer or select the RAM preview button on the far right of the preview panel. You will also be able to preview audio using RAM preview in After Effects.

Learn more about using RAM preview to preview audio in this PremiumBeat post.

3. Duplicating Layers

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Duplicating Layers

How it’s done: Command+D

 

There’s no faster way to create a layer in After Effects than to duplicate one that already exists. To duplicate a layer all you need to do is hit Command+D. This technique works on both layers and effects.

Here’s an article from Adobe that covers the Duplicating Layers shortcut and more.

4. Render Quality

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Render Quality

How it’s done: Select the dropdown menu at the bottom of the composition panel

 

Rendering can take a lot of time in After Effects, especially if you have a lot of effects on a lot of layers. One thing that you can do to cut your preview time significantly is to select your render quality. To access render quality, simply select the dropdown menu at the bottom of your composition panel. By default it will be set to Full, but if you want to save time you can drop it to half, third, quarter or custom. When you’re ready to export your project, don’t worry. Your exports will default to full-res no matter what your preview quality is set to.

Here’s an article from PremiumBeat about achieving faster render times.

5. Exporting Alpha Channels

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Transparent background

How it’s done: RGB + Alpha in the Output Module

 

If you are exporting graphics or assets to use in any other post-production software, you’ll likely want your video clips to have alpha channels. As you probably already know, a pixel is composed of three channels: Red, Green, and Blue. But in After Effects, there is another channel that deals exclusively with transparency. These layers are, as you may have guessed, called alpha channels. By default, your videos won’t have alpha channels included. To make things more complicated, not all codecs will allow you to export alpha channels.

Here’s a helpful RocketStock post that explores more Alpha Channel action.

6. Wiggle Expression

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Wiggle Expression

How it’s done: adding the expression wiggle(10,10) into your expression editor

 

There is no expression more useful than the wiggle expression in After Effects. In short, the wiggle expression gives your layers a random shake that can be adjusted and manipulated. The wiggle expression works with a simple line of code placed into the position expression editor:

wiggle (wiggles per second, intensity)

There are a lot of other ways to take advantage of the wiggle expression in After Effects like linking the values to sliders and double wiggles. You can learn more about using the wiggle expression in this awesome post from PremiumBeat.

7. Saving Frames

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Save Frame As

How it’s done: Composition>Save Frame As>File

 

As you’ve probably already found out, rendering can take a lot of time in After Effects. However, if you need to show a client your current work but don’t have time to render out a full video, you can quickly save a still in After Effects. Simply navigate to composition>Save Frame As and you will be prompted with two options: file or photoshop layers. For most circumstances, you will want to select file and choose your desired output format in the render queue. Saving stills is a great way to show your work progress, especially if you work for a large company.

Here’s an article straight from Adobe where you can learn more about working with stills. 

8. See All Keyframes

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: See Keyframes

How it’s done: Hit the (U) key

 

If you’ve set keyframes in your After Effects, you can quickly see all of the keyframes in your timeline by simply clicking the (U) key. This technique can save you a lot of time, especially if you are used to clicking the small dropdown arrows in the timeline. It ‘s also super helpful to learn the individual keyboard shortcuts for calling up transform properties, as you will likely have to use position(P), rotation(R), and opacity(T) often.

Learn more about seeing all keyframes in this helpful post from Adobe. 

9. Keyframe Scaling

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Keyframe Scaling

How it’s done: Hold down option and drag a selection of keyframes

 

When it comes to animating, it’s all about the details. Moving a keyframe over by just a single frame can completely change the way the animation feels on-screen. However, if you have a lot of keyframes set, it can be a real pain to change the duration of your animations. That is unless you use keyframe scaling.

In a nutshell, keyframe scaling allows users to scale the duration of keyframes proportionately so that your animation style isn’t lost by dragging keyframes around the timeline. To use this technique, simply select more than two keyframes, hold down option, and drag.

Here’s a great PremiumBeat article that covers this trick and more.

10. The Graph Editor

10 Essential After Effects Tricks: Graph Editor

How it’s done: With keyframes selected, hit the small graph icon in the timeline

 

While it may seem daunhting as a newbie, the best way to perfect your movements in After Effects is to open up the graph editor. The Graph Editor essentially gives you an extreme amount of control about the way in which your keyframes act with each other. By simply adding a small curve to the graph, you can easily create super smooth animations fast. Here’s a bit more about it.

Want to learn more tricks about After Effects? Check out the following resources:

  1. 5 Great Places to Learn the Basics of After Effects
  2. 5 Pieces of Advice for Anyone New to After Effects
  3. 11 Must-Know After Effects Keyboard Shortcuts

Have any other tips for After Effects? Share your insights in the comments below.