Kick your projects into overdrive with this collection of five essential After Effects efficiency tips.

In motion design, the phrase “time is money” can’t be overstated. Every second saved here or there adds up. Perhaps the difference between making or missing your next deadline can be found in one of the following quick After Effects workflow tips.

1. Keyboard Shortcuts

5 Life-Changing Ways to Speed Up After Effects - After Effects Keyboard Shortcut

Simply put, there is no faster way to speed up your day-to-day workflow in After Effects than to learn your keyboard shortcuts. There are very few tasks in After Effects that can’t be automated or mapped to a keyboard shortcut.  You probably learned After Effects almost entirely with your mouse — so the problem is unlearning your current workflow.

If you want to start seeing results, try this: Simply use one or two new keyboard shortcuts with each project. You can start with easy ones like:

  • Renaming Layers: Enter
  • Duplicating Layers: Command + D
  • Creating Solids: Command + Y
  • Creating Compositions: Command + N
  • Opening Position Transform Options: P
  • Openting Opacity Options: T

Once you learn how to call the tools, transform properties, keyframe values, and layer creation shortcuts, you should move on to more advanced workflow shortcuts. Michael James put together a fantastic post here on RocketStock about his 11 essential After Effects shortcuts.

Also, if you’re super serious about becoming an After Effects master, you can purchase keyboard skins from Editors Keys with the keyboard shortcuts printed on the keys. If you don’t want to physically put something on your keys, there are a lot of printable keyboard charts online. My personal favorite is this set from Jamie Spencer.


2. Ease and Wizz

5 Life-Changing Ways to Speed Up After Effects - Ease and Wizz

One of the biggest differences between professional motion graphics and amateur motion graphics is the way in which professional designers manipulate their keyframes. Professional designers use a tool called a graph editor to customize the way objects interact in their timeline.

For example, instead of having an object simply move from left to right and immediately come to a stop, it is much more organic to have an object slowly come to rest. In a way, a custom animation curve mimics the way objects move in real life.

5 Life-Changing Ways to Speed Up After Effects - Linear vs Smooth Keyframes

However, as you can imagine, creating a perfect animation curve takes time. While it doesn’t necessarily take forever, it’s certainly time-consuming to add animation curves to hundreds of keyframes in your timeline. The next best thing is to use a script called Ease and Wizz.

If you’re not already familiar with the plugin, Ease and Wizz is a script that allows you to quickly add algebra-driven keyframe interpolation to keyframes in your timeline. In practical terms, you can give life to any set of keyframes with just a few mouse clicks. You can download Ease and Wizz for a ‘pay what you like’ price over at aescripts.

This clip from Nick Zorin demonstrates the various interpolation presets found in Ease and Wizz.


3. Dedicate Your RAM/Memory

5 Life-Changing Ways to Speed Up After Effects - Dedicating RAM in After Effects

I’m embarrassed to say that it took me over two years of using After Effects before I figured out this essential workflow tip. If you go to After Effects>Preferences>Memory in the menu bar at the top of the After Effects interface, you’ll see a box that reads “RAM reserved for other applications.”

By default, this number will likely be 75% of the total RAM installed on your computer — but if you want to get the most out of After Effects, this number should be low. I typically set my “RAM reserved for other applications” to 2GB. By doing this, you should immediately see an increase in processing speed.


4. Render in Media Encoder

5 Life-Changing Ways to Speed Up After Effects - Media Encoder

Tutorial after tutorial teaches us to use the Render Queue in After Effects to export our footage. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with using the Render Queue, it does completely take control of After Effects while you’re exporting, essentially leaving you twiddling your thumbs and checking Facebook until the exporting process is complete. However, there’s a better way.

Instead of adding your exports to the Render Queue, add your desired compositions to Media Encoder. By using Media Encoder, you can export footage in the background while you work. Sure, this may bog down your machine for a limited time, but it will allow you to multitask and finish your project faster.


5. Use Third-Party Plugins

5 Life-Changing Ways to Speed Up After Effects - Element 3D
Image from Video Copilot

There are a lot of third-party plugins for After Effects out there and all of them promise to change the way you use AE forever. You can certainly live without most of these plugins, but there are a few that have become essential workflow tools for motion designers everywhere. Here’s a quick list of essential third-party After Effects plugins, in order of importance:

  1. Element 3D
  2. Optical Flares
  3. Trapcode Particular
  4. Newton 2
  5. Plexus

In short, all of the plugins listed above will unlock features in After Effects that would have been otherwise difficult to utilize. For example, you could spend a lot of time stacking, stylizing, and rendering layers to simulate 3D text in After Effects, or you could create 3D text in a matter of seconds with Element 3D.

These plugins cost money — but for the sake of creating beautiful art, they are definitely worth it.

Do you want to become an After Effects master? Check out these AE articles from around the web:

Know of any other helpful After Effects workflow tips? Share in the comments below.