Easily track your mouse movements using this quick After Effects tip.

As you probably already know, timing is one of the most important factors that differentiates good animation from bad animation. In fact, it’s so important that Disney animation legend Ollie Johnston included it in his famous 12 Principles of Animation.

Ball Moving without Wireframe

In the golden age of animation, artists would have to test out their animations by drawing and re-drawing or by using a video reference. However, in today’s modern age, it’s not that difficult.

By using the motion sketch effect in After Effects, you can easily conceptualize potential animation movements by tracking your mouse movements. This tracking data can then be applied to any layer your want in After Effects.

It’s a surprisingly easy tool to use, just follow these steps:

1. Select Your Layer

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 2.00.00 PM

Select the layer to which you want to add mouse tracking data. It doesn’t have to be a solid item either. You can apply motion sketch information to null objects, adjustment layers, images, video, solids, shapes, and text. However, just remember that your motion sketch information can only be applied to 2D space – not 3D. If you try to motion sketch a 3D layer, it will give you an error message.

2. Choose Your Settings

The motion sketch settings are pretty straight forward, but let’s break them down individually:

Capture Speed at – Refers to the speed at which After Effects will track your mouse movements. For example, if you set your capture speed at 50%, your motion capture will play back twice as fast.

Smoothing – Smoothing does exactly what the name implies: it smooths out your keyframes by eliminating unnecessary keyframes and adding in bezier handles. The higher the smoothing number, the smoother your track will be.

Wireframe – Wireframe refers to the guide boxes that surround your layers. It’s recommended that you have the wireframe button selected.

Background – The background button basically says that you will be able to see the other layers in your composition while your motion is being tracked. If you’re using motion tracking for animation, it’s advised that you leave this box selected.

3. Click Start Capture

Start Capture Button

After your settings are selected, click the start capture button. By clicking the button, you’re basically telling After Effects that you’re ready to begin motion capture as soon as you click the left mouse button down again.

4. Click and Track

Motion Tracking in After Effects Demonstration

Click on your canvas and hold down the mouse button to track. You will see the keyframes automatically generated as you drag your mouse. The tracking data will be applied to the layer you selected for Step 1 after you let go of the mouse button.

You should be able to render and play back your composition with the motion track data applied to the effected layer. If you’re not happy with your track, you can retrack as many times as you need using the four steps above.

This is just one of the many ways you can optimize your animation workflow in After Effects. For more quick After Effects tricks and tips, check out the entire RocketStock blog.

Want to save even more time? RocketStock can help. Check out some of the awesome After Effects templates offered exclusively here on RocketStock. Our templates are designed by some of the world’s leading motion graphic artists.

Have any other tips for tracking layers? Share your knowledge in the comments below.