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20 Useful After Effects Tricks You May Not Know

Caleb Ward

Learn something new with these 20 tricks in After Effects.

In After Effects it’s not uncommon to find new features each time you sit down to work on a project. Often these hidden features can save you TONS of time if you implement them into your AE workflow (see #19). In the following video tutorial created by Sergei Prokhnevskiy he showcases 20 useful tricks that can save you time in After Effects.

Rather read than watch? We’ve listed each of Sergei’s tips below.

1. Keyframe Velocity

By right-clicking a keyframe and hitting ‘keyframe velocity’ you can open up a submenu that gives you easier controls over interpolation (this is arguably easier to use than the graph editor).

2. Mini-Flowchart

The Mini-Flowchart can be seen by clicking the tab key while in After Effects. It is actually a very quick way to get in and out of nested compositions in AE.

3. Align Tools

The align tools allow you to center and align objects along varying axis and keep equal spacing.

4. Replacing Images

Select the image you want to replace in your timeline and Option+Control+Click and drag the desired replacement image into the preview panel or simply hit Option+Control+/. This will replace your selected image.

5. System Color Picker

If you go to Edit Preferences>General>Use System Color Picker and select the checkbox, you will use your computers color picker instead of the one built-into After Effects. This allows you to save colors for later using the color palette.

6. Render Presets

By clicking the small arrow next to Output Module in the Render Queue you can save render presets so you don’t have to make each one by hand. You can also change the output module of multiple compositions by selecting multiple layers in the render queue.

7. Cycle Mask Colors

This is an alternative to having the same colored masks. Select the checkbox by going to Edit>Preferences>Appearances>Cycle Mask Colors. Once selected your masks will take on a new color each time you make a new one. This makes it much easier if you are working with a large number of masks in After Effects.

8. Math

You can use math equations to manipulate numbers by simply selecting a value in the timeline. So if you wanted to divide your value by 2 you could simply put /2 and After Effects will automatically do the math for you. Think of these as mini-expressions.

9. Gradient Overlays

Instead of using the limited gradient ramp try using the Gradient Overlay found in the Layer Styles tab. By selecting Layer>Layer Styles>Gradient Overlay you can create gradients that use more than 2 color values.

10. Reverse Keyframes

After selecting your keyframes hit Keyframe Assistant>Time Reverse Keyframe and you can completely reverse the keyframes in your timeline. This is a much better alternative to copy and pasting the keyframes.

11. Expressions to Keyframes

Instead of having to have your layers bound by keyframes you can use the Expressions to Keyframes feature to turn your object’s movements into keyframes. You can do this by right clicking on an expression modified value and going to Keyframe Assitant> Expressions to Keyframes.

12. Splitting Layers

You can split layers in After Effects by hitting Command+Shift+D with the layer selected in the timeline.

13. Guide Layers

By changing an object to a guide layer it will not be seen during export. This can be useful if you are adding critiques or notes to a project without affecting the actual composition. You can make any layer a guide layer by right clicking on the layer and selecting guide layer.

14. Moving Masks

When creating a mask you can move the mask around your timeline by holding down the Spacebar. No more remasking layers over and over.

15. Creating a Motion Path from a Mask

By copying and pasting a mask path to the position of another layer you can create a motion path for your new layer to follow.

16. Scaling Multiple Keyframes

By holding down Option you can move multiple keyframes closer together evenly.

17. Copying Paths from Illustrator

Integration across the entire Creative Cloud is one reason why After Effects is such a powerful program. One of the coolest integrations is the ability to copy paths straight from Illustrator to After Effects. Select and copy a path in Illustrator and paste in After Effects as a shape or mask.

18. Maximize Frame with a Shortcut

By using the ‘~’ key on your keyboard you can expand the video frame to fill the resolution of your comp. Simply hover your mouse over the desire panel and hit the ‘~’ key.

19. Rendering Comps Out of Media Encoder

Render After Effects compositions using Adobe Media Encoder. Simply drag your composition into Media Encoder and export using your desired codec. This is a great way to save a lot of time in After Effects because you don’t have to tie up After Effects to export – you can export in Media Encoder and work on a project at the same time.

20. Close Panel and Frame with a Shortcut

Close panels and frames by hitting Command+W for one at a time or Command+Option+W to close all the tabs.

This video along with the tips were first created and shared by Sergei Prokhnevskiy on his YouTube channel UkraMedia. Thanks for sharing Sergei!

Know of any other useful tricks in After Effects? Share in the comments below.