Adobe® After Effects® CC® Quick Start


Lesson Info

Creating Shape Layers

We're gonna start by talking about shape layers, one of my favorite parts of After Effects. It's, again, like this built-in mini Adobe Illustrator inside of After Effects, just vector drawing tools that create shapes. And, like so many things in After Effects, this is why it's really hard to just hunt and peck and find your way in After Effects, because a lot of times, you discover these things, and you're like, I don't understand what to do with this. Like, why is this even cool, it's not that great. And so we're gonna start out slow with shape layers, just so we understand them, and then we're going to make magic with them. So hang in there, we're gonna start slow, and then get awesome. Okay, so shape layers are a little bit interesting. To create shape layers, we wanna start by going to the tools panel here, where all our tools are, and then we have this little rectangle tool. And in the world of Adobe stuff, same thing with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere, when you see a...

tool and you see this little tiny little thing in the bottom right-hand corner, this little tip right there, that indicates that there are other tools, like, stacked underneath this one. Like a stack of tools that are all very similar. So if I hold my mouse button down on the rectangle tool, you'll see there's actually a series of shape tools. There's rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon and star, and with these basic tools, we can create a lot of really cool shapes. Now, it's important, I'm gonna choose star to begin with, and now I have this little plus icon which indicates that I'm going to be clicking and dragging to create a star once I do that, but it's important to know that if you are doing this on your own at home, that you don't have any layers selected. So later we're gonna talk about masks, in the next segment, after the next break, we're gonna talk about masks, and when you have a layer selected, these same shape tools will create a mask on the selected layer. When you have no layer selected, these same tools will create a new shape layer. So I have a composition that's empty, all the layers are hidden and locked, so we're not gonna worry about selecting anything, everything's safe here. So now, with that, I can click and drag, and create my star, here. Click and drag, and you'll notice that as I move my mouse left and right, I am rotating it, and as I move it up and down, I'm scaling it up and down. I don't really care right now. I don't really care, I'm gonna let go of my mouse, because we're gonna fiddle with it later. Let's first talk about this horrific color that offends everything holy and decent in this world. This color combination. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna talk about changing the fill and the stroke. The fill again, being the contents inside, the stroke being the outline. Right now, there is a red fill, and no outline, no stroke. Now, if you click on the words, fill and stroke, then we get access to the types of fill and stroke. And for each fill and stroke, we have four options: We have nothing, we have a solid color, a linear gradient, so just kind of like, one color gradually going to another color in a linear way, and then we also have a radial gradient, so we start from one color, and radiate out to another color. We're gonna come back there in just a second. Same thing with stroke, I click on the word stroke, we have nothing, solid, linear and radial. Just so we see what's going on, I'm gonna click on the solid color for the stroke. By default, it's red. I'm gonna make it a little bit bigger, so we could see it. And this red thing is horrible, I've taken it about as long as I can, I can't stand this no more. I'm gonna click on the word fill, and let's go ahead and try a radial gradient. I'm gonna go ahead and click OK, and there we have a radial gradient, a white to black radial gradient. This also is ugly and offensive, but if I go back to my selection tool, and I click that, then I get this little doo-hickey right here. This little gizmo to control the gradient. So this point right here determines one color of the gradient, this over here determines the other color of the gradient. So between here and here, it's gonna go from white to black. Well, that's not great. I'm gonna click on this outside one and expand it, so that it expands a little bit, so it spreads out. So now instead of going from white to black really close, we're going from white to black over a much more gradual distance, and so we got this kind of radiant center, which is really cool. Now, to change this, I can go to the color swatch. So the words allow you to change the type of fill or stroke, the color swatches allow you to change the actual colors in the fill or the stroke. So I'm gonna click the color swatch, and here we have the gradient, so from white to black. Let's try something fiery. I'm gonna do yellow, and I have this one, select, this color stop selected, this yellow, and then I'm gonna click on this one, and I'm gonna go to a deeper red. That looks sexy enough, go ahead and click OK, and now we have this gradient, and we could continue to adjust it. The balance of colors here is not super appealing, but for the sake of this training and the fact that it's live, we're just gonna roll with it. So, let's talk a little bit about some of these options. Up here, you know we pretty much talked out all of these options, but I'm gonna resize this, make this a little bigger. Come down here to the shape layer we just created, I'm just gonna close this up, so in case you're starting from scratch, we can see what's going on here. We have, on our shape layers, we have our same five old basic transforms that we talked about in the last couple sections, and then, if we open up contents, well then we get a bunch of really cool stuff. We have the polystar we just created, that's what it's called, a polystar, it's the official name. It's basically just a star. And then, if we open up polystar path, we get some really interesting options. So I can increase the number of points on my star, or decrease them, make it a triangle. I could also adjust the inner radius, making it more of like a "you're a winner" ribbon, or more of like a super spiky star. I could also adjust the outer radius, so we can create like an asterisk if we want to, a lot of options, here. Now one of my favorite things to do with stars, it's kind of a fun option, is playing with the roundness of these inside points, and the roundness of the outside points, and we get to this by inner roundness and outer roundness. So I'm gonna increase inner roundness, and then we get this cool, like, starburst. Like the ka-pow that we saw earlier in Joanna's art, and we also have outer roundness, so we can create some kinda like flower power-y flowers, by doing that. And maybe we wanna select this, and then take down the stroke width a little bit, so it's a little bit more like that. So, it's awesome. Very 60's, very cool. And then also, too, oops, we have the stroke options and the gradient fill options. And another thing to be aware of, just as we're talking about shape layers, is they start getting really complicated really, really fast. So much so that you can have multiple shapes on the same shape layer, and then each one of those shapes has its own set of transforms. So this is transform for the polystar, which actually includes a couple bonuses, like skew and skew axis, but then you also have the transform for the whole layer itself. So be aware that there is a scale for the transform, and then scale for just this star. It's pretty robust. Now, what I'm gonna do is actually get to more practical stuff now. I just wanted to show you kinda like the basics of what a shape layer does. I'm going to just select this, and instead of deleting it, I'm just gonna turn off the visibility, and I'm gonna start from scratch with something new. I'm gonna make a lower third here, actually. A lower third is a really common graphic element, if you're a motion graphics designer, if you work with videos, especially if you have interview subjects or do documentary-style footage. Like, just something that goes over, and don't worry about the name lower third, it's not a third of anything. It's just like a little banner at the bottom of the screen that says, like, this is the person talking, and this is who they are, or whatever. So shape layers are great for creating lower thirds. So this is how I might do something like that. I'm gonna go ahead and go up to my shape tools, click and hold down, because I want the regular old rectangle tool, see, just regular old rectangle tool. And I'm going to click and drag about where I want my lower third to be, right about there. It doesn't look great, I know that, just give me a second. It still has like this fire burst-y thing from before, this is not working. So what I wanna do is I'm going to click the word fill, change this to a linear gradient, still not great. And I actually wanna click on the color swatch, and take this back to white and black. So I'm gonna click on this first one, white, click on the second one, oops, don't wanna do that. If you ever do do that on accident where you click it and accidentally create an extra stop, like if I click here, it's gonna create an extra color stop, just click and drag down, just click and hold, and drag it down to get rid of that, and you could move those around as needed. I'm gonna, again, make this black, so we have a white to black gradient, and I'm gonna go ahead and click OK. And the colors are right, but the angle's all wrong, this isn't right, so I'm gonna click the selection tool so we get our gradient, and let's do it like this. And now what I wanna do is I wanna come down to the rectangle, open up the gradient fill that I'm working on right now, and I actually just wanna take down the opacity of that fill. And this is where I wanted white to black, as I don't really want white to black, I kinda want to blend it into the background, and I want all of the things that are happening in the background, all those kind of just slight variations in colors, where there's like a, I don't know if you can see it on the screen, but there's like a little green patch in the center, and darker blues on the outside. I kind of want those to, like, come through our lower third. But I also want enough there in our lower third so that we could, it's legible for the people's name that we're gonna put on it or whatever. And so I'm gonna open up the transform for the rectangle, make sure it's not just, the transform is actually transform for the rectangle, not for the whole layer, because I want this skew value. So now, I can increase the skew, and that gives us this cool little lower third. It's simple, and we could definitely enhance this and make this a lot more intricate and awesome, but for a quick simple clean lower third, this is pretty nice. I also might maybe take down the stroke a little bit, maybe to like 12, just a little cleaner, but I'm not gonna obsess over it, we're live, gotta go. Okay, so and then, another thing that I could do, now that I have this, I'm gonna rename this, I'm gonna select this Shape Layer 2, hit Enter, I'll call this Lower Third, and I might even select this one, and just call it star, so I know, for coming back to it later. And also, just really quick, I'm gonna, oh. Let me actually import something, oh, I did already. So I have this shot of Stu, the same one we used as the puppet tool, and I wanna bring this in, and pretend like Stu is the interview subject. So I'm going to use this continuously rasterized, and I'm going to hit S for scale, and scale him up, he's our interview subject, talking to Stu about his life. And so I'm going to now use the type tool to click in here, I'm just gonna type Stu - Avid reader. I'm gonna hit Enter on the numeric keypad, I'm gonna take down the tracking, because we're spread out quite a bit here, and I'm going to use my selection tool to move that text into place. And this is really big, this font's really, really big. So scale that down, font size, and there we have it. Stu - Avid reader. Now, to make sure that they move together, we can create that parenting relationship we talked about before. So I want the text to be a child of the lower third, so when the lower third moves in or spins, or fades in, oh, fading doesn't work, but when the lower third does stuff, I want the text to follow along. So I'm gonna go to the parent column, drag the pick whip from Stu the text to lower third, and now, we can animate position, we can animate this coming onscreen. Now, I'm trying to drag it offscreen, but for whatever reason, it's going really slow, so I'm having to click and drag and click and drag, click and drag. That can get really annoying. You can actually hold the Shift key down when you're scrubbing on hot text, and it will go in multiples of 10. So when you click and drag, it goes one degree at a time, which percentage, is like one pixel at a time, so it's moving really slowly. But if I hold the Shift key while I do it, then it goes in multiples of 10. So it's 10 pixels at a time. And if I hold the Command key down, it's a tenth. One tenth, or the Control key on the PC. So for really fine-tune adjustments, hold down the Command or Control key. For really broad, big adjustments where you wanna move it, hold down the Shift key. And you can kinda see, you know, having this white to black gradient just kinda makes really subtle highlights. It kinda feels like a little glassy in here, you know what I mean? Just a little glassy, just a little gradient there, and as we go over the gradient and over Stu's shirt, it just kind of works, it just kind of works. Okay, I'm gonna go ahead and turn off the visibility for all this stuff, and I'm going to lock everything, so I don't accidentally select it. And I want to show you a little bit about strokes. If you're familiar with Adobe Illustrator, like if you're really good at Adobe Illustrator, then you're like, oh yeah, strokes are amazing, you can do all these cool things with them, then let me just show you how it works in After Effects. But for the rest of us that aren't Illustrator pros, this can be really awesome. Now, I'm going to click and drag to make a circle. I actually want to make a perfect circle, but as I'm clicking and dragging, you know I have this ability to resize, and it can be hard to get a perfect circle. So if I hold the Shift key down, then as I'm making it, it will stay constrained, the proportions will be constrained, and it'll be a perfect circle. Now, I actually want this, now I let go of my mouse, there. And you wanna make sure, whenever you make shapes, there's a bunch of cool keyboard shortcuts you could use while you're making shapes. You wanna make sure and let go of the mouse first, before you let go of the keyboard shortcuts, or else, whatever you're using for the keyboard shortcuts is gonna be gone, and like it would have been an oval if I were to let go of my keyboard shortcuts before I let go of the mouse. Now, what I wanna do is, a lot of times when you build a shape layer, that's just the way it is. Like, the anchor point's in the center, and it's off a little bit. And what I wanna do is put the anchor point in the center of this layer, the exact center of this layer, and then I wanna center this layer horizontally and vertically. We talked about how to center things with the align panel, but a lot of times, when the anchor point is off, then when you try to align it, the object is off from the anchor point, so it's not gonna work. So you wanna start by getting the anchor point in the exact right spot, and thankfully, there's a command that quickly does that for you. I'm gonna right-click on this shape layer, I'm going to go to transform, and a little ways down here, we get to center anchor point in layer content. Center anchor point in layer content. So again, I right-clicked on the layer, transform, center anchor point in layer content, and the anchor point goes right to the center. Now we can go to the Align panel, and center it upright. So click on align, horizontally, vertically, boom, and we're good. Now I don't want any fill. So I could click the word fill, and choose no fill, or there's a cool keyboard shortcut if you're interested, you can go to the color swatch, and hold the Alt key on the PC or the Option key on the Mac, and click the color swatch to cycle through the various modes. So now we have nothing. I just want a white stroke, and I'm gonna increase the stroke with a little bit, just so we could see it more clearly. By default there's like these blue outlines on shape layers, and if I'm doing something with like a one pixel stroke, that's really annoying, because I can't see it. So what you can do, there's like this little button down here that says toggle mask and shape path visibility down at the bottom of the composition panel. I can click that button, and then I could see my little one pixel stroke, but it's kinda helpful for right now, so I'm gonna put that back on, and increase the stroke back up to about like 80, just so it's thick. Close this up, and I wanna open up the stroke area. So inside the ellipse, we have a stroke area, and we can adjust the stroke width from here inside the timeline panel if that's more convenient for you, we can adjust the color of the stroke, the opacity of the stroke, stuff like that, but the real cool stuff, guys, comes down here at this section right here, where it says dashes. This is really, really cool. So I can click the little plus icon, and create little dashes. That's pretty fun. And if I decrease the dash amount, or let's say, increase the dash amount, we could actually create something very different here. It's a really cool little geometric shape. So we're starting to get creative, starting to dig into the cool stuff of shape layers, and see some magic, here. So it's just gonna get better and better, just stay with me. Okay, so then we have offset. If I increase offset, this is the gap between the chunks. So the dash is the size of the dashes, the offset's the size of the gaps. So as I increase this, oops, that was just offset, nevermind, that's not what I wanted to do, not offset. I need to actually hit plus again, and go to gap. It's gap that I'm talking about. So as I increase gap, it increases the gap between the dashes. So now we can get really crafty, because we can have these really narrow lines, and we have these gaps, as well. So we create kind of like a stopwatch type thing. Get some really creative interesting motion graphics by this. And we're gonna make a little explosion like this in a second, like (imitates explosion noise) And we'll talk about how to do that in just a moment. But let's get back to this for a second, I'm actually gonna make this a little bit thicker so y'all can see it better. And maybe even thicker than that. What's fun about this is, if you're really creative, you can do tons of really innovative things. So I could come over here to now the stroke width, and increase that, and increase it, and increase it, and increase it, and increase it. So now as I get bigger and bigger, well, now we have like this really cool star. And so I could come over here and keep making this bigger and bigger and bigger, and now we have like this really cool sunburst pattern. That's pretty amazing. Like nobody's gonna look at this and be like, you know, "Oh that's just a circle with the stroke with the dashes. "I've seen that a million times before." It's really cool, it's very innovative, you can create some really beautiful shapes and organic things happening, by just fiddling around some of these settings, it's amazing. A sunburst is a really great, I love this look. So often times what I'll do is I'll go back and I'll select the shape layer, and take the opacity down a lot. Just like, just a hint, just a hint. And it creates this nice little texture to our gradient, just by taking that opacity down quite a bit. So that, in a nutshell, is the power of shape layers. It doesn't stop there at all, but that is the conclusion of just the intro to shape layers.

Knowing how to utilize the tools and opportunities in After Effects® can take your video from amateur to professional. Award-winning filmmaker and author Chad Perkins will help you get started with utilizing this motion software. This course covers the basics of starting a project and how to make the most of the many ways to bring life to a video. You’ll learn:

  • How to start a project and create a composition
  • Working with layers
  • Creating text
  • Understanding animation
  • Working with textures and shapes
  • Creating 3D motion with lighting and camera
  • Compositing techniques

Learn to enhance your video projects by animating text or creating transitional effects with this quick start into Adobe® After Effects® CC®.

Software used: Adobe® After Effects® CC®



  • Excellent introduction to After Effects. Definitely delivers on being a quick start to the features and capabilities of the software. Chad's passion and enthusiasm really shines through.
  • Chad is an incredible teacher. He makes what would seem like daunting projects and tasks to the common person become both possible and even simple! He keeps his audience engaged by taping into one's inner child of creativity. Keep your hand hovering over the pause button because this presentation is crammed full of incredible information. Thanks again, Chad and all the folks at CreativeLive in Seattle!