Adobe® After Effects® CC® Quick Start


Lesson Info

Working with Layers

I wanna talk working with layers. We talked about importing stuff in the project panel, we talked about using that stuff to create compositions where we could actually do our work. Cut to a composition that's already kind of filled out with a bunch of different layers and a bunch of different stuff in it, and we're gonna talk about how to do that, we're gonna talk about adding layers to your composition, and a bunch of different things about how to fiddle with layers. This kind of works like tracks in Premiere, it kind of works like layers in Photoshop, actually probably a bit more like layers in Photoshop, but there's a lot of similarities and a few differences, so let's talk about that. So I'm gonna resize this. And I'm going to move this around. One of the things I love doing as a shortcut, I don't want to actually move any objects, like I don't want to move the lamp off the table, I don't want to actually move any objects, I just want to kind of like, recenter my point of view and ...

the part of this that I am seeing, because I'm zoomed in pretty close. So what I can do, I have a three-button mouse, I don't know if you can see that, and if I just hold down the middle mouse button, I get this little hand, it's like a toggle, another one of those like, super secret things, it's not like a keyboard shortcut. Hold down the middle mouse button, and I get this hand, and I can just move it around. And you can see that I'm not moving any of the content, I'm not moving any of the layers, I'm just kind of changing what I'm seeing, like the part of it that I'm looking at. I can also use the mouse wheel to zoom out and zoom in which, using those two things in combination is really great. So I can zoom in with the mouse wheel, hold down the middle mouse button, that same wheel, to move around, and it's really handy for things like this, where it doesn't quite fit on the screen. You can also come down here to the bottom left of the composition panel, and there's this drop-down that's a viewer drop-down that, right now I'm seeing this at 50% of the size, so this is at half the size, if I chose 100%, this is at 100% and I can't really see everything here, because the resolution of my monitor and all that kind of stuff, and the size of this project is just kind of bigger. So, I can choose 25% so I can see everything if I wanted to, I just find it's a lot easier to use the middle mouse wheel. I could also, from this drop-down, I can fit, and fit up to 100%, this is kind of nifty. If I choose fit, that is just gonna make this automatically the same size as my composition viewer. So if I come down here and resize this, it'll automatically shrink it. And if I make this bigger, and actually if I put my cursor at a junction of one of the horizontal and vertical intersections of the interface, I get this little icon, and that can resize horizontally and vertically at the same time. As you see it dynamically scales automatically for however big I want the window, which is kind of nifty. Fit will resize it indefinitely, it will just keep scaling it up or whatever, fit up to 100% says, I'm just gonna fit it, and once it's 100%, I'm not gonna get any bigger. I'm just gonna leave it that way. This does not change your output or any settings, this is just a viewer, all the stuff we've talked about so far is just changing the way you view the content, it doesn't actually change the content at all. So I'm gonna leave this set to fit. And I also just really quickly want to point out this drop-down here, which is the resolution drop-down. Just leave it set to Auto. There's a longer story there that we don't have time for, but just trust me on that one, leave it set to Auto. Actually, I will talk a little bit later when we talk about effects, I'll talk about another reason why you might want to change this temporarily to Full, but for now just leave it set to Auto. And those parentheses right there basically tell you this is the resolution. Essentially what that means, in a nutshell, is that as I zoom in and out, it's gonna change the resolution, so that way I'm not like, seeing a tiny little thumbnail, but rendering all of those pixels, so it makes things render a lot faster. Okay. So let's talk about layers here. So each one of these components is on a separate layer. So we have these different layers, and as we click the layer, we select the layer. And you can see that there gets a bounding box around everything, so I clicked the Main Thought Bubble, I'll just resize this so we can see. So we have the Main Thought Bubble, we click it, we get like this kind of bounding box around it, letting us know it's selected, we have the Bubble the Second, we have the Bubble Bottom, that makes me chuckle a bit, and so we have all these different layers. We have this eye icon over here, which indicates the visibility of that layer, so I can poke it in the eye, and it turns off. Turns off, poke the eye again, it comes back on. This comes in very handy for like, AV-ing things, testing things, seeing the effect of something, so that's really important. This chunk over here represents the layer in time. So if I wanted to stagger this so the thought bubbles like, he's sitting there, maybe he's just deeply pondering, or he's thinking about something, and then later, thought bubbles start appearing one after another, I can stagger this, so I take Bubble Bottom, move it a little bit later, and now it doesn't show up right away, you'll notice it's gone, and then I move, boom. And once we hit that spot in time where it is, then it kind of pops on. And so I can do this and stagger these, move these later in time, I'm just clicking and dragging on this layer and moving it later in time. Now if I drag my play head, which is this blue thing that tells us where we are in time, and by the way, you can just see the time indicator right here tells us this exact time code, the spot in time where we are, so this is 18 frames in, we'll bring that to the front there, hit the spacebar, and then boop, boop, boop! And so now he's thinking. Didn't really give him too much time to ponder in his heart, maybe that happened before the composition started, but now we can go, bum, bum, bump, and there we have this thought bubble, which is really great. Trimming in After Effects works the same way. I definitely do not recommend doing much of any video editing, if at all possible, in After Effects. After Effects just isn't built for it. In order to preview things, After Effects really was designed kind of like an animation program. And so we really want to see, the things that we create when we animate we really want to see specifically exactly the way it's supposed to be. And so there's more of an emphasis on precision and time, wherein the video editor, you kind of, I mean time is really important as well there, but you really want to be able to just play things in real time, you just want to play the video in real time, and that's the focus of the video editing software program like Premiere, but in After Effects, you really want to be able to get every frame rendered. And so what After Effects does, it has to put everything on RAM, every frame has to put into RAM, that's what this green bar represents. It's frames being loaded into RAM before After Effects can really preview things in real time. And so when you bring in a clip of video, it doesn't play it the same way. They've made strides in the last few versions of After Effects to do a better job playing video, it's still not perfect all the time, but in Premiere, you dump in video and it just plays back fine, but in After Effects, it's a little bit more challenging. You don't get thumbnails of the video, you don't get thumbnails anywhere, we'll talk about that, but it's definitely better to edit your video in Premiere. That being said, if you do need to edit video, if you need to trim something, like the first few frames, the last few frames, you can put your cursor over the beginning and end, you see how it changes, again, these cute little emoji thingies, you get this little cursor and that's indicating that I can trim it. So I don't have to, if I click in the middle of the layer, I'm gonna move the whole layer, if I click on the end of the layer, I'm just gonna trim the start point, I'm gonna trim the content. Okay. Now as I said, you don't have any layer thumbnails. This is different from Photoshop, and different from Premiere, and different from a lot of other programs, and that's because the number of layers in After Effects is usually very different from those programs. I've worked in Photoshop for a lot of years, actually I was into Photoshop before After Effects, and I've had plenty of Photoshop documents that've been like, over 100 layers, but it's a little more few and far between to do that, in After Effects, it's like all the time. Like, to do anything, there's dozens and dozens of layers all over the place, and unlike Photoshop and unlike Premiere, you don't get thumbnails, you don't get previews of what's on that layer. So if you have 100 layers, and it's just like, Layer one, layer two, layer five, whatever, you are gonna be hating your life, you're not gonna be enjoying the program, so name your stuff, name your stuff really, really well. So like right here, there's one layer, I'm just gonna maximize this with the tilde key, there's one layer that I didn't name. Everything else, I know exactly what it is, but even just having one layer that I didn't name, that's super annoying to me, because I have no idea what this is, and now I've gotta go on this like, Indiana Jones expedition trying to figure out like, what's layer five? So like, now I click it, and now I see that it's his hat. I never want to have to worry about what layer five is again, so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna select layer five, I'm gonna click on layer five, I'm gonna hit the Return key, the Enter key on the Mac, and I'm just gonna type in Hat for the love of all things holy. Now I never have to worry about what this thing is again, I know that's his hat, I can just see that from the list of layers, which is really nice and convenient. Okay, let's talk about this thing that's really annoying. Every student, not every student, every class I've ever had, there's been a student, this will be the first time this has ever not happened, because you guys don't have computers, so this will be a first, but before today, every single time I've ever taught a class in After Effects for the last dozen years, somebody has done this: they will double-click a layer, and when you double-click a layer, this is what happens, confusing things happen. And often times, things are really messed up, sometimes it looks almost the same, but it's not quite, and it's really confusing. When you double-click a layer, it opens up the layer panel, something called the layer panel, and because I've been around After Effects for a while, I could tell you that in the olden days, back when I was a lad, After Effects, everything had to be done in the layer panel. Everything had to be done, anytime you did anything, you had to open up the stupid layer panel. Now, I almost never use it, ever. But the only time I ever talk about it in classes is to say be careful of it. Beware the layer panel, because it will drive you insane. So, if you accidentally double-click a layer, you will open up the layer panel. So, if something happens and all of a sudden everything's gone, or everything freaks out and you can't tell, like, you can't get any of your layers, and you can't see anything, double check to make sure that you're actually not in the layer panel, make sure that you're in the composition panel, and that's where all of your stuff is. Again, it's not super fun to talk about, it's not thrilling and exciting, I get it, but that is one gotcha that has plagued everyone. It's a rite of passage, one day it will plague you, know how to combat it and get your stuff back on track. Now, like I mentioned, we have this composition that's already set up for us, it already has the layers and stuff like that, but we can also add other layers to our existing composition. So I have another shot of Stu, and what I can do is I want to add this to my current composition. There's a few ways I can do that. If where he is on-screen, like the location of where he is on-screen is important, then when I drag and drop this, I can drag and drop this into the composition viewer and put him where I need. So I can put him in like that. (chuckles) And now it looks like an infomercial. (laughs) Has this ever happened to you? (laughs) You're at a library minding your own business. Anyway, okay so I'm gonna undo that, I can undo things by gonna the Edit menu, and choosing Undo Change Value, Undo Change Value, and you'll do that a lot. I also use the keyboard shortcut, Command, Z or Control, Z on the Mac, universal undo keyboard shortcut, and that just gets me back to where that is. Now if where the new layer is in time is important, then I can drag and drop and go over here to the timeline, and you'll see I get a little play head. So let's say I want him to have those thought bubbles, and then pop on screen with his infomercials speech, then I can drag it there, so I can play this, thought bubble, thought bubble, thought bubble, and infomercial! Now I have to click on him and move him around, which is one way to move layers, we're gonna talk about other ways to move layers, that's not really the point of this little segment here. So there's that, now we're gonna undo this again with the keyboard shortcut, Command, Z; Control, Z. And if I want to change the order of this, maybe I want him to be behind the table, then I can come down here and drag this down put him behind the table, and the stacking order is really important, so because he's under, the layer is underneath the table layer, then it appears as if he's behind the table. If I were to drag this on top of the table, well now he's in front of the table, but behind the lamp and the other things. So if where he is in the layers stack is important, then I can drag and drop that way, if I want to move it in time, I can do it that way, if I want to position it right, I can drag and drop it that way. Another thing that I like to do, this is like a really, I don't know, it's a keyword shortcut I like to do, Command, forward-slash. Command, forward-slash, that's where the question mark is. People are often like, which one's the forward-slash, which one's the back-slash? There's arguments, and whatever, it's the question mark key, basically. So Command, forward-slash on the Mac, Control, forward-slash on the PC. And what that will do is it will put in the new layer, whatever's selected in the project panel, it will drop it in centered, top of the layer stack, starting at the beginning of the frame, starting at the first frame of the composition. And that's how to do that. I think we do have one layers question here. Whoo! So let's bring it on, so you may have answered this, but, from Ecamp wants to know, who assigns the layering and the nomenclature, and are layer names assigned in the original file, or... I'd guess you do all the naming yourself, like you name all the layers which you showed, correct? Great question. So, what I'm using here, that's actually a really good question, because I kind of started a little bit into the process, so if you bring in content from Photoshop or Illustrator, then the name of the layers in Photoshop and Illustrator will carry over, so if I were to open this file up in Illustrator, this is basically an Illustrator file imported into After Effects, we would see all these layers, the Main Thought Bubble layer, Bubble second layer, and for those of you who do have a background in Illustrator, you might not use layers at all, because it's vector, and you don't necessarily have to. But for After Effects, if you want to things to come over so you can adjust them independently, you need to put them on separate layers. And so, these are the names of the layers in Illustrator, or if you bring in Photoshop documents, the names of the layers in Photoshop will translate. If I brought in the footage, like if I imported the gorilla footage, this is the name of the footage that I named it on my hard drive. When I open it, it's still called Gorilla. When I add it to my composition, it's still called Gorilla. So I can rename the layer if I want to, but it kind of comes in with the same name that it had before when it was created. And it's kind of cool too, it says right here the layer name, and it's got these brackets that indicates that I haven't renamed it yet, so I could call it Zoo footage, again I hit the Enter key, Zoo footage, and now those brackets go away, I've renamed it. So the content is called Gorilla.MP4, the name of the layer that I choose to give it now is Zoo footage.

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!