5 Things you Should Know Before Getting Started in After Effects

Updated on: September 21, 2022

After Effects is a professional video editing program that focuses on post-production and specializes in animation such as motion graphics,  and visual effects generation. Although the art of animation requires skill, learning to master the program from scratch is possible. However, there are certain concepts and functions that you must have clear so that your experience is as comfortable as possible. 

For example, you should know that the software works based on layers placed on a Timeline. But also that visually, your workspace is organized by panels. How do you display them? These are 5 things you should know before starting in After Effects.

How to start a Composition in After Effects

To start using After Effects, the first thing you need to know is how to set up the canvas on which you will animate a new project. To do this:

  • Open the software and go to the center panel of your screen and hit the 'New Composition' option.
  • Name your project as you prefer in the new Settings window and save it.
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Importing files to the Timeline

Now that you have your canvas set, you need to bring the files you are going to work with to the Timeline. To import footage and images to your workspace:

  • Activate the Project Panel by pressing Ctrl + 0 or Cmd + 0. This box is for importing videos, and images from your computer to After Effects.
  • Double-click on the empty box of your Project Panel that you will find just below the magnifying glass icon.
  • Once the browser window appears, select the files on your computer that you will use in your new composition. 
  • Hit ‘Import’ to see your footage in the Project Panel.
  • Drag your files to the Timeline and check if one video is on top of the other.
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Managing layers in After Effects 

When you drag your footage to the Timeline, you will notice each file is placed in a list of bars. That means each file has its layer so you can edit them all independently. Some actions you can perform on your layers are:

  • Turning their visibility on or off by selecting any layer and checking or unchecking the box with the eye icon to the left of your imported files. 
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  • Cut your layers to use and edit only a fragment of them. To do this, move the Time indicator a few seconds on your Timeline to determine the start and end point of your cut, and then hit Cmd + Shift + D on your keyboard. Get rid of the rest of the footage by selecting its layer and clicking Backspace.
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  • Duplicate a layer to work independently on two identical files by clicking on the layer you want to copy and pressing Ctrl + D or Cmd + D on your keyboard.
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Adding basic effects to layers in After Effects

Remember that After Effects works from tool panels. That's why to try the effects that the program offers by default, you should go to the main menu and: 

  • Select Window.
  • Check the Effects and Presets option.
  • Hit any of the options.
  • Drag and drop the effect on the layer selected to apply it.
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How to export a Composition

Finally, the last thing you need to understand when using After Effects for the first time is how to export a ready-made composition from the program to your computer. To save and export your project:

  • Go to the Main Menu and click File. 
  • Select Export and hit Add to Render Queue.
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  • Once the Render Queue panel opens, locate the Output Module option and click on Lossless.
  • Locate the Format option and select QuickTime.
  • Hit RGB in the Video Output section.
  • Set the output destination of your video in the Render Queue panel by clicking the name of your composition. 
  • Choose the folder in which you want to save your project and hit OK.
  • Click Render in the top right corner of the program, to start exporting your video.

Adjusting the values of the effects you apply is important. To expand their controls click on the arrow next to the layers and set them to your liking.

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These are the After Effects basics that are indispensable when you want to add the post-production touches that a video project needs. In other words, every time you use the software, you'll need to run them. 

Get familiar with those essentials before you start editing in After Effects.

Andrea Mercado is a tech-focused journalist and copywriter with over 5 years of experience covering innovation, edtech, AI, and internet trends across media outlets. She is passionate about how technology can democratize access to education and is an avid learner when it comes to emerging tech like AI. Her articles and webinars help readers stay informed on the latest tech developments.
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