Learning After Effects from scratch can feel like a daunting task. Put yourself on the fast track to successful motion design with these quick tips.

Knowing how to do motion graphics is a crucial skill if you’re a video editor. The ability to add some motion graphics to edits is a highly sought-after commodity.

Even if you’re only able to do very simple tasks like alter keyframes and effect controls, you’ll find that being able to manipulate After Effects to some degree will make you a much more successful freelancer and creative.

With this video, get yourself on the fast track to being a motion designer.

These are the five main concepts you should master first on your journey to becoming an After Effects wizard.

1. Motion Blur

Video Tutorial: 5 Quick Tips For Getting Started In After Effects — Motion Blur

Motion blur is a crucial part of what makes learning After Effects a worthwhile investment of time. For simple text animations such as slow grows, whip pans, and the like, you’ll find that the motion blur available in After Effects will add a much more natural and professional look rather than just doing them in your editing software of choice (Final Cut, Premiere, etc).

To turn on motion blur, you need to first enable the motion blur setting for the entire composition, then you can turn it on for each individual layer. In the Composition Settings you’ll also find more options in the advanced tab to control the amount of motion blur in your composition.

2. Keyframes

Video Tutorial: 5 Quick Tips For Getting Started In After Effects — Keyframes

Keyframes, for all intents and purposes, are what you use to create animation and motion in general.

When you make a keyframe, you’re basically telling the software that at that particular point in time within the composition, for that particular object, this is how you want it to look. Then, when you set another keyframe, you’re telling the software to bridge the gaps between and create the motion.

There are a lot of ways you can manipulate keyframes. But, if you want to make the animations shorter, select your keyframe parameter of choice (position, scale, opacity, etc.) and hold down the alt key when you select the final keyframe of that parameter. Then slide the relative length of the animation all at once.

You can also alter the entire parameter (for instance, chance the position of a whole animation) by selecting all keyframes and putting the playhead over the final one before making your change.

3. Easing Keyframes/Speed Graph Editor

Video Tutorial: 5 Quick Tips For Getting Started In After Effects — Easing Keyframes/Speed Graph Editor

While you can set standard keyframes in After Effects and achieve motion in general, you may find that the normal result is quite abrupt and not necessarily what you want.

This is where easing comes in. Easing essentially takes the values between keyframes and smooths the motion or parameter between the keyframes themselves. Simply put, if you have an object moving from left to right, and you ease the second keyframe, easing will make the object move faster on the left side and slowly ramp down to the right.

You can further fine-tune the motion by using the speed graph editor. By using the speed graph you can visually see a visual representation of the speed of the way the keyframes interact with each other, and using the handles and bezier curves therein, you can customize the speed to what you’re going for.

A very popular look from the last 2-3 years or so is to tune your speed graph to the most gradual ramp possible.

4. Masks and Track Mattes

Video Tutorial: 5 Quick Tips For Getting Started In After Effects — Masks and Track Mattes

In After Effects, the building blocks of graphics are solid layers. You can apply effects to solid layers, you can make masks on solid layers, and you can even use them to create 3d objects.

Once you’ve created a solid layer, you can add a mask to it. This is where you create a shape within the layer itself (masks can be applied to almost all types of layers) and from there you can customize the shape, feather, opacity, or expansion. Simply double tap the m key with the layer selected.

Another option for altering the alpha channel of your layers is to use track mattes. For each layer, if you have a layer above, you can use the alpha channel or luminance values of the topmost layer to create an alpha channel for the bottom-most layer. This is called a track matte. Knowing track mattes and how they work opens up a whole realm of After Effects and graphic design that will take your work to the next level.

5. Null Objects

Video Tutorial: 5 Quick Tips For Getting Started In After Effects — Null Objects

Simply put, a null object is an empty or almost non-existent layer that you can use to control other layers. Once layers are parented to a null object, you can move the null object to move and control all of those layers at once.

You can select certain layers to be controlled by certain nulls. This way you can control your animations more precisely without needing to alter or mess with keyframes individually.

Nulls are the trick to saving time with your animations. You can even parent a null to a null.

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