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Getting to Know the After Effects CS3 Workflow

Article Description

Whether you use After Effects to animate a simple DVD title sequence or to create complex special effects, you generally follow the same basic workflow. The Adobe Creative Team demonstrates how to use this workflow to create a simple animated video.

Creating a Composition and Arranging Layers

The next step of the workflow is to create a composition, in which you will create all animation, layering, and effects. An After Effects composition has both spatial dimensions and a temporal dimension, called a duration, or length in time.

Compositions include one or more layers, arranged in the Composition panel and in the Timeline panel. Any item that you add to a composition—such as a still image, moving-image file, audio file, light layers, camera layers, or even another composition—becomes a new layer. Simple projects may include only one composition, whereas elaborate projects may include several compositions to organize large amounts of footage or intricate effects sequences.

To create a composition, you'll drag the footage items into the Timeline panel, and After Effects will create layers for them. Follow these steps:

  1. In the Project panel, Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) to select the bgwtext composition as well as the DJ, gc_adobe_dj, kaleidoscope_waveforms, and pulsating_radial_waves footage items.
  2. Drag the selected footage items into the Timeline panel. The New Composition from Selection dialog box appears (see Figure 4).

    After Effects bases the size of the new composition on the selected footage. In this example, all of the footage is sized identically, so you can accept the default settings.

  3. Click OK to create the new composition. The footage items appear as layers in the Timeline panel, and After Effects displays the composition, named bgwtext 2, in the Composition panel.
  4. Click in the Timeline panel to make it active, and then press F2 to deselect all layers.

    When you add a footage item to a composition, the footage becomes the source for a new layer. A composition can have any number of layers, and you also can include a composition as a layer in another composition, which is called nesting.

    This composition contains five footage items and therefore five layers in the Timeline panel. Depending on the order in which the elements were selected when you imported them, your layer stack may differ from the one shown in this example. The layers need to be in a specific order as you add effects and animations, however, so you'll rearrange them now.

  5. Drag bgwtext to the bottom of the layer stack (if it isn't already there). Drag the other four layers so that they're in the order shown in Figure 5.

    From this point forward in the workflow, you should be thinking about layers, not footage items. You'll change the column title accordingly.

  6. Click the Source Name column title in the Timeline panel to change it to Layer Name, as shown in Figure 6.
  7. Choose File > Save to save your project so far.

About the Tools Panel

As soon as you create a composition, the tools in the Tools panel in the upper-left corner of the After Effects application window become available. After Effects includes tools that enable you to modify elements of your composition. Some of these tools—the Selection tool and the Hand tool, for example—will be familiar to you if you use other Adobe applications, such as Photoshop. Others will be new. The following table identifies the tools in the Tools panel in Figure 7.












Orbit Camera


Pan Behind






Horizontal Type




Clone Stamp




Puppet Pin

When you hover the pointer over any tool's button in the Tools panel, a tool tip identifies the tool and its keyboard shortcut. A small triangle in the lower-right corner of the button indicates that one or more additional tools are hidden beneath it. Click and hold down the button to display the hidden tools; select the tool you want to use.

5. Adding Effects and Modifying Layer Properties | Next Section Previous Section