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How to Optimize Projects in Adobe After Effects CS6

Chapter Description

This chapter examines in close detail how image data flows through an After Effects project. It’s full of the information you need to help you make the most of After Effects.

Optimize a Project

Here are a few more workflow tweaks to get the best performance out of After Effects.

Hack Shortcuts, Text Preferences, or Projects

Some people are comfortable sorting through lines of code gibberish to find editable tidbits. If you’re one of those people, After Effects Shortcuts and Preferences are saved as text files that are fully editable and relatively easy to understand. Unless you’re comfortable with basic hacking (learning how code works by looking at other bits of code), however, I don’t recommend it. The files are located as follows:

  • Windows: [drive]:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\After Effects\11.0
  • Mac: [drive]:/Users/[user profile]/Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/11.0/

Mac OS X started hiding the User/Library folder with the release of 10.7 (Lion). The easiest way to reveal it from the Finder is to select Go > Go to Folder and then type Library. The names of the files are

  • Adobe After Effects 11.0-x64 Prefs.txt
  • Adobe After Effects 11.0 Shortcuts

These can be opened with any text editor that doesn’t add its own formatting and works with Unicode. Make a backup copy before editing by simply duplicating the file (any variation in the filename causes it not to be recognized by After Effects). Revert to the backup by giving it the original filename should anything start to go haywire after the edit.

The Shortcuts file includes a bunch of comments at the top (each line begins with a # sign). The shortcuts themselves are arranged in a specific order that must be preserved, and if you add anything, it must be substituted in the exact right place.

Be extra careful when editing Preferences—a stray character in this file can make After Effects unstable. Most of the contents should not be touched, but here’s one example of a simple and useful edit (for studios where a dot is preferred before the number prefix instead of the underscore): Change

"Sequence number prefix" = "_"


"Sequence number prefix" = "."

This is the format often preferred by Maya, for example.

In other cases, a simple and easily comprehensible numerical value can be changed:

"Eye Dropper Sample Size No Modifier" = "1"
"Eye Dropper Sample Size With Modifier" = "5"

In many cases, the value after the = is a binary yes/no value, expressed as 0 for no and 1 for yes, so if you’re nostalgic for how the After Effects render chime sounded in its first several versions, find

"Play classic render chime" = "0"

and change the 0 to a 1. Save the file, restart After Effects, and invoke those 20th-century glory days of the beige Mac. Ask an After Effects veteran sometime what that chime evokes, and get ready to buy that warrior a beer.


After Effects projects can be saved as .aepx files. These work the same way but are written in plain Unicode text; you can edit them with an ordinary text editor. Most of what is in these files is untouchable; the main use is to locate and change file paths to swap footage sources without having to do so manually in the UI. If that means nothing to you, you’re probably not the shell scripting nerd for whom a feature like that was created.

Figure 4.21

Figure 4.21. The Process ID for the nonresponding application is shown in the left column.

Memory Management

Chapter 1 included advice about running After Effects with multiprocessing enabled on a system with multiple cores and a good deal of physical memory. If you see your system’s wait icon come up—the hourglass in Windows, the spinning ball on a Mac—that means there is a fight going on somewhere for system resources. In addition to following the advice in Chapter 1 to leave memory available for outside applications, you may have to quit any application that is both resource-intensive and outside the memory pool managed by After Effects (in other words, any app besides Adobe Premiere Pro, Encore, Prelude, Adobe Media Encoder, or Photoshop).

The best idea is to provide the system with more physical memory. As a rule of thumb, 2 GB of RAM per processor core is not a bad guide. You can go below this to, say, 1.5 GB per core, but much lower and your system will be less efficient unless you also limit the number of cores After Effects uses (in Preferences > Memory & Multiprocessing).

Figure 4.22

Figure 4.22. Throttle-n-Purge exposes controls to help you manage memory usage as well as offering a one-button option to purge all caches (undos and image buffers) and start over.

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