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How to Optimize Projects in Adobe After Effects CC

Chapter Description

This chapter from Adobe After Effects CC Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques 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\12.0
  • Mac: [drive]:/Users/[user profile]/Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/12.0/

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 12.0-x64 Prefs.txt
  • Adobe After Effects 12.0 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 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.

XML and Open Sesame

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, but you might instead want to take a look at Open Sesame.

Sync Settings

Throughout Section I of this book we’ve looked at options that influence how you set your Preferences. Once you have them the way you like them, After Effects now allows you to sync them to your Creative Cloud account so that you can simply load them wherever you go. Just below the Preferences menu item, if you are logged in you will see your login address as a menu item with the option to Sync Settings Now.

Figure 4.21

Figure 4.21. 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.

It’s not just preferences that are uploaded to be reused later. Keyboard shortcuts, render settings and even composition settings presets are transferred. To recover these or transfer them to another system, log in and choose Use Settings From A Different Account from the Edit menu (Windows) or After Effects menu (Mac).

Make sure to go to Preferences > Sync Settings and check Output Modules Settings Templates to sync your custom Output Modules as well. This isn’t enabled by default simply to avoid the conflicts between settings with the same name on Mac and Windows, such as Lossless. If it’s a concern not to mess up these settings, make sure to rename the redundant ones.

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