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Working with Shape Layers in Adobe After Effects CC (2015 release)

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Adobe Press.
  • Date: Feb 3, 2016.

Chapter Description

Shape layers make it easy to create expressive backgrounds and intriguing results. You can animate shapes, apply animation presets, and add Repeaters to intensify their impact. Learn how in this chapter from Adobe After Effects CC Classroom in a Book (2015 release).

Adding compositions to a 3D project

You’ve created several compositions, all of which need to stay in position as the camera moves through the scene. You’ll integrate the compositions using the 3D Camera Tracker effect, which lets you add 3D layers to a clip with the same movement and perspective changes as the original.

You’ll work extensively with the 3D Camera Tracker effect in Lesson 12. For this project, we’ve set the effect up so that all you need to do is to position layers and parent them to a null object to attach them to the 3D scene. A null object is an invisible layer that has all the properties of a visible layer, so that it can be a parent to any layer in the composition. In this case, the null object tracks the camera movement.

  1. In the Project panel, double-click the Tracking composition (in the tracking.aep folder) to open it. Choose Fit from the Magnification Ratio pop-up menu at the bottom of the Composition panel so that you can see the entire composition.


The Tracking composition includes the background video you’ll use to place the shapes you’ve created.

  1. Select the Spiral composition in the Timeline panel, and then select the 3D switch (3d-switch.jpg) for the Spiral layer.

  2. Select the Tracking composition in the Timeline panel again. Then drag the Spiral composition from the Project panel to the Timeline panel, placing it at the top of the layer stack.
  3. Select the 3D switch for the Spiral layer, and then select the Collapse Transformations switch (transformation-switch.jpg) for the layer, too.

The Collapse Transformations switch ensures that transformations in a nested composition aren’t flattened; instead, when the project is rendered, transformations in the nested composition will be performed at the same time transformations are performed for the containing composition.

  1. In the Timeline panel, click the Parent pop-up menu for the Spiral layer, and choose 2. Track Null 1. This sets the Track Null 1 layer as the parent of the Spiral layer, which in turn becomes the child layer.

  2. With the Spiral layer selected, press P to reveal its Position property. Change the value to 0, 0, 0. This moves the spiral to the same location as the Null object.
  3. Move the current-time indicator to 5:00 so you can clearly see the Spiral layer’s position in the image. Then press Shift+R to reveal the Rotation properties, and change the Orientation values to 0, 0, 0.

The spiral is almost in the right place, but you want to position it perfectly in the cul-de-sac. You’ll tweak its position.

  1. Change the Position for the layer to –35, –225, 0.

  2. Press the spacebar to preview the spiral rotating in the cul-de-sac. Press the spacebar again to stop the preview. Hide the Spiral layer’s properties to keep the Timeline panel tidy.

You’ve placed the first composition. You’ll repeat the process to place the others.

  1. Drag the Bolt composition from the Project panel to the top of the Timeline panel, and select the 3D switch for the Bolt layer.
  2. Select 3. Track Null 1 from the Parent menu for the Bolt layer. Then press the P key, press Shift+R, and press Shift+S to reveal the Position, Rotation, and Scale properties for the layer.

Pressing the Shift key as you press keyboard shortcuts lets you view multiple layer properties at the same time.

  1. Change the Position values to –650, –1200, 0. Change the Orientation to 0, 0, 345. Change the Scale to 85%. Finally, select the Motion Blur switch for the Bolt layer, and then hide the layer’s properties.

Next, you’ll use the same process to integrate the Drop composition.

  1. Go to 2:00 so you can see the driveway where this composition will be placed. Drag the Drop composition from the Project panel to the top of the stack in the Timeline panel, and select the 3D switch for the layer.
  2. Select 4. Track Null 1 from the Parent menu for the Drop layer. Then press P, Shift+R, and Shift+S to reveal the Position, Rotation, and Scale properties.
  3. Change the Position values to 730, 2275, 0; the Orientation values to 5, 8, 2; and the Scale to 45%. Then select the Motion Blur switch for the layer, and hide the layer’s properties.

You’ll place the Drop2 composition in the lower left driveway, visible as the camera begins to pan.

  1. Go to the beginning of the time ruler. Drag the Drop2 composition from the Project panel to the top of the Timeline panel, select the 3D switch, and select 5. Track Null 1 from the Parent menu.
  2. Press P, Shift+R, and Shift+S. Change the Position values to –1025, 3575, 0; the Orientation to 0, 352, 0; and the Scale to 35%. Select the Motion Blur switch for the layer, and hide the layer’s properties.

Finally, you’ll add the Checkerboard composition. You’ll need to scale it a little differently so that it fits into the driveway.

  1. Go to 4:00 in the time ruler. Drag the Checkerboard composition from the Project panel to the top of the Timeline panel, select its 3D switch, and choose 6. Track Null 1 from the Parent menu.
  2. Press P, Shift+R, and Shift+S. Change the Position values to –922, 814, 10 and the Orientation to 1, 355, 2. Then click the link icon for the Scale property to unlink the values, and change the values to 42%, 35%, 42%. Select the Motion Blur switch for the layer, and hide the layer’s properties.

8. Adding the finishing touches | Next Section Previous Section

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