Animation tutorial: 6 animation tricks for After Effects

Angie Taylor reveals six routes to more creative animations for motion graphics, kinetic type and VFX

Liven up your type

Bored with your fonts? After Effects’ vector-based Shape layers include path operators with procedural qualities for vector distortion and animation. You can convert Text layers to Shape layers (Layer > Create Shapes from Text). This opens up new creative possibilities allowing you to create all sorts of new and interesting effects and making the fonts more flexible. Here you can see the application of Multiple Strokes and Round Corners on the standard Helvetica Bold font.

A defining character

If you need to make your text stand out from the crowd use Shape Path Operators on them to give them a more personalized appearance; Wiggle Transform will randomly adjust or animate the transform properties of individual characters. Wiggle Paths to give the text a rougher edge. There’s no need for keyframes either, simply adjust the Wiggles/Second value and the Transform properties attached to the Operators to fine-tune the automatic animation.

Fake extrusion

There’s no way to extrude 3D text in After Effects without plug-ins but you can make text look 3D by using the Repeater Path Operator on converted text to make the text appear three dimensional. Add an Operator and then increase the number to about 10. Reduce the X and Y Position properties a little so you can’t see gaps between the repeated instances. Reduce the Scale property to about 99.5 percent to add perspective.

Be particular

When animating animals or birds, Instead of animating individual creatures, animate one or two and then use Particles to animate groups, swarms, herds or gaggles of them. This will save you lots of time. You can also use particle effects to add clouds, sparkles, bokeh and atmospheric effects to your animations to add depth and interest. After Effects has 2D and 3D particle effects built in (Particle Playground, Foam, Shatter and CC Particle World).

Add to apply

Use blending modes to composite lens flares and other shiny effects top of video footage, these can be stock images or your own photographs. The Add mode will remove all black pixels, leaving only the lightest pixels, great for lighting effects. Use the free Knoll Unmult plug-in ( if you need to composite layers without blending modes.

Polish with colour

When you’ve finished your animation, add an adjustment layer to it to add a final look and safe video levels to all the layers beneath it. You can use the colour effects like, Levels, Curves and Hue Saturation to create your own color treatments. Experiment by making your project 32-bit for higher quality, floating point colour compositing (using Color Finesse). Try blending modes on Adjustment layers and add masks to them to create vignette effects.

Angie Taylor is an art director, motion graphic designer and author, as well as an accomplished speaker.

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