AFTEREFFECTS

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Region of Interest: Adobe weblog about After Effects and related stuff from the After Effects team

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: file name and location templates, plus automatic creation of folders for image sequences

In the After Effects CC (12.2) update, we extended the output file name templates feature to include output paths. As part of setting up an output module, you can specify a folder in which to place the output file(s), and this can be a folder that After Effects will automatically create at output time.

This helps to keep your outputs organized, and it really helps to prevent you from doing something like accidentally dumping an image sequence onto your desktop because you forgot to point the output to a specific folder. (Yes, we’ve all done that a few too many times.)

There is a new preset output file name and location template, called ‘Comp Folder and Comp Name’.

There is a new projectFolder element in the Add Property menu in the File Name And Location Template dialog box. Adding the projectFolder element to a file name and location template specifies that that output file should be placed in the same folder as the one in which the project is saved.

For example, the following template specifies that the output file file should be placed in a folder named ‘output’ inside the project folder, and that the name of the output file should begin with ‘final_’ and end with the composition name followed by a dot and the file-name extension:

[projectFolder]/output/final_[compName].[fileextension]

You can also use the .. operator to go up one level in a path. For example, the following template specifies that the output file file should be placed in a folder named ‘output’ that is next to the project folder, and that the name of the output file should begin with the composition name, followed by ‘_matte’, followed by a dot and the file-name extension:

[projectFolder]/../output/[compName]_matte.[fileextension]

Also, when you are specifying an output file name and location through the Output Movie To dialog box, you can choose the Save In Subfolder option to create a new subfolder at output time.

Image sequences and movie files have different defaults for output file name and location templates, with the primary difference being that image sequences will be placed into subfolders. When you choose an image sequence output module template, if your current file name and location template is the default, then After Effects will switch to using the ‘Comp Folder and Comp Name’ template, which will create a new folder for the image sequence.


Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.


favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: expression access to dynamic layer bounds, including text layers

In the After Effects CC 2014 (13.2) update, we added several scripting and expression enhancements to make working with text easier.

My favorite of these enhancements is the addition of an expression method with which you can read the rectangle bounds of a layer’s content, including the corrected bounds of a text layer, for any time in a composition. The sourceRectAtTime method from the After Effects scripting API is now accessible in expressions as a read-only layer object attribute. The values returned are calculated before effects and layer styles are applied.

When I asked folks recently who was using this new method and how, I got a lot of responses from folks who are now able to create lower thirds, credit scrolls, and other text animations much more easily because they are able to have various graphical elements laid out according to the width and height of a block of text, even when that block of text is changing. One example is Victoria Nece’s new script, which uses this expression method to automatically lay out credit scrolls.

Here’s Evan Abrams showing how to use this in a video on YouTube:

Here are the technical bits:

layer.sourceRectAtTime(t = time, includeExtents = false)

  • t: the time index, in seconds. A floating-point value.
  • includeExtents: true to include the extents, false otherwise. Extents apply to shape layers only, increasing the size of the layer bounds as necessary.

Returns a JavaScript object with four attributes: [top, left, width, height]

Example usage for a text layer named myTextLayer:

// Returns width value at the current time as a number
var textLayerWidth =  myTextLayer.sourceRectAtTime().width;


Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.


favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: property links

We have talked for a long time on the After Effects team about adding a feature for “instancing” of effects, meaning that you would be able to drive multiple instances of an effect from one master controller. The more we talked about this, the more we realized that the right thing to do for maximum flexibility and power would be to not limit such a feature to just whole effects, but to create a system whereby any set of properties could be linked across layers and compositions. This is how “property links” were born.

The property links are established and maintained through expressions, but there is no need to write (or even see) the expressions that are created.

You can select any property or set of properties and choose Edit > Copy With Property Links or Edit > Copy With Relative Property Links and then paste those properties on any layer in any composition. The result is that the pasted properties remain connected to the layer from which the properties were copied, such that any change made to the original property is reflected in all of the instances of the pasted property links.

You can even copy an entire layer with property links and paste it to create duplicates that follow the changes made to the original.

For example, the following looping animation consists of a master shape layer on the left and three copies made by choosing Copy With Property Links and then pasting three times, then selectively disabling the links for a few properties by disabling the expressions on those properties. I could have accomplished the same thing by selectively using Copy With Property Links on specific properties.

Comp-1_1

The command Copy With Relative Property Links, works like the command Copy With Property Links, except that the former creates expressions that do not reference the source composition by name. This maintains a relative link between the layer with the expression and the composition containing that layer. This can be useful when, for example, you want to move expression-rigged layers from one composition to another but let the layers reference a control layer only in the same composition. The expressions created using the Copy With Relative Property Links command are identical to those created using the expression pickwhip.

The result of copying a layer’s Position property with the Copy With Relative Property Links command is this:
thisComp.layer("control_layer").transform.position

The result of copying a layer’s Position property with the Copy With Property Links command is this, which specifically references the layer’s source composition in the expression:
comp("source_comp").layer("control_layer").transform.position

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: expression error handling

One of my favorite changes to After Effects recently isn’t a flashy feature at all, but it’s a change that has already saved me thousands of clicks when dealing with expression errors.

Beginning in After Effects CC 2015 (13.5), there are two major changes in what occurs when an expression fails to evaluate:

  • Expression errors appear in a warning banner at the bottom of the Composition and Layer panels instead of in a dialog box.
  • A failing expression is not disabled. The expression will continue to evaluate and will display the warning banner until the problem with the expression is fixed or manually disabled.

This means that when you have multiple expressions that fail, you no longer need to click through a potentially enormous number of error dialog boxes. Also, when you fix the cause of an expression’s failure, you no longer have to click to re-enable the expression. In some cases, fixing an expression may simply be a matter of undoing the change that caused the expression to fail.

expression_error_banner_small

On the right side of the expression error warning banner are control buttons:

  • The Left or Right arrow buttons display the previous or next expression error when multiple expressions fail to evaluate.
  • The Reveal Expression (magnifying glass) button will expose the property with the failing expression in the Timeline panel. If the expression is in a different composition, that composition will open.
  • The Expand Warning button increases the height of the warning banner to display the error text. Click the button again to reduce the height to a single row.
  • The expression error text is clipped to the width of the Composition panel. To see the full expression error in a dialog box, click on the yellow error triangle icon next to the expression in the Timeline panel.

The expression error text is one line only, and is clipped to the width of the Composition panel. To see the full expression error text in the old-style dialog box, click on the yellow error triangle icon next to the expression in the Timeline panel.

To hide the expression error warning banner, open Preferences > General and disable Show Warning Banner When Project Contains Expressions Errors. Note that when this option is disabled, the warning banner will not appear in After Effects, even when new expression errors occur. Re-enable this option to view expression errors.

Also worth mentioning in this context is a feature that is not new, but has existed in After Effects for many versions: the Reveal Expression Errors command, available the in the context menu when you right-click on a layer, will expose properties of the selected layers that have expressions that fail to evaluate.

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: command for moving anchor point to center of content

Every once in a while, we have a “JDI” (“Just Do It”) day on the After Effects team. During these days, members of the After Effects team compete to see who can make the best change to the application within a single day, where “best” is defined by greatest benefit to the population of After Effects users, as determined by a team vote. The changes must be fully designed, implemented, and tested within the single day, in time for demonstrations and voting to occur. There are prizes.

During a JDI day for After Effects CC (12.1), James (Jim) Acquavella and I won for the addition of a command to set the anchor point to be in the center of the layer content: Layer > Transform > Center Anchor Point In Layer Content. I urged Jim to implement this feature because I had seen many people struggle with animation of shape layers because their anchor points were not located in the center of the shapes.

anchor

The keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+Alt+Home on Windows and Command+Option+Home on Mac OS.

You can also Ctrl+double-click (Windows) or Command+double-click the Pan Behind (Anchor Point) tool to invoke this command.

A few great uses for this new command:

  • setting the anchor point of a shape layer to the center of a single shape or to the centroid of a group of shapes in a shape layer
  • setting the anchor point for a text layer to the center of the text content
  • setting the anchor point of a layer to then center of the visible area within a masked region

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: Key Cleaner and Advanced Spill Suppressor effects

In After Effects CC 2014 (13.0), we added a couple of new effects for cleaning up mattes created with color keying effects:

The Key Cleaner effect recovers detail from a scene keyed by a typical keying effect, including recovering detail from a keyed scene with compression artifacts.

The Advanced Spill Suppressor effect removes color spill on a foreground subject from a colored background used for color keying.

The Key Cleaner and Advanced Spill Suppressor effects are intended to be used along with any keying effect that can provide the original RGB data as input (e.g., as the Keylight effect can using its Intermediate Result setting).

Brian Maffitt demonstrates the use of the Key Cleaner and Advanced Spill Suppressor effects in this video on the Adobe website.

The Advanced Spill Suppressor effect has two methods for spill suppression: Standard and Ultra. The Ultra method is based on the spill suppression in the Ultra Key effect in Premiere Pro. The Standard method is simpler and requires less user input. In the majority of cases in our testing, the Standard method provides the better results, but the Ultra method can be useful for scenes in which the screen color is refracted through an object. If Standard doesn’t work for you, then try Ultra.

Tip: You can use an effect mask on the Key Cleaner effect to restrict the result of a wider Additional Edge Radius value (e.g., hair) without causing unwanted semi-transparent regions in sharper regions (e.g., shoulders/arms).

You can control the contrast in the alpha channel in semitransparent regions (along edges) with the Alpha Contrast property in the Key Cleaner effect.

The easiest way to apply these three effects is with the Keylight + Key Cleaner + Advanced Spill Suppressor animation preset:

1. Apply the Keylight + Key Cleaner + Advanced Spill Suppressor animation preset, which is in the Animation Presets > Image – Utilities category in the Effects & Presets panel. This adds the Keylight, Key Cleaner, and Advanced Spill Suppressor effects to the layer. The Advanced Spill Suppressor effect is turned off by default to allow you to sample the key color in the Keylight effect.

2. Use the Keylight effect’s Screen Colour eyedropper to sample the key color from the layer in the Composition panel. Adjust other Keylight effect settings as you normally would to get the best results.

3. Turn on the effect switch for the Advanced Spill Suppressor effect to remove color spill from the scene.

Note: If you use the Keylight + Key Cleaner + Advanced Spill Suppressor animation preset, the Key Color property is already linked with an expression to the Keylight effect’s Screen Colour property, so you don’t need to change it unless you want to use a different color for the despill process. If so, just disable or remove the expression.

To use a keying effect other than the Keylight effect, do the following:

1. Apply the keying effect to the layer.

2. Set the effect to the equivalent of the Keylight effect’s Intermediate Result setting, so that the keying effect gives the full RGB result without attempting to perform its own spill suppression.

3. Apply the Key Cleaner effect after the keying effect.

4. Apply the Advanced Spill Suppressor effect after the Key Cleaner effect.

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: compositing options for each effect, including effect masks

In After Effects CC 2014 (13.0), we added a Compositing Options property group in the Timeline panel for every effect, which includes a couple of very powerful compositing controls:

By default, the Compositing Options property group includes an Effect Opacity property, which can be thought of as providing the same functionality as the Blend With Original control found in a few effects in previous versions of After Effects.

You can also add any number of mask references to an effect to constrain the area within which the effect’s operations are applied. For example, you can draw and track masks around a subject’s eyes and constrain the Change To Color effect to only operate within those two masks to change the eye color, leaving colors outside the masks unaffected. Another simple and common usage is to use a blur effect or the Mosaic effect on a tracked rectangular or elliptical mask to obscure a license plate, logo, or face, as in the example below:

To add a mask reference to an effect, click the plus sign next to the Compositing Options heading and choose a mask from the Mask Reference menu.

You can only choose a mask on the same layer as the effect. You can add as many mask references as you like. Note that you can use different masks for various effects on the same layer. Feathering, mask tracking, and mask expansion properties of the mask are honored in the constraints of the effect area.

When a mask is used as an effect mask, it is not also used as a layer mask – i.e., when a mask is used to constrain the area of an effect, the mask is not also used to modify the alpha channel of the layer. A mask that is used as an effect mask has a blue fx icon to the left of its name in the Timeline panel; clicking this icon expands the effect(s) for which the mask is used as an effect mask. Similarly, when an effect is constrained by a mask, the entry for the effect in the Effect Controls panel has a blue circle icon to the left of the effect name; clicking this icon expands and selects the mask(s) in the Timeline panel.

Brian Maffitt demonstrates the new effect masks and compositing options in a video on the Adobe website.

John Dickinson’s video overview of the new features does an excellent job showing the effect mask feature.

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

tip: adding a keyboard shortcut for the Time Reverse Keyframes command

Here’s a tip from David Simons, one of the original creators of After Effects:

To change Command+Shift+R (Mac OS) or Ctrl+Shift+R (Windows) to run the Time Reverse Keyframes command instead of opening the fairly useless Rotate dialog box (which goes back to After Effects 1.0), do this:

1) Run After Effects
2) Open the Preferences dialog box to the General category.
3) Click the Reveal In Finder or Reveal In Explorer button.
4) Quit After Effects.
5) In Finder or Explorer, open the file with the name that ends with Shortcuts.txt .
6) Change the text that says RotateAll to be TimeReverseKeyframes .
7) Save the document and quit the text editor.
8) Run After Effects.
9) Select some keyframes and press Command+Shift+R (Mac OS) or Ctrl+Shift+R (Windows).
10) Enjoy.

time-reverse keyframes change2

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: improved scaling with bicubic sampling and Detail-preserving Upscale effect

One important area of focus for us over the past couple of years has been improving how images are scaled in After Effects, especially since so many of our users need to be able to upscale images from SD (standard-definition) sizes to HD (high-definition) or digital cinema sizes.

Beginning in After Effects CC (12.0), you can choose between bicubic and bilinear sampling for selected layers, which determines how pixels are sampled for transformations such as scaling. In After Effects CC (12.1), we extended this functionality to the Transform effect, so that this effect now has the ability to use bicubic sampling for all of its transformations.

upscale

Also in After Effects CC (12.1), we added the Detail-preserving Upscale effect, which is capable of scaling images up by large amounts while preserving details in the image, so that sharp lines and curves stay sharp. Scaling up from SD frame sizes to HD frames sizes or even digital cinema frame sizes is well within the range in which this effect is intended to operate with good results. This is closely related to the Preserve Details option in Photoshop.

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

favorite features in CC versions of After Effects: new layer created above selected layers

Beginning in After Effects CC (12.1), most commands that create a new layer create the layer immediately above the topmost selected layer. If no layer is selected, then the new layer is created at the top of the layer stack. In previous versions of After Effects, most commands that created a new layer would create the new layer at the top of the layer stack, regardless of whether any layers were selected. This new behavior should make many workflows more convenient—such as creating a new layer to be a track matte or adjustment layer above the selected layer—preventing you from needing to scroll to the top of the layer stack and drag a new layer down to the needed place.

This is one of those tweaks that seem small but make a huge difference for those of us using After Effects hours a day, every day. So much less needless scrolling, so much less repetitive stress injury.

layer_above_selected

Here is a list of commands to which the new behavior applies:

  • Layer > New > Text
  • Layer > New > Solid
  • Layer > New > Light
  • Layer > New > Camera
  • Layer > New > Null Object
  • Layer > New > Shape Layer
  • Layer > New > Adjustment Layer
  • Layer > New > Adobe Photoshop File
  • Layer > New > MAXON CINEMA 4D File

The new behavior also applies to the respective keyboard shortcuts for these same commands.

The behavior of scripting and AEGP plug-in commands that create new layers has not changed; they still create layers at the top of the layer stack. This is to prevent breaking existing scripts and AEGP plug-ins. (Of course, if your script is using the app.executeCommand(app.findMenuCommandId(...)) pattern to call the menu command, the behavior will be the new behavior of creating the layer above the topmost selected layer.)

Go ahead and try this out now in the current version. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can try the free 30-day trial. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

If you want to let us know what your favorite changes in After Effects have been since After Effects CC (12.0), come and tell us here, whether your favorite change is a new feature, a bug fix, or a little tweak in behavior.

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