After Effects Tips & Tricks

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After Effects tips and tricks to get that coveted After Effects Fastest Render Award.

Wondering how to get the best from Adobe After Effects CC? Well wonder no longer. We scoured the internet and asked pro motion graphics experts in the field this question.

I have a great computer (editor: I have an amazing Strongbox workstation) but my renders are slower than a one legged dog on tranquilisers, what can I do?

We had an amazing response and some lively debates in the Strongbox offices as to what exactly are the best ways to speed up After Effects to get the fastest renders.

Where is Multiprocessing in After Effects cc 2015?

We would like to start off by explaining what the hell Adobe are playing at by removing the favoured multiprocessing option in preferences. It’s all about speed says Adobe. It turns out that the speed changes that Adobe talks about when asked where has multiprocessing gone in After Effects cc 2015, are based on better GUI interactivity for this 13.5 release. The new After Effects cc 2015 is certainly getting well deserved press and comments regarding how much snappier the timeline has gotten so we reckon that there is high probability rendering times will be decreasing in a future version but where is that multiprocessing option gone.

The Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously feature has been superseded by the new architecture in After Effects CC 2015 (13.5). The new architecture will allow a future version of After Effects to utilize processor threads and RAM more efficiently than the Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously functionality ever could.

While we are waiting for the new rendering architecture to prove itself, here’s a great tip: a 13.5 (AE cc 2015) project file is compatible with 13.2 (AE cc 2014) so you can benefit from all of the workflow enhancements in 13.5, then use 13.2 to render faster (if your project benefits from multiprocessing…and that’s a big huge massive if).

How to Control the Quality of your Previews

When it comes to previewing your work in After Effects you have to ask yourself what are you doing right now. Are you scrubbing through the timeline, trying to playback realtime or compositing your next effect? For playback and scrubbing the timeline your choice is a simple one. Head over to the comp viewer and at the bottom of the window there will be a small lightning bolt within a square, click this and an option menu will appear. Start by changing this to Adaptive Resolution (this option can be toggled even further via the Preferences menu) or choose Fast Draft. Using these 2 options will result in a lower quality render of the screen, but when you stop scrubbing or playback After Effects can render the frame back as Full quality. This is a fantastic time saver if you simply need to find a section of your comp or you want to see if your effect is working correctly.


Got rough edges in your viewer but your setting is on Full quality? Check your magnification. If your magnification in the composition is not an even value (ex. 49.7%), you will get rough or even invisible edges in your previews. Instead of losing time by changing your magnification every time this happens, change the preference setting instead.

Head to the top menu and click Edit > Preferences > Preview. Here you can change both the quality of the Adaptive Resolution which we talked about above and the viewer quality. Try setting the Viewer quality > Zoom Quality to More Accurate to do away with odd magnification levels automatically.


Faster Previews

More Accurate Previews


Pre Comp your pre comps

Try to pre-comp all the elements of a project that you think might have the potential to change – be it colour, shape, design and so on. This way you can avoid revolving your entire animation around a risk asset, and minimise the risk of ruining the animation if it then requires replacing – useful with clients prone to changing their minds at the last minute.

Replace Assets Quickly

To replace an asset on the timeline with another, first highlight the asset on the timeline and then highlight the asset in your project window. Hold Alt/Opt and drag it from your project window to the timeline – release and it’s replaced.

Improve Your Performance By Changing the Disk Cache Location

To improve performance in After Affects, make sure to have a dedicated drive for After Effects disk cache. This is very easy to do and can turn that unresponsive system into a workable workstation. Head to the top menu and click Edit > Preferences > Media & Disk Cache. Click on Choose Folder and select a folder on the fastest drive connected to the computer. SSDs work wonders here. If you can spare it then set the Maximum Disk Cache Size to 90% capacity of the SSD.


Use After Effects Auto Save to Give You Backups in Case of Crash/Client Changes

Unlike in Adobe Premiere Pro, Auto-Save is not turned on by default in After Effects.  I tend to save everytime I make a noticeable change to my project and make a version save everytime I make a major change. The Auto Save files are in the Auto-Save folder, which is saved in the same location as the project.

Got to Edit > Preferences > Auto-Save and check the tick box for “Automatically Save Projects”. Can be a life saver.

Interpret Footage

Interpret Footage in After Effects lets you perform several handy functions with your media.

Select any piece of footage in the Project panel and click the icon in the bottom left that looks like 2 cassette tapes (highlighted in RED below).

In the Interpret Footage dialog window you can change the frame rate of a clip, which is handy for footage filmed in slow motion.  If you have a 60 FPS clip that you want to play at at 24 FPS, click “conform to frame rate” and change the frame rate to 24.


Have a short clip continously loop in the composition without having to copy and paste it like you would in a Premiere Pro or FCP. Enter the number of times you want the footage to loop.  Then, in the composition, click on the edge (you will see a highlighted area) of the footage and drag out to loop the clip.


Use 32 bit colour

In standard 8-bit mode, After Effects will clip colours that reach a brightness of 100%, throwing away colour information and leaving you with flat, blown-out highlights. Switch to 32-bit mode by Alt/Opt+clicking on the composition colour depth marker, and your highlights will be allowed to get brighter than 100% while retaining colour data – essential for great-looking blooms and glows. 32-bit colour also enables you to throw far more colour correction at a shot without losing source data, making it ideal for achieving a strong, filmic look in your projects.

Use Layer styles

Many After Effects users forget that Layer Styles are available. Similar to Photoshop, Layer Styles enable you to add a series of effects directly to a layer and have them rendered as live effects. You can also keyframe the style properties, making them ideal for quick, common effects such as drop shadows, inner shadows and stroke. Access Layer Styles by highlighting a layer in the Timeline panel and choosing Layer>Layer Styles, and pick from Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, Inner Glow, Bevel and Emboss, Satin, Colour Overlay, Gradient Overlay or Stroke.

Scrub Through the Timeline Quicker

A simple tip is to hit Shift+Page Down to move 10 frames forward, or Shift+Page Up to move 10 frames back. This is a really quick way to scrub through your timeline without touching anything. AE is feisty – the less you touch it, the more you get out of it. Be gentle and patient and you’ll get what you want.

Improve After Effects Performance Using Proxies

Proxies use a low resolution movie or still to speed up previews.  This is handy if you are working with large footage files and want to use a smaller file in their place.

Right click on a clip in the Project and select Create Proxy > Movie/Still.

The Render Queue opens. This where you set your Render Settings & Output Module. By default the Render Settings are draft (half size), and I changed the Output Settings to Photo-JPEG (quick render, decent enough quality).

After the Proxy renders, you will see a square beside the footage. This indicates the proxy is being used. To stop using a Proxy, click the square which changes to an outline and turns off the proxy.


Proxy Turned On

Proxy Turned Off

Experiment with the set matte filter

Create a 32-bit composition and add some text. Add a solid above your text layer then add the Fractal Noise effect. Turn up the contrast and turn down the brightness. Animate the Evolution property over time by using an expression such as time*90 (which will give you one complete evolution every four seconds). Add the Set Matte effect to the solid layer (Effect> Channel>Set Matte) and choose your text layer as the source layer. Add a vertical fast blur, glow and levels, and colour correct to create some amazing evolving effects.

Use Continuous Frames

The goal for any animator is to have smooth, liquid animation. Many people will simply use the Ease In/Out keyframe, which can cause kinks and bumps in animation with more than one keyframe. The trick is to use continuous keyframes. Ctrl/ right-click on your keyframe and select Keyframe Interpolation. Under Temporal Interpolation select Continuous Bezier. You can now easily remove any kinks in your animation.

Use Textures

Utilise textures and gradients. Many beginner motion designers will simply animate with flat shapes and text. Add some subtle gradients and vignettes to your composition with masked solids or the Ramp effect, or use textures with – or as – track mattes. This can go a long way to polish a design: it adds interest, helps separate elements and focuses the eye.

Changing Mask Behavior So Each Mask is a Different Colour

Although the AE default is to have all masks the same colour, having all masks the same colour can get confusing quickly when you have many in your composition.  Make each mask a separate colour by checking “Cycle Mask Colors” in Preferences > Appearance.


Example of “Cycle Mask Colors” Checked

Use the Shy Guy to Reduce Clutter in the Timeline

This is handy when you have a lot of layers in the timeline and want to hide layers you don’t need to see (especially useful when working with small monitors).  Enable the Shy Guy for the comp (see red highlights below) and the selected layers will hide in the timeline.

Shy Guy Enabled for Composition and the Layer


Add a Clip to a Composition & Replace a Clip with Shortcuts

One common After Effects process is adding footage or swapping out footage in a composition.  Here are 2 handy shortcuts to make this easier/faster.

Instead of dragging footage from the project to a composition, use the shortcut CMD + / (on a Mac) or CTRL + / (on a PC).

To replace a layer in a composition with different footage, select the layer in the comp, then select the footage in the project and press CMD + OPTION + / (on a Mac) or CTRL + ALT + /  (on a PC).  For more After Effects shortcuts check out this comprehensive list.