After attending the Designers Fiesta in Hackney, London, I was inspired to write an article on why people shouldn’t be scared to dabble in After Effects.

Tony Harmer, a author and Adobe Applications expert, led a talk called ‘Video for Designers’ which showcased Adobe’s digital video and audio toolset. The demonstration included an overview of the After Effects and Premier Pro interface , the capabilities of both, and a walk through of Adobe Audition.

The Interface

Opening up the program and setting up your composition (workspace) can appear a little daunting.  By looking at each area separately, you will recognise familiar windows such as the align, character and info panels on the right. 

The biggest window is understandably the composition area. Underneath this is your timeline where you will be working to create movement and adjustments in your video. To the left of the composition is your project window; this is where your assets are stored ready to use in your composition.

Basic Movement and Keyframes

Once you’ve got yourself familiar with the interface, the second thing you should learn in After Effects is the basic movements and keyframes. Here I will show you how to animate your object. In this example, the object is our Reflect Digital logo.

Moving an object from side to side is something that can be achieved in a matter of seconds. To do this, firstly drag the logo from the project panel into the composition and align centrally. This is achieved using the align panel much like other Adobe programs.

The main thing you will hear about when learning AE is ‘keyframes’. These are key moments in your composition where ‘events’ happen and every transition in movement is indicated by keyframes. If you want your object to go from 50% to 100% of its size, you will need to set a scale keyframe by telling your object to be 50% of its size, then another to be 100%.

Making sure the blue CTI (current time indicator) is set in the desired place (in this example at the beginning), I hit P on the keyboard to bring up the ‘Position’ properties for the object. Next, I created the first keyframe by clicking the small stopwatch icon next to the word ‘Position’. You’ll notice that a diamond shape has appeared on the timeline in line with the CTI. Now, to move the object: Firstly set the CTI to desired time which, in this example, is just over 2 seconds. To be precise, 2 seconds and 15 frames or 2.5 seconds as we’re at 30FPS (frames per second). You then have two options for moving the object; one being clicking and dragging your object with the mouse and the other being editing the X and Y values next to ‘Position’. By doing either of these, you’ll notice a new keyframe has been created automatically. Now I have two keyframes; one at zero seconds in position A (the starting position) and at one second in position B (where the object has been moved from its starting position). The space bar can be hit to preview this animation.

Using these techniques, you can create something similar to the below very easily.

Object Transformations - Scale

Next, I’ll show how quick and easy it is to scale your object using a very similar process. By selecting the object layer again and pressing ‘S’ on the keyboard to bring up the scale properties in the timeline, you will see similar properties to the position properties. Here I have manually created a keyframe by hitting the small stopwatch icon at zero seconds and setting the scale to 0%.

Then, I move my CTI to 1 second and edit the scale value to 100%. Now at zero seconds, I have the position off screen with the scale at 0% and, as the animation runs, the position and scale values change with the position moving to the centre and object scaling from 0% to 100%. Again using this technique of setting keyframes and changing the properties, you can create the below:

Other Object Transformations

In the third and final example, I’ll be taking what I have so far and adjusting the opacity values so the logo will move position, change scale and become more and less opaque. Strangely enough, the shortcut for Opacity isn’t O but T for Transparency. So by hitting T it will bring up the Opacity/ Transparency values and these can be edited much like the position and scale properties.  As before, at zero seconds, I set up a keyframe and changed the Opacity value to 0%.  I then move the CTI to one second and adjust the Opacity value to 100%.  Again, using this technique we can easily create the below in no time at all:

Another handy shortcut to learn is to pressing ‘U’ on your keyboard; this will bring up all active keyframes. As you can see below, the keyframes that have  been altered so far can be seen: the position, opacity and scale.

If you would like to progress your animation further, hitting ‘R’ on the keyboard will bring up Rotation properties, which can be altered using the same techniques as above.  These are very handy tricks to know when you do more advanced animation like animating your composition to audio.


Once you are familiar with the interface and the concept of keyframes, this shouldn’t take any longer than about 15 minutes to do.

Hopefully this very simple and basic walk-through will encourage you to explore After Effects further and find tutorials online to create something new.


Have a project you would like to discuss?