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Adobe After Effects CS5: Multiplying Effects

Saving an effect is pretty straightforward, but keep in mind you can also save how you animated an effect as well. Click on image to enlarge.

Saving an effect is pretty straightforward, but keep in mind you can also save how you animated an effect as well. Click on image to enlarge.

Working with After Effects weekly, you may be in a rhythm of using the software and your favorite features, but you may be missing some of the real power the software provides. Here are some power tips for getting the most out of the Effects controls of AE CS5.

Sharing effects
Wouldn''t it be great if you created a fantastic effect, using a combination of the built-in AE controls and then saved it, archived it or e-mailed it to another producer? You can, thanks to the .ffx file format, a cross platform effect file that contains a combination of effect settings and can even include keyframes. In fact, if you do a quick search of your hard drive, you''ll see scores of .ffx files pop up (as long as you have After Effects installed).

Saving an effect is pretty straightforward, but keep in mind you can also save how you animated an effect as well. So once you add an effect to an image or video, then animate it over time, the preset will store all the keyframes. Also, you are not limited to one effect per preset; you can shift-select several effects on a layer and then save it as one preset. To save, just choose Save Animation Preset from the Animation pull-down menu in After Effects.

How do you share presets with others? If you choose Share Presets from that same menu, After Effects will load up Adobe Bridge CS5 and drop you right into the preset folder. From here, you can copy, move and backup any or all of your presets. It''s no fun to reinvent the wheel for each new project, so you''ll find that creating a database of custom effects can be very handy.

One great experimentation trick that pros use is shuffling the effects. Click on image to enlarge.

One great experimentation trick that pros use is shuffling the effects. Click on image to enlarge.

The effect shuffle
One great experimentation trick that pros use is shuffling the effects. As you add multiple effects, you know that the effect you place under another effect has a direct result. In other words, the order of how the effects are applied matter a great deal, especially if you are using the various Blending Modes such as Overlay, Soft Light, Color Dodge and others.

Rather than go to add another effect, try switching the order of the effects, rearranging how they are stacked. You can easily drag them up and down right in the effects panels, but also keep in mind that layer effects follow the standards of cut, copy and paste, using the standard keyboard commands from the Edit menu.

The result of a simple effect swap as far as stacking goes can make a dramatic impact on your composition in a second. Couple this with altering the various blending modes, and you can come up with something wildly original in just a few moments. Again, you can save any of these as a preset, and it will retain how the effects are stacked and any keyframe changes over time.

Adjustment Layers have a lot of control on their own, but adding a mask to it or converting an existing layer in your composition to an Adjustment Layer opens up new worlds of possibilities. Click on image to enlarge.

Adjustment Layers have a lot of control on their own, but adding a mask to it or converting an existing layer in your composition to an Adjustment Layer opens up new worlds of possibilities. Click on image to enlarge.

Adjustment layers
Long a staple in Adobe Photoshop, Adjustment Layers have moved over to After Effects and remain just as powerful. The difference with Adjustment Layers is that the layer does not actually contain footage or an image; it only contains effects that are applied to the layers below it.

They are great for stacking effects up and creating unique new looks, but Adjustment Layers have a few tricks up their sleeve that you may not know about. Normally, you may have a mask on one of your layers to control what part of the image or footage is affected. But you can actually apply a mask to an Adjustment Layer, which gives excellent control over just adding an effect over a certain part of the content beneath it. This way a mask + effect can be toggled or moved up or down the stack of layers very easily.

Keep in mind that a lot of plug-ins are based on, or can be recreated, using the expansive built-in tools in After Effects.

Keep in mind that a lot of plug-ins are based on, or can be recreated, using the expansive built-in tools in After Effects.

Another cool option is that any layer can actually be converted to an Adjustment Layer. When this happens, the content of that layer is ignored and just the adjustments are relevant. Adjustment Layers have a lot of control on their own, but adding a mask to it or converting an existing layer in your composition to an Adjustment Layer opens up new worlds of possibilities.

These are just a few powerful methods, but there are hundreds more pertaining to effects in After Effects. Often you''ll see new expensive plug-ins released and budget for this down the line. However, keep in mind that a lot of plug-ins are based on, or can be recreated, using the expansive built-in tools in After Effects. Sharing, shuffling, stacking, keying and adjusting effects can open up new avenues of creative possibilities.