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Timecode and time display units

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Many quantities in After Effects are either points in time or spans of time, including the current time, layer In and Out points, and durations of layers, footage items, and compositions.

By default, After Effects displays time in Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) timecode: hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. You can change to another system of time display, such as frames, or feet and frames of 16mm or 35mm film.

You may want to see time values in Feet + Frames format, for example, if you are preparing a movie for eventual output to film; or in simple frame numbers if you plan to use your movie in an animation program such as Flash. The format you choose applies to the current project only.


Changing the time display format does not alter the frame rate of your assets or output—it changes only how frames are numbered for display in After Effects.

Video-editing workstations often use SMPTE timecode that is recorded onto videotape for reference. If you are creating video that will be synchronized with video that uses SMPTE timecode, use the default timecode display style.

In After Effects CS5.5 and later, timecode from source files can be displayed from a variety of file formats. Source timecode is found in several areas of the interface including the Project panel, Project Settings dialog box, Composition Settings dialog box and Preferences dialog box. See Source timecode for more information.

Change time-display units

  • To cycle through Timecode Base, or Frames/Feet + Frames (depending if you have the “Use Feet + Frames” option checked in the Project Settings), Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) the current-time display. The current-time display is in the upper-left corner of the Timeline panel and at the bottom of the Layer, Composition, and Footage panels. (See Timeline panel.)

    The option that is not selected in Project Settings will be displayed as smaller text underneath. To display only the option selected in Project Settings (Timecode or Frames), do the following:

    1. Open Display preferences by selecting After Effects > Preferences > Display (Mac OS) or Edit > Preferences > Display (Windows).
    2. Deselect the Show Both Timecode and Frames in Timeline Panel option (this option is selected by default).
  • To change time display units, choose File > Project Settings, and choose from the options in the Time Display Style section.

Options for time-display units


Displays time as timecode in the time rulers of the Timeline, Layer, and Footage panels, using either Use Media Source (source timecode) or starting at 00:00:00:00. Select the Timecode option to use timecode instead of Frames. Note that there are no options for choosing frame rate or drop-frame/non-drop-frame, as source timecode is detected and used instead.


You may have both drop-frame and non-drop-frame timecode in any composition within a project.


Displays frame number instead of time. Use this setting for convenience when doing work that you are integrating with a frame-based application or format, like Flash or SWF. To use Frames, select Frames and deselect Feet + Frames.

Feet + Frames

Displays the number of feet of film, plus frames for fractional feet, for 16mm or 35mm film. To use Feet + Frames, select Frames and select Feet + Frames.

Frame Count

Determines the starting number for the time display style for Frames.

Timecode Conversion

Timecode value of the item is used for the starting number (if the item has source timecode). If there is no timecode value, counting begins with zero. Timecode Conversion causes After Effects to behave as it has in previous versions, where the frame count and the timecode count of all assets are mathematically equivalent.

Start at 0

The counting for frames begins at zero.

Start at 1

The counting for frames begins at one.


The new options of “Start at 0” and “Start at 1” allow you to specify different frame-counting schemes between the “Frames” and “Timecode.” For example, you might choose to honor the source timecode of footage items, but count frames beginning at zero or one.

Source timecode

Source timecode support file formats After Effects can read and use timecode for most formats including: QuickTime, DV, AVI, P2, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, AVCHD, RED, XDCAM EX, XDCAM HD, WAV, and DPX image sequence importers.

Project panel

Source timecode is displayed in columns in the Project panel: Media Start, Media End, Media Duration, and Tape Name. These refer to the source’s start, end, and total duration. There are columns for In, Out, and Duration, which reflect the In and Out points set by the user in the Footage panel for footage item, or the work area for compositions.

Project Settings

The Project Settings dialog box contains the source timecode feature set. For details, see Options for time-display units.

Composition Settings dialog box

The Composition Settings dialog box contains the source timecode feature set. For details, see Frame rate.

Preferences dialog box

The Preferences dialog box’s Import panel supports source timecode features. See Import preferences.

Online resources about timecode

Trish and Chris Meyer provide an article on the ProVideo Coalition website that describes the difference between drop-frame and non-drop-frame timecode.

Chris Pirazzi provides technical details about timecode on his Lurker's Guide to Video website.


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