Use this document to learn the Composition basics in After Effects. Create one or multiple compositions, learn more about time panel.
A composition is the framework for a movie. Each composition has its own timeline. A typical composition includes multiple layers that represent components such as video and audio footage items, animated text and vector graphics, still images, and lights. You add a footage item to a composition by creating a layer for which the footage item is the source. You then arrange layers within a composition in space and time, and composite using transparency features to determine which parts of underlying layers show through the layers stacked on top of them. (See Layers and properties and Transparency and compositing.)
A composition in After Effects is similar to a movie clip in Flash Professional or a sequence in Premiere Pro.
You render a composition to create the frames of a final output movie, which is encoded and exported to any number of formats. (See Basics of rendering and exporting.)
Simple projects may include only one composition; complex projects may include hundreds of compositions to organize large amounts of footage or many effects.
In some places in the After Effects user interface, composition is abbreviated as comp.
Each composition has an entry in the Project panel. Double-click a composition entry in the Project panel to open the composition in its own Timeline panel. To select a composition in the Project panel, right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) in the Composition panel or Timeline panel for the composition and choose Reveal Composition In Project from the context menu.
Use the Composition panel to preview a composition and modify its contents manually. The Composition panel contains the composition frame and a pasteboard area outside the frame that you can use to move layers into and out of the composition frame. The offstage extents of layers—the portions not in the composition frame—are shown as rectangular outlines. Only the area inside the composition frame is rendered for previews and final output.
The composition frame in the Composition panel in After Effects is similar to the Stage in Flash Professional.
When working with a complex project, you may find it easiest to organize the project by nesting compositions—putting one or more compositions into another composition. You can create a composition from any number of layers by precomposing them. After modifying some layers of your composition, you can precompose those layers and then pre-render the precomposition, replacing it with a rendered movie. (See Precomposing, nesting, and pre-rendering.)
You can navigate within a hierarchy of nested compositions using the Composition Navigator and Composition Mini-Flowchart. (See Opening and navigating nested compositions.)
Use the Flowchart panel to see the structure of a complex composition or network of compositions.
Click this button at the bottom of the Composition panel to activate the Timeline panel for the current composition.
Press the backslash (\) key to switch activation between the Composition panel and Timeline panel for the current composition.
Click this button in the upper-right corner of the Timeline panel to activate the Composition panel for the current composition.
Click this button at the bottom of the Composition panel to activate the Flowchart panel for the current composition.
You can change composition settings at any time. However, it’s best to specify settings such as frame aspect ratio and frame size when you create the composition, with your final output in mind. Because After Effects bases certain calculations on these composition settings, changing them late in your workflow can affect your final output.
When you create a composition without changing settings in the Composition Settings dialog box, the new composition uses the settings from the previous time that composition settings were set.
New compositions do not inherit the previous Preserve Frame Rate When Nested Or In Render Queue and Preserve Resolution When Nested settings.
Jeff Almasol provides a script on his redefinery website that creates and saves a new project for each selected composition in the current project. If a folder is selected in the Project panel when you create a new composition, the new composition is placed in the selected folder.
Composition settings, including frame size (width and height) and pixel aspect ratio, are automatically set to match the characteristics of the footage item.
Use Dimensions From
Choose the footage item from which the new composition gets composition settings, including frame size (width and height) and pixel aspect ratio.
The duration for the still images being added.
Add To Render Queue
Add the new composition to the render queue.
Sequence Layers, Overlap, Duration, and Transition
Arrange the layers in a sequence, optionally overlap them in time, set the duration of the transitions, and choose a transition type.
The duration of the compositions created from still images.
Add To Render Queue
Add the new compositions to the render queue.
If you select multiple footage items, the New Composition From Selection dialog is displayed. You can choose whether to create a single composition with all footage items or multiple compositions for each individual footage item.
Each composition has its own Timeline panel. You use the Timeline panel to perform many tasks, such as animating layer properties, arranging layers in time, and setting blending modes. The layers at the bottom of the layer stacking order in the Timeline panel are rendered first and—in the case of 2D image layers— appear farthest back in the Composition panel and in the final composite.
To cycle forward through Timeline panels, press Alt+Shift+period (.) (Windows) or Option+Shift+period (.) (Mac OS). To cycle backward through Timeline panels, press Alt+Shift+comma (,) (Windows) or Option+Shift+comma (,) (Mac OS).
The current time for a composition is indicated by the current-time indicator (CTI), the vertical red line in the time graph. The current time for a composition also appears in the current time display in the upper-left corner of the Timeline panel. For more information on moving the current-time indicator, see Move the current-time indicator.
The left side of the Timeline panel consists of columns of controls for layers. The right side of the Timeline panel—the time graph—contains a time ruler, markers, keyframes, expressions, duration bars for layers (in layer bar mode), and the Graph Editor (in Graph Editor mode).
Press the backslash (\) key to switch activation between the Composition panel and Timeline panel for the current composition.
You can enter composition settings manually, or you can use composition settings presets to automatically set frame size (width and height), pixel aspect ratio, and frame rate for many common output formats. You can also create and save your own custom composition settings presets for later use. Resolution, Start Timecode (or Start Frame), Duration, and Advanced composition settings are not saved with composition settings presets.
The limit for composition duration is three hours. You can use footage items longer than three hours, but time after three hours does not display correctly. The maximum composition size is 30,000x30,000 pixels. A 30,000x30,000 8-bpc image requires approximately 3.5 GB; your maximum composition size may be less, depending on your operating system and available RAM.
To open the Composition Settings dialog box to change composition settings, do one of the following:
Select a composition in the Project panel or activate the Timeline or Composition panel for a composition, and choose Composition > Composition Settings, or press Ctrl+K (Windows) or Command+K (Mac OS).
Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) a composition in the Project panel or Composition panel (not on a layer), and choose Composition Settings from the context menu.
To save a custom composition settings preset, set Width, Height, Pixel Aspect Ratio, and Frame Rate values in the Composition Settings dialog box, and then click the Save button .
To delete a composition settings preset, choose it from the Preset menu in the Composition Settings dialog box, and click the Delete button .
To restore default composition settings presets, Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the Delete button or the Save button in the Composition Settings dialog box.
You cannot move custom composition settings presets from one system to another, as they are embedded into the preferences file.
Ensure that all layers are unlocked in the selected composition or the script fails.
Jeff Almasol provides a script on his redefinery website to set the frame rate and duration of the current composition and all compositions nested within it.
Christopher Green provides a script (Selected_Comps_Changer.jsx) on his website with which you can change the composition settings for compositions selected in the Project panel.
Start Timecode or Start Frame
Timecode or frame number assigned to the first frame of the composition. This value does not affect rendering; it merely specifies where to start counting from.
Use the color swatch or eyedropper to pick a composition background color. (See Select a color or edit a gradient.)
note: When you add one composition to another (nesting), the background color of the containing composition is preserved, and the background of the nested composition becomes transparent. To preserve the background color of the nested composition, create a solid-color layer to use as a background layer in the nested composition.
For information on specific Basic composition settings not listed here, see the related sections:
Click an arrow button to anchor layers to a corner or edge of the composition as it is resized.
Preserve resolution when nested and Preserve frame rate when nested or in render queue
For a composition to retain its own resolution or frame rate, and not inherit those settings from the containing composition. For example, if you have deliberately used a low frame rate in a composition to create a jerky, hand-animated result, you must preserve the frame rate for that composition when it is nested. Similarly, the results of rotoscoping may look wrong when converted to a different frame rate or resolution. Use this setting instead of the Posterize Time effect, which is less efficient.
Motion Blur settings
For information on specific Advanced composition settings not listed here, see the related sections:
You can use the options in the 3D renderer tab to choose the right 3D renderer for your composition. You can choose from the following renderers in the Renderer menu:
The 3D functionality of the CINEMA 4D Composition Renderer and the Ray-traced 3D renderer is nearly identical with the extrusion of 3D text and shape layers and bending of other 3D layers (solids, footage, and so on) into curved planes. However, the rendered results can be different because they generate results using different renderers and support different sets of features. For example, there are differences in the 3D layer material options and other layer behaviors.
The CINEMA 4D Composition Renderer renders 3D layers including extruded text and shapes and curved 2D planes to make the process of animating 3D text and logos from scratch easier. The performance of the CINEMA 4D renderer is much faster than the CPU-only performance of the Ray-traced 3D renderer.
Classic 3D is the traditional, default renderer. Layers are positioned as planes in 3D space.
Quality: The Quality level that you set on the slider affects the parameters that determine how the CINEMA 4D Composition Renderer draws the 3D layers. You can see the resultant renderer parameters in the Options, Anti-aliasing, and Reflectance boxes. The single Quality setting makes it easy for you to choose a balanced combination of rendering speed and acceptable 3D rendering quality without understanding and modifying the various rendering quality parameters.
The following parameters are modified when you adjust the Quality slider:
Anti-Aliasing: Geometry is the default anti-aliasing setting that smooths all object edges (automatically with 16x16 sub-pixels).
Reflectance: Layer sampling is the default Reflectance setting that defines the quality of matte reflections.
When you select CINEMA 4D in the Renderer drop-down box, the Enabled column displays the 3D options that are enabled and the Disabled column displays the 3D options that are not available.
To choose a quality level for your 3D rendering, click the Options button after selecting CINEMA 4D as the renderer and set the quality level using the Quality slider. The values of Ray Threshold, Ray Depth, Reflection Depth, Shadow Depth, Anti-Aliasing, and Reflectance change acccordingly.
After Effects installs a default Renderer on your machine. You can change the Renderer to a full retail version of CINEMA 4D, if you have it installed.
The default Editor is the latest installed version of CINEMA 4D or CINEMA 4D Lite.
Click the Options button to launch the Ray-traced 3D Renderer Options dialog box. You can also Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) the Current Renderer Indicator button in the upper-right of the Composition panel to launch the dialog box.
Here you can choose:
Increasing the Ray-tracing Quality value does not increase the sharpness. Instead it decreases the noise inherent in point sampling. Use the lowest value that produces an acceptable amount of noise or no noise.
The anti-aliasing filter controls the amount of blurriness. None gives the sharpest result but the edges of the projection catcher may look aliased, with Box blur, Triangle, and Cubic giving blurrier results.
Ray-traced 3D layers use Ray-tracing Quality to control the appearance of motion blur.
Depth of field calculations in Ray-traced 3D are more accurate than they are in Classic 3D (and previously in Advanced 3D).
With the improved composition panel toolbar, work faster and without distraction when creating and designing 3D scenes within After Effects. The UI and placement are the same as the default composition toolbar at the bottom of the Composition panel when you work with 2D assets. Once you add 3D content to your scene, the composition panel containing the 3D menu is displayed. After Effects adds more 3D controls to the composition panel toolbar, and controls that are not needed for your current workflow move out into the Composition menu. For more information, see the 3D Design space.
You can choose which frame of a composition to show as a thumbnail image (poster frame) for the composition in the Project panel. By default, the thumbnail image is the first frame of the composition, with transparent portions shown as black.