What you'll need
An animated map makes it easier to see how to get from point A to point B. We took a map created in Illustrator and traced a taxi route in After Effects. Experiment with our sample map of Lower Manhattan or use your own design. For best results, the Illustrator document should be twice the size of the After Effects comp.
Make sure the line representing the route you want to animate is contained on its own layer in Illustrator. If it’s a solid line, you can proceed to the next section. However, if the line has a pattern, such as the checkerboard in our sample, you’ll first need to copy that layer and use it as a mask. With the patterned line layer selected, choose Duplicate from the Layers panel menu and then double-click the copy and append “mask” to the name. Press Shift+F6 to open the Appearance panel. Select the duplicate line path in the artwork and delete its pattern style by clicking the Clear Appearance button at the bottom of the panel. In its place, make the stroke a bright color (it’s temporary) and choose a large size, perhaps greater than 5 points, so it stands out. Save the file — but keep it open for later — while you switch over to After Effects.
In After Effects, choose File > Import > File and import the Illustrator file as Composition - Retain Layer Sizes. Right-click the line’s mask layer and choose Create > Create Shapes From Vector Layer. Drill down into the newly added Outlines layer. Next to Contents, click Add and choose Trim Paths from the menu. Move the playhead to the beginning of the comp, expand Trim Paths 1, and set an End keyframe at 0%. Now move the playhead to the end of the comp and set another End keyframe at 100%. Delete the original line mask layer. On the line layer, change Track Matte from None to Alpha Matte, referencing the Outlines layer above it. (Toggle the Switches/Modes button if you don’t see the Track Matte options.) The patterned line replaces the brightly colored, temporary line you created earlier.
No matter what object you’re animating on the map (ours shows a taxi cab), you’ll want to select the layer containing that object and choose Layer > Transform > Auto-Orient from the main menu. In the Auto-Orientation dialog box, select Orient Along Path and click OK. Switch over to Illustrator, select the patterned line layer in the artwork, and choose Edit > Copy. Return to After Effects and position the playhead at the beginning of the comp. Select the Taxi Cab layer and press P to expose Position. Now select the Position parameter itself and choose Edit > Paste to paste the path points as keyframes. Hold the Option/Alt button while dragging the last keyframe in the series — keeping them all selected (blue) — until you reach the end of the comp. Doing this retains their relative positions and makes the taxi move at the same pace as the patterned line. Finally, in the Composition panel, select one of the points in the pasted path’s outline and reposition it over its proper location on the map. You may need to increase the Zoom level to get it right. Play the comp and watch the taxi move along the defined path and leave the patterned line behind it. If necessary, press R on the Taxi Cab layer and change the Rotation value so the car faces forward.
Make the city landmark labels pop up as the taxi passes them. For each label’s layer, expand Transform and set keyframes for Scale over a brief timespan, such as a dozen frames. If you want to rotate it too, first set the Anchor Point away from the label’s shape so that when you keyframe Rotation, the label will appear to swing into view rather than simply rotate in place. In the Timeline panel, trim the left edge of the label’s layer and move its position left and right to accurately time the appearance of the landmark’s label with the car’s approach. Finally, select all layers, toggle the Switches/Modes button if necessary, and click anywhere in the Continuously Rasterize column in the Timeline (next to Shy) to activate that mode.
Make a movie that zooms in on the map and follows the taxi (or whatever object you use) as it winds its way around town. Make a new comp by dragging the map comp to the New Comp button in the Project panel. Click Continuously Rasterize to toggle that mode on. Keyframe the Position and Scale values to simulate a camera zooming in on the animated map and following the moving vehicle or map path. Select the keyframes and press F9 to apply Easy Ease to them and make the animation smoother.
Experiment with making the cab follow a different route and add new landmarks to enhance your bird’s-eye view of the animated map.
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