Correct project settings, preparation of footage, and initial composition settings can help you to avoid errors and unexpected results when rendering your final output movie. Before you begin, think about the kind of work you intend to do in After Effects and the kind of output you plan to create. After you have planned your project and made some basic decisions about project settings, you are ready to start importing footage and assembling compositions from layers based on that footage.
The best way to ensure that your movie is suitable for a specific medium is to render a test movie and view it using the same type of equipment as your audience. It’s best to do such tests before you have completed the difficult and time-consuming parts of your work, to uncover problems early.
Aharon Rabinowitz provides an article on the Creative COW website about planning your project with the final delivery specifications in mind.
For more information about encoding and compression options, see this FAQ entry: “FAQ: What is the best format for rendering and exporting from After Effects?”
Your movie or video production project often starts with the pre-production tasks of writing a script (screenplay) and creating storyboards, which then effectively guide you through your production (shooting) and post-production (editing, soundtrack, visual effects, and so on) stages.
You can use Adobe Story to collaboratively write and manage screenplays and dynamically generate shooting scripts, shooting schedules, character lists, shot lists, and more from your script using metadata. You can also generate specific metadata-based reports during the editing phase from Adobe Story. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator help you create storyboards based on your script for shooting your movie or video.
Before importing footage, first decide which media and formats to use for your finished movies, and then determine the best settings for your source material. Often, it’s best to prepare footage before importing it into After Effects.
For example, if you want an image to fill your composition frame, configure the image in Adobe Photoshop so that the image size and pixel aspect ratio match the composition size and pixel aspect ratio. If the image is too large when you import it into After Effects, you increase the memory and processor requirements of the compositions that use it. If the image is too small, you lose image quality when you scale it to the desired size. See Pixel aspect ratio and frame aspect ratio.
If you can shoot footage with consistent lighting and colors—and otherwise prevent the need to do tedious utility work in post-production—then you have more time for creative work.
If possible, use uncompressed footage or footage encoded with lossless compression. Lossless compression produces better results for operations, such as keying and motion tracking because the compression is reversible, whereas lossy compression discards some data that cannot be restored (generation loss). Certain kinds of compression—such as the compression used in MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 camera formats—are especially bad for color keying, because they discard the subtle differences in color that you depend on for good bluescreen or greenscreen keying. It’s often best to wait until the final rendering phase to use compression other than lossless compression. See Keying introduction and resources.
If possible, use footage with a frame rate that matches that of your output, so that After Effects doesn’t have to use frame blending or similar methods to fill in missing frames. See Frame rate.
The kind of work that you do in After Effects and the kind of output movie that you want to create can even influence how you shoot and acquire your footage. For example, if you know that you want to animate using motion tracking, consider shooting your scene in a manner that optimizes for motion tracking—for example, using tracking markers. See Motion tracking workflow.
Also consider shooting at a larger frame size than what you need for final delivery if you want "head-room" for post-production, whether for fake pans and zooms, or for stabilization.
Project settings fall into three basic categories: how time is displayed in the project, how color data is treated in the project, and what sampling rate to use for audio. Of these settings, it is important to think about the color settings before you do much work in your project, because they determine how color data is interpreted as you import footage files, how color calculations are performed as you work, and how color data is converted for final output. See Color management and Timecode and time display units.
If you enable color management for your project, the colors that you see are the same colors that your audience see when they view the movie that you create.
Click the color depth indicator at the bottom of the Project panel to open the Project Settings dialog box. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) to cycle through color bit depths: 8 bpc, 16 bpc, and 32 bpc. See Color depth and high dynamic range color.
After you prepare and import footage items, you use these footage items to create layers in a composition, where you animate and apply effects. When you create a composition, specify composition settings such as resolution, frame size, and pixel aspect ratio for your final rendered output. Although you can change composition settings at any time, it’s best to set them correctly as you create each composition to avoid unexpected results in your final rendered output. For example, the composition frame size should be the image size in the playback medium. See Composition settings.
If you are rendering and exporting a composition to more than one media format, always match the pixel dimensions for your composition to the largest pixel dimensions used for your output. Later, you can use output modules in the Render Queue panel to encode and export a separate version of the composition for each format. See Output modules and output module settings.
If you work with large compositions, make sure that you configure After Effects and your computer to maximize performance. Complex compositions can require a large amount of memory to render, and the rendered movies can take a large amount of disk space to store. Before you attempt to render a three-hour movie, make sure that you have the disk space available to store it. See Storage requirements for output files.
If your source footage files are on a slow disk drive (or across a slow network connection), then performance is affected. When possible, keep the source footage files for your project on a fast local disk drive. Ideally, you have three drives: one for source footage files, one from which the application runs, and one for rendered output.
When you create a movie for playback on a computer or a mobile device—whether downloaded from the Web, played from a media drive, or streamed from a site—specify composition settings, render settings, and output module settings that keep file size low without compromising on the intended delivery quality. Consider that a movie with a high data rate may not play well on older devices. Similarly, a large movie may take a long time to download over a slower data network.
When rendering your final movie, choose a file type and encoder appropriate for the final media. The corresponding decoder must be available on the system used by your intended audience; otherwise they will not be able to play the movie. Common codecs (encoders/decoders) include the codecs installed with media players such as Flash Player, Windows Media Player, and QuickTime Player.
Adobe Media Encoder CC offers presets that contain predefined settings for various platforms and formats for mobile devices, broadcast, cinema, web video, and so on. For more details about Media Encoder presets, see Using the Preset Browser.
For more information on rendering and exporting in After Effects, see Basics of rendering and exporting.
The article Exporting for the Web and mobile devices covers some important tips related to exporting your videos for Web and mobile devices.
For more information about encoding and compression options for After Effects, see this FAQ entry: “FAQ: What is the best format for rendering and exporting from After Effects?”
Many of the considerations for creating movies for playback on mobile devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, are similar to the considerations for creating movies for playback on computers—but the limitations are even more extreme. Because the amount of storage (disk space) and processor power can vary for mobile phones, file size and data rate for movies must be even more tightly controlled.
Screen dimensions, video frame rates, and color gamuts vary greatly from one mobile device to another.
Use these tips when shooting video for mobile devices:
- Tight shots are better. It’s hard to see a face on a tiny screen unless it’s shot in relative close-up.
- Light your subjects well, and keep them separated from the background; keep the colors and brightness values between background and subject different.
- Avoid excessive zooming and rolling, which hinder temporal compression schemes.
- Because stable (non-shaky) video is easier to compress, shoot video with a tripod to minimize the shaking of the camera.
- Avoid using auto-focus and auto-exposure features. When these features engage, they change the appearance of all of the pixels in an image from one frame to the next, making compression using interframe encoding schemes less efficient.
Use these tips when working in After Effects (for mobile devices):
- Use a lower frame rate (12-24 fps) for mobile devices.
- Use motion-stabilization tools and noise-reduction or blur effects before rendering to final output, to aid the compressor in reducing file size.
- Match the color palette to the mobile devices that you are targeting. Mobile devices, in general, have a limited color gamut.
- Consider using cuts and other fast transitions instead of zooming in and out or using fades and dissolves. Fast cuts also make compression easier.
After Effects project files are compatible with Mac OS and Windows operating systems, but some factors—mostly regarding the locations and naming of footage files and support files—can affect the ease of working with the same project across platforms.
When you move a project file to a different computer and open it, After Effects attempts to locate the project’s footage files as follows: After Effects first searches the folder in which the project file is located; second, it searches the file’s original path or folder location; finally, it searches the root of the directory where the project is located.
If you are building cross-platform projects, it’s best if the full paths have the same names on Mac OS and Windows systems. If the footage and the project are on different volumes, make sure that the appropriate volume is mounted before opening the project and that network volume names are the same on both systems.
It’s best to store footage in the same folder as the project file or in another folder within that folder. Here’s a sample hierarchy:
You can then copy the new project folder in its entirety across platforms, and After Effects properly locates all the footage.
Use the Collect Files feature to gather copies of all the files in a project into a single folder. You can then move the folder containing the copied project to the other platform. See Collect files in one location.
Name your footage and project files with the appropriate filename extensions, such as .mov for QuickTime movies and .aep for After Effects projects. For using files on the Web, be sure that filenames adhere to applicable conventions for extensions and paths.
Ensure that all fonts, effects, codecs, and other resources are available on both systems. Such resources are often plug-ins.
If you use a native After Effects effect in a project on one operating system, the effect still works on the other operating system to which you’ve transferred your project. However, some third-party effects and other third-party plug-ins may not continue to operate, even if you have versions of these plug-ins on the target system. In such cases, you may need to reapply some third-party effects.