5 Tips To Save You Time

Greetings, friends! Thank you for all the great TLDR feedback so far :D I’ve received a lot of requests for productivity tips, so this week we’re going to focus on all the little things you can do to shave minutes off your After Effects workflow. Minutes that become hours, that become days.

So how do I stay productive? I don’t waste time redoing things.

1. Make A Project Template

The best animators I know are vigilant about organization. They name every layer and use a consistent project structure. I know what you’re thinking, why bother? Well, not only does it make your project easier to manage, it helps the next person that opens your file 6 months later understand what the hell you were thinking. We’ve all been there. It’s never fun.

First things first, make a new AE project and create a folder structure that makes sense for the projects you do. Here’s what I use (it’s pretty slim). This will be how every new AE project starts. When you’re happy with it, save the project as a template file e.g. template.aet.

If you’re using CC 2017 you can tell After Effects to automatically use this template when you create a new project. Go to Preferences > New Project… and select the template you just saved. 

Not using CC 2017? I got you. It’s an extra step, but when you create a new AE Project, go to File > Open Project… and select your template. It will make a copy and name it Untitled Project.


2. Save Your Workspace


On the topic of organization, I like things a certain way when I work. For instance, my Wacom stylus is set so the top button is right-click and the bottom is middle. I’m not weird, you’re the weird one.

My workspace is no different. I want to know where things are and keep what’s important nearby. Lucky for us, After Effects lets you rearrange everything! Do yourself a favor and save a workspace that suits your needs. I have custom workspaces for Photoshop and Illustrator too.

Once you have an arrangement you like, go to Window > Workspaces > Save as New Workspace…

As far as I can tell, it’s possible—though not frictionless—to transfer workspace from one machine to another. Though Adobe is kind of vague about it.


3. Use Presets

I don’t like to repeat tasks that are easy to automate—maybe you’ve noticed. One of the best tools After Effects gives us is the ability to save presets. You can save a preset for just about anything: animation, transitions, expressions, shapes, artwork, etc.

There are a slew of sophisticated presets out there you can download, but I encourage you to make and save your own. For instance, if you’re working on a project with lots of wipe transitions take a moment and work on one of them. When you’re happy with it select all the properties that are animated then go to Animation > Save Animation Preset… The next time you need a wipe, twirl down the User Presets in the Effects & Preset panel, double-click it and you’re good.

Using presets isn’t “cheating.”  They’re a shortcut. No one cares how you got there. But that’s not an excuse to use the same motion over and over. Using a preset should save you steps and give you a foundation that you can modify and work from. Shaving minutes, remember?

4. Collect + Save Expressions

This sounds like a super obvious one, but even I’m guilty of not doing it. As you work on projects and learn tricks from other people, write them down and save them for later. Especially sweet expressions you come across. 

You could save them as an animation preset, but it might be helpful to include some context for how it’s used. Expressions can get kind of gnarly. Use a Google Doc, Evernote, Notepad, whatevs. Just save stuff. 

I’d start by bookmarking Jorge’s massive spreadsheet he recently shared.


5. Use Render Templates

Another “duh” one, but you need to be doing this. Especially if you work in a team. Saving Output Module Templates lets you bypass having to go through all the menus about what file type, codec, size, audio setting, blah, blah every time you render.

When you add something to the Render Queue, click on the little down arrow next to Output Module and select “Make Template.” I have one called “Posting” for sharing with clients and another one called “Instagram” which I’m sure you can figure out. 

Make all the templates! Then share them with your team. That way when Rick forgets to turn on the alpha in his PNG sequence you can say, “This is why we use templates, Rick.” (Sorry to pick on any Ricks out there).

6. (Bonus tip!) Project links.

I’ve been using After Effects for a long time and just learned about this last year. Always something new to learn! 

Ever in a bind and need to track down what project a movie was rendered from? Try this next time: drag the movie into a new project, select it in the project window then hit CMD/CTRL+E

This prompts After Effects to look for a project link saved in the metadata of the movie. It’s basically a path to the project file from which it was rendered.

If it’s able to locate the project it will open the project. If not, it will throw you an error listing the path to the project it’s looking for. So you can then track down SH03_v05_final_Final2_Rick.aep.

Magic, right? Just make sure the box labeled “Include Project Link” is checked in your Output Module Settings when you render.

What’s Next?

I’m busy working on some new items—both digital and physical—that you might be interested in. More on that in the weeks to come.

Thank you again for the great feedback! It makes my day when I get a message about how TLDR helped someone. If you have ideas or topics you'd like for me to cover email me and let's talk. I’m open to suggestions.
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