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After Effects 101

Speed Changes via Keyframes By Stephen Schleicher

Time to get back to basics with After Effects.  More and more beginners are jumping on board and are learning the ins and outs of After Effects.  The one question I get a lot is ?How to I make ______ longer or shorter?  Fear not dear reader, this quick tutorial has the answer.

I am still amazed at the number of people that are still using my Star Wars intro tutorial I wrote over 5 years ago.  This just goes to prove that content on the Internet doesnt just fade away, but is around forever.  Many new After Effects users appear to be using this tutorial for school or work projects, and is often one of the first projects they undertake.

This leads to many emails asking the same question, ?How to I change the timing of the project so the words dont move by so fast?  There is of course a very simple answer and that is to move the keyframes.

Whats a keyframe?  In very simple terms a keyframe can be considered a key position in time.  For example, at the beginning of a composition an element may be at the top of the screen, so you tell After Effects that at this point in time (beginning of the comp), the element needs to be here.  At the end of the sequence, the element needs to be at the bottom of the screen, so another keyframe is set at the end to tell After Effects this is where the element needs to end up.  The good thing about computer animation applications like After Effects, LightWave 3D, 3ds Max, and so on, is the computer interprets the keyframes, and calculates all of the in-between frames. 

Lets see this in action and then how a keyframe can be changed to alter the speed of an element.

Step 1:  Launch After Effects and create a New Composition (Command+N on the Mac, Control+N on the PC).  For this example, use the DV NTSC preset and set the duration of the composition to 20 seconds.

Step 2:  Create a New Solid (Command+Y on the Mac, Control+Y on the PC).  Make the solid 200 pixels by 200 pixels.  Make it any color you like preferably one that is easy to see against the background.

Step 3:  Using the Selection Tool, click on the Square and move it to the upper left corner of the screen.

Step 4:  In the Timeline, select the Square Layer and press the P key on your keyboard to bring up the Position property for the layer.

Next to the property, you will see a little Stopwatch icon to turn on and off keyframing for that property.  With the Current Time Indicator at the beginning of the Timeline, click the Stopwatch icon to turn on keyframing.

You will notice a diamond appear in the Timeline.  This is the actual keyframe.

Step 5:  Now click on the Current Time and move to 10:00 in the timeline.


Step 6:  Using the Selection Tool, click on the Yellow Square and move it to the lower right hand corner of the screen.  There are a couple of things you will notice.  The first is a second diamond appears in the Timeline.  Since you have already turned on keyframing for the layer, you dont need to click on the Stopwatch icon again.

TIP:  Whenever setting keyframes always remember Move in time, then change the property. 

You should also see a line extending from the previous position of the square to the new position of the square.  This is the motion path of the layer; a visual representation of where the element will move.

If you make a RAM Preview, you will see it takes 10 seconds for the square to move from one corner to the other.

Now what do you do if you want the square to move across the screen in 20 seconds instead of 10?

Step 7:  In the Timeline, click on the ending keyframe (the second keyframe) and drag it to the end of the Timeline.

Thats all there is to it.  A RAM Preview now will reveal your square moving across the screen in 20 seconds instead of 10. 

Once created, you can move any keyframe in the Timeline.  This is very useful when you need to adjust or change the timing of an event.  This is especially true for the Text Animation Presets Adobe has included with After Effects.  Move the keyframes and youll get the just the timing you are looking for.

For more of my After Effects tutorials, visit www.stephenschleicher.com

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Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
corporate events.

Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.

He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (www.digitalmedianet.com), where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Appleā??s Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.

He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadnā??t even invented the word e-commerce.

And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at schleicher@mindspring.com

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