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Layer-Based Animation in Adobe After Effects

Using vector masks to animate a layer in a Photoshop composite By Dave Nagel
Earlier this week we explored a way to create a layer-based animation in Adobe ImageReady using a layered Photoshop file as our basis. Now we'll see how to do it in Adobe After Effects---not using a layer mask this time, but a vector mask.

Preparatory notes
If you haven't already read through and completed the tutorial on compositing shallow water, you should probably do this first. You can read that article at http://www.creativemac.com/2002/08_aug/tutorials/pswater2020822.htm. But before you animate it, you'll need to make a couple of minor changes.

Also, you will need to prepare this image for animation by stretching out your ripple layer to give you room to animate it. This is discussed more fully here in the section called "Preparing your composite for animation.

Animating the stream in After Effects
If you read the earlier tutorial on layer animation in ImageReady, you'll notice a few big differences when trying it in After Effects. After Effects doesn't really understand what to do with Photoshop layer masks. Rather than keeping the mask as a mask, it merges the mask with the layer, making it impossible to animate. So, instead, we'll just have to use a vector mask.

First, go to your Layers palette in Photoshop and delete the layer mask on your ripple layer.

Now, in our first tutorial on creating the stream, I told you to save the selection you created to define the boundaries of your stream. If you did so, you're in good shape. Load it up now using Select > Load Selection, and choose the selection that you previously saved.

Go to the Paths palette and choose the option "Make Work Path" from the flyaway menu. This will convert your current selection into a path.

Now, making sure you have your ripple layer selected in the Layers palette, choose Layer > Add Vector Mask > Current Path. This will have exactly the same effect as a standard layer mask but with two problems that aren't relevant for this project.

Now save your file (as a new file) and open up After Effects.

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