5 Gems of After Effects you should be using today

There are so many great “under the hood” features in After Effects. It always seems that I get asked the same “How do I do this….” question about particular After Effects tasks or effects, so for this post, I’ve decided to pick five of my “Gems” in After Effects. You know, those looks or tools that you might see in a trailer or commercial, and always wanted to know how they did it, or how they did it so quickly. Hopefully you’ll be able to take away some “Gems” of information from these five tips!


This tool sits in the toolbar staring everyone right in the face, and I’m always surprised when people say “what’s that tool you’re using?” Rotoscoping is a huge pain in the butt, and we all have to do it from time to time. I always see people using the pen tool, going through frame by frame and adding, in some cases, hundreds of points that need constant updating, to roto out your subject. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was an easier way?  Well there is!  

Simply double click on the clip you want to roto, select the “Rotobrush Tool” in the toolbar (far right), and give the area you want to roto a quick trace. After Effects will attempt to find the edges, and you’re good to go. Did AE not get it quite right? If you’re still missing some part of the area that you want to roto, just simply add to what’s already there. Did AE add too much?  Simply hold ALT/Option to use the “Remove” feature, and now draw where you want to scale back the rotobrush, and voila, a roto that will take you seconds, instead of minutes!

Motion Sketch

One question I see people ask on After Effects forums all the time is “How do I do a Write On effect?”. You’ll then hear people talk about masking, and paths, but believe it or not, Motion Sketch will be your best friend when it comes to creating realistic effects, much like the “sought after” write on effect.

How does it work? First, create a very small solid. You’re going to use this solid to create a “sketch path”. Then, call up the Motion Sketch window under the Window dropdown. Then, simply press “Start Capture”. You’ll want to make sure that your composition is nice and long, as you can make adjustments to the duration later. Once you’ve hit “Start Capture”, nothing will happen until you grab the Solid, and start moving it. Simply “write” your name while holding on to the solid. Once you’re done, and release the mouse, you’ll have something that looks like this.

Next, simply create a new solid layer, then create a new mask layer with one point on it. Now, simply copy and paste the Motion Sketch information to the mask layer. You’ll now see that a mask appears where the Motion Sketch was. All you need to do now is simply add a “Stoke” effect to the Solid with the mask, and you can now animate a name being hand drawn onto the screen. A super powerful, and very underutilized tool!

Interpret Footage

Interpret Footage is used for many purposes. This is where you can convert your 30fps footage back to 24p (23.98p). You can assign a field dominance to your footage, but more importantly, this is where you can loop your foot age. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen AE artists taking layers, and duplicating them like crazy to loop them over a certain duration - none of that is necessary. Simply select the loopable clip in your project window, and then right click and “Interpret Footage”. Now, simply head to the bottom to the “Loop” feature, and select the amount of times you want the clip to loop. Super simple!

Set First Vertex

So, you’ve drawn a path that you want to animate with a Stroke effect. The only problem is that the start of the Stroke animation starts at the first vertex point that you created, and you need to change that, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do it...or is there? Of course there is. Simply select the new vertex point you want your animations to start from, and then navigate to LAYER>MASK SHAPE & PATH> SET FIRST VERTEX. Now you can customize your animation to start wherever YOU want it to.

Roughen Edges

This is one of my favorite effects in After Effects, and to be honest, it’s probably been around since version one (CoSa days????). How many times have you wanted to take your text (for example), and roughen the edges up a little bit, or have it appear in a very spooky “Halloween” kind of way. Well, Roughen Edges is the effect you would use. Simply type out the text you want to give a spooky feel to, and then apply Roughen Edges under the “Stylize” category. You’ll immediately notice a “distorted” look to your footage. Now, simply adjust the “Border” parameter, to give your footage a “spooky” look. You can even utilize this as a transition as well.

These five great “Gems” of After Effects are ones that I use on a daily basis, and are also ones that are asked about in Forums and on Message Boards all the time!  Hopefully you’ll be able to use them to help speed up your workflow, and take your work to the next level.