The Complete Guide to Keyframes in After Effects

The Complete Guide to Keyframes in After Effects

Hey everyone, welcome to FilterGrade. In this video, we’re going over what keyframes are and how to use them, specifically in After Effects.

Let’s start with the basics of what a keyframe is.

A keyframe is a point that determines certain attributes of a clip. This could be a clip’s position, scale, opacity, rotation, and more. When you create two keyframes on a clip in After Effects and those two keyframes have different properties, the clip will animate between those two points. For example if you alter the horizontal position between two points that are 5 seconds apart, the clip will move between those two positions over the course of those 5 seconds. If you move through these 5 seconds frame by frame, you can see the horizontal position number changing at a constant rate. To create more complex animations, editors can use multiple keyframes that change multiple properties at once. For example, let’s add some rotation to this clip. We can use these same two keyframes that we already have, and rotate the clip from 0 to 90 degrees over the course of the animation. As you can see, we don’t need to manually create a keyframe for every single frame of video. Since the movement is automatic between two keyframes, you can just set your start and finish point for a movement then make small adjustments in between if you’re not happy with how the animation flows.

Watch the full video guide:

Now that you know the basics of what keyframes are, let’s actually go through the process of setting up an animation in After Effects. First, we’ll need a layer, so create or import one if you don’t have one yet. Select the layer you’d like to animate. Click on the arrow next to the layer name to reveal all of its properties. You can continue drilling down into the properties of the layer until you find the property you’re looking for. To get your first keyframe, move the playhead to the point where you want to place it, then adjust the parameters of the property you’d like to change. Once you’re satisfied with the starting values, click on the stopwatch button and you’ll see a diamond-shaped icon appear next to the property on the timeline. If you changed multiple properties, you’ll need to click the stopwatch icon on each of them in order to animate them. If you don’t like where you’ve set a keyframe, you can simply select it then drag it around the timeline. Any animation between two points will be automatically adjusted when you do this.

Next we want to create our ending keyframes. Now that we’ve clicked the stopwatch button to turn on keyframes, any change to a keyframed property will generate a new keyframe. So if we move forward and change the position, then a new keyframe indicator will appear.

If you’re working with position, then you can select the layer and adjust the curvature of the line that appears on screen. This will cause the layer to follow a curved line instead of a straight one.

If we play back the timeline, we can see the layer animating. In this example, we started with the first keyframe, and ended with the last one. This won’t always be the best choice though. In many situations, you’ll find it best to start with the ending attribute and animate in reverse. For example, if you want your logo to be centered, and you drop it into your project where it starts off as centered, you might want to set that starting keyframe, adjust the scale down, then move the playhead to earlier in the timeline, then adjust the starting scale and position to whatever you need them to be. This is arguable much easier than moving the layer to the starting position, then having to move it back to center for the final position.

By default, animations can seem robotic and unnatural. They move in a linear fashion that doesn’t usually look very good. The simplest way to make animations more natural is by applying “easy ease” to the keyframes. Right-click on a keyframe and select Keyframe Assistant then Easy Ease. Keyframes with Easy Ease applied will ease in and ease out of their animations. This means that instead of immediately moving at full speed through their animations, movements will start slow then ramp up into their full speed over a short period of time.

This isn’t the only way to adjust the smoothness, however. If you really want to fine-tune the animation between two points, you’ll want to use the graph editor. The graph editor button is located above your layers. When you click it you’ll see graphs for each of your keyframes. You can open up additional options by clicking on the “Choose graph type and options” button and click on Edit Speed Graph in order to adjust the speed. When you select one of the keyframes here, you can move it to adjust the intensity of the curve.

So what are keyframes good for?

The possibilities for animation are nearly endless. Here are just a few things you can use animated keyframes for.

  • Lower thirds
  • Scene transitions
  • Full animated sequences
  • Animated masks
  • And so much more

Movement makes an edit look fluid, so whether you’re creating an entire animated sequence with various moving parts, or you’re just inserting a title or small element into a scene, keyframes can add a lot of personality, interest, and depth to your edit.

Now let’s cover how to navigate through your keyframes. When you have any keyframes on a property, there are shortcuts to move your playhead between the nodes, and to move them to the exact right spot. After all, you want to make sure that if you go to change one of the keyframes, you actually change that keyframe and not make a new one right next to it. You’ll see a diamond symbol to the left of the control, just like the ones that are on your timeline, with an arrow on each side. If the keyframe diamond is hollow, that means your playhead is not currently on an active keyframe. If it’s solid blue, then that means your playhead is on an active keyframe, and any changes you make will adjust that keyframe. If the arrows are white, then clicking them will take your playhead automatically to the next keyframe in that direction. If one of the arrows is grey, that means that there are no more keyframes in that direction and clicking the arrow will do nothing. Navigating using these tools ensures that you only edit what you want to edit.

Keyframes may seem complex, but they are far from the most complicated thing you’ll do in After Effects. It’s a few basic concepts combined into something that can completely change the content you make and add a lot of vibrance to your edits.

If you have any more questions about keyframes, let us know in the comments and we’ll make another video about the topic!

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One Reply to “The Complete Guide to Keyframes in After Effects”

  1. Keyframer says:

    This is far from complete, none of the keyframe types are mentioned.

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