Ready, Preset, Go!
Animation with After Effects 7
by Ben Bardens

Over the years that After Effects has grown, the program has evolved to include many advanced features for a wide variety of tasks. While the program has gotten deeper, one thing Adobe has succeeded in doing is making it easier to utilize many of those features and create quality animations on a short deadline. In the JUL-AUG 06 edition of this magazine, I gave the new After Effects 7 a (mostly) positive review, particularly because of its new Animation Preset library and Adobe Bridge support. This issue, I’ll take a closer look at Animation Presets, how to use them, modify them and even create them for later use.

You’ll need After Effects 7 to complete the following tutorial. There is no source footage to download as you’ll create the text directly in AE and use the Presets to generate your background.

Figure 1: The Grid and Guides options pop-up menu.


Launch After Effects and choose Composition -> New Composition.

In the Composition Settings dialogue, choose NTSC D1, Square Pixel from the Preset pop-up menu. Specify Duration of 8:00, and change the Composition Name to “Title Animation.” Click OK.

In the Composition window, click on the Choose Grid and Guide Options drop-down menu and display the Title/Action Safe guide (see figure 1).

In the Toolbar, select the Horizontal Type tool.

Position the cursor within the Composition window. Place the cursor so the baseline (the little horizontal line toward the bottom of the I-beam) is directly on the center point of the composition frame, as identified by the Title/Action Safe guide. Click to insert your text (I typed in MPEG MAGAZINE with a return between the words). Push the enter key––not the return key––on your keyboard to accept the text entry. The flashing text insertion point will disappear, but the new layer containing the text will remain selected in the timeline.

Use the Paragraph palette to center your text where you first clicked to insert it. If the Paragraph palette is not showing, choose Window -> Paragraph to display it.

Use the Character palette to change the font, point size and other characteristics of your text (I used the font “Digital” with a point size of 90, leading of 110 and tracking of 210. If you don’t have that font, use something blocky or high-tech-looking). We’ll modify the font color later.

Within the Effects & Presets palette, go to the pop-up menu in the top right corner of the palette and choose Browse Presets. (You can also choose Animation -> Browse Presets… from the menu bar at the top of the screen.)

Figure 2: The Adobe Bridge view options and size slider.

The Adobe Bridge application will launch and display the “Presets” directory located within your “Adobe After Effects 7” directory on your hard drive.

In the lower right corner of the Adobe Bridge window, change the View type to “Details View” and adjust the size slider to scale the folders down (see Figure 2).

Scroll down the list of folders and find the “Text” folder. Double-click on the folder icon to go into that directory.

You’ll now see a list of sub-folders for all the different text animation presets available. Double-click the folder called “Animate In” to go into that directory.

Your list will now display a variety of files ending in the “.ffx” suffix. Each of these files contains saved keyframe data for specific animations that can be applied to a layer in After Effects (in this case our Text layer). Single-click on the “Center Spiral.ffx” file to select it. Don’t double-click, that will select it and apply the keyframe data directly to your layer in After Effects. Notice that the Preview panel within the Adobe Bridge window gives you an animated preview of the selected .ffx file, so you can see the animation before actually applying it. Position your cursor over the borders of the preview panel and you can click and drag to make the panel larger.

Figure 3: Use this button to go up one directory level within the Adobe Bridge.

Experiment by previewing several of the .ffx files in the “Animate In” group. Then navigate back up one level, out of the Animate In directory by clicking the “Go Up” button at the top of the Adobe Bridge window (see Figure 3).

Take a moment to view the animations in several of the sub-directories and choose one to use. I used the one called “Underscore” within the “Mechanical” sub-group. Choose a text animation where the text animates into place and then holds. When you’ve chosen your animation preset, double-click the .ffx file within the Bridge window to apply it. After Effects will then reappear at the front of your screen and your text layer will still be selected.

Choose Animation -> Reveal Modified Properties. This will display the animated text properties along with their keyframes (choosing Reveal Animating Properties will reveal only those properties for which keyframes have been set, not properties that have been modified without keyframes).

Figure 4: First click and drag to highlight all the keyframes, then hold down the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (PC) and click and drag on the very last keyframe to the right to change the timing for all the selected keyframes.

Adjust the timing for the animation by bringing the keyframes closer together or further apart. One trick for adjusting the timing is to drag a marquee and select all the keyframes, and then, holding down the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (PC), click on the last keyframe in the group and drag to the right or left. The entire group of keyframes will dynamically come closer together or spread further apart. Make sure you are holding the Option/Alt key down as you click and drag on very last keyframe to the right for this trick to work (see Figure 4).

Build a RAM preview by pushing the numeric “0” key on your keyboard and view your animation. Adjust the timing as necessary by selecting and Option/Alt clicking and dragging the keyframes. I adjusted the timing for my animation from the default 1-second duration to approximately 2 seconds.

In my animation, the text now animates in and then holds at the center of the frame. To close out the animation, I will now copy and paste the keyframes and then time-reverse them so that the text animates out after holding for a few seconds. To do this, click and drag to select all the keyframes.

Choose Edit -> Copy.

Move the current time marker to approximately 6 seconds along the timeline and then choose Edit -> Paste.

Leaving the keyframes you just pasted highlighted, choose Animation -> Keyframe Assistant -> Time-reverse Keyframes. Preview your animation. Your text should now animate into place, sit and hold, and then animate back out.

You can save this animation as a new preset, so that it can be applied to other text layers in other later projects. To do this, click and drag to select all of the keyframes. Then choose Animation -> Save Animation Preset…

Give the preset a name (I called this one Mechanical in then out). The save dialog will default to the last directory accessed via the Bridge, in this case the “Mechanical” subdirectory within Text -> Presets. Saved animation presets should reside within a sub-directory within the “Presets” directory so that they display when the Browse Presets… feature is chosen. Your saved .ffx file will now appear in the Animation Presets lists, and can also be copied from the hard drive and taken from computer to computer. In order for the Effects & Presets panel in AE to display a newly added preset in the same work session, choose Refresh List from the Effects & Presets pop-up menu. To permanently remove an animation preset, just select the .ffx file within the Adobe Bridge and hit the delete key.

To finish this example, I’ll add a preset background animation. Start by choosing Layer -> New -> Solid.

Click the Make Comp Size button and click OK. (It doesn’t matter what color the solid is).

Make sure your time marker is at time=0 then choose Animation -> Browse Presets… (Preset keyframes always appear to the right of where the current time marker is located when the preset is applied).

The Bridge window will come to the foreground again displaying the contents of the “Presets” directory.

Double-click into the Backgrounds subdirectory and single-click on the .ffx files to preview some of the available presets. Double-click to apply the .ffx file of your choice. I used the Circuit preset.

Figure 5: Presets make it easy to quickly put together animated titles, complete with animated backgrounds.

Back in After Effects, drag the solid layer so that it is below the text layer in the timeline window. With the solid layer selected, choose Animation -> Reveal Modified Propert-ies, or Reveal Animating Properties to see what effects and keyframes this animation preset has applied to the solid layer. Adjust the timing by moving keyframes as necessary.

Preview and save your animation. Lastly I changed the color of the text to match the background by selecting the text layer in the timeline, and then using the color swatch in the Character palette to pick a different color.

Final Word
Obviously, this tutorial barely scratches the surface of what can be done with Animation Presets. Some things to remember when using presets are that you can modify the timing by adjusting the distance between keyframes, as we did above; plus you can still apply Keyframe Assistants such as Ease In and Ease Out. You can also modify and add to effects created by Animation Presets by applying additional filters or animating additional properties. It’s even possible to add several presets to the same layer.

Animation presets are a great way to automate repetitive animation tasks. For example, if you need to apply the same animation to a series of different logos, simply animate one logo, save the keyframes as an animation preset, and then apply the preset to each remaining logo. Animation presets are also a way to share techniques and styles, as the .ffx files can be copied and given to other artists to load into their After Effects. A simple web search on “After Effects Animation Presets” will turn up several sites that have presets you can download and use in your projects.

Ben Bardens teaches After Effects at Glendale Community College and works as a freelance graphic artist. Learn more about his classes by visiting or by e-mailing him at

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