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«PROFESSIONAL USER GUIDE © 2007 Adobe Systems Incorporated. All rights reserved. Copyright Adobe® After Effects® CS3 User Guide for Windows® and ...»

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Composition basics Introduction to compositions A composition is the framework for a movie. A typical composition includes multiple layers that represent components such as video and audio footage items, animated text and vector graphics, still images, and lights. You add a footage item to a composition by creating a layer for which the footage item is the source. You then arrange layers within a composition in space and time, and composite using transparency features to determine which parts of underlying layers show through the layers stacked on top of them. You render a composition to create a final output movie.

Simple projects may include only one composition; complex projects may include hundreds of compositions to organize large amounts of footage or many effects.

In some places in the After Effects user interface, composition is abbreviated as comp.

Use the Composition panel to preview a composition and modify its contents manually. The Composition panel contains the composition frame and a pasteboard area outside of the frame that you can use to move layers into and out of the composition frame. Only the area inside the composition frame is previewed and rendered. The offstage extents of layers—the portions not in the composition frame—are shown as rectangular outlines.

Each composition has an entry in the Project panel. Double-click a composition’s entry in the Project panel to open the composition in its own Timeline panel. To select a composition in the Project panel, right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) in the composition's Composition panel or Timeline panel and choose Reveal Composition In Project from the context menu.

Use the Flowchart panel to see the structure of a complex composition.

Click this button at the bottom of the Composition panel to activate the Timeline panel for the Timeline button current composition.

Press the backslash (\) key to switch activation between the Composition panel and Timeline panel for the current composition.

Click this button at the upper-right of the Timeline panel to activate the Composition panel for the Comp button current composition.

Click this button at the bottom of the Composition panel to activate the Flowchart panel for Flowchart button the current composition.

When working with a complex project, you may find it easiest to organize the project by nesting compositions— putting one or more compositions into another composition. You can create a composition from any number of layers by precomposing them. If you are finished making changes to some layers of your composition, you can precompose those layers and then pre-render the precomposition, replacing it with a rendered movie.

AFTER EFFECTS CS3 108 User Guide See also “Creating layers” on page 133 “Preview video and audio” on page 120 “Work with the Flowchart panel” on page 24 Create a composition You can change a composition’s settings at any time. However, it’s best to specify settings such as frame aspect ratio and frame size when you create the composition, with your final output in mind. Because After Effects bases certain calculations on these composition settings, changing them late in your workflow can affect your final output.

Note: You can override some composition settings when rendering to final output. For example, you can use different frame sizes for the same movie. For more information see “Work with render settings” on page 597 and “Work with output module settings” on page 599.

When you create a composition without changing settings in the Composition Settings dialog box, the new composition uses the settings from the previous time that composition settings were set.

Note: The previous Preserve Frame Rate When Nested Or In Render Queue and Preserve Resolution When Nested settings are not inherited by new compositions.

See also “Work with composition settings” on page 110 “About nesting and precomposing” on page 113 Create a composition and manually set composition settings ❖ Choose Composition New Composition, or press Ctrl+N (Windows) or Command+N (Mac OS).

Create a composition from a single footage item ❖ Drag the footage item to the Create A New Composition button at the bottom of the Project panel or choose File New Comp From Selection.

Composition settings, including frame size (width and height) and pixel aspect ratio, are automatically set to match the characteristics of the footage item.

Create a single composition from multiple footage items 1 Select footage items in the Project panel.

2 Drag the selected footage items to the Create A New Composition button at the bottom of the Project panel, or choose File New Comp From Selection.

3 Select Single Composition and other settings in the New Composition From Selection dialog box:

Use Dimensions From Choose the footage item from which the new composition gets composition settings, including frame size (width and height) and pixel aspect ratio.

Still Duration The duration for the still images being added.

Add To Render Queue Add the new composition to the render queue.

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Create multiple composition from multiple footage items 1 Select footage items in the Project panel.

2 Drag the selected footage items to the Create A New Composition button at the bottom of the Project panel, or choose File New Comp From Selection.

3 Select Multiple Compositions and other settings in the New Composition From Selection dialog box:

Still Duration The duration of the compositions created from still images.

Add To Render Queue Add the new compositions to the render queue.

Duplicate a composition 1 Select the composition in the Project panel.

2 Choose Edit Duplicate or press Control+D (Windows) or Command+D (Mac OS).

Timeline panel overview Each composition has its own Timeline panel. You use the Timeline panel to perform many tasks, such as animating layer properties, arranging layers in time, and setting blending modes. The layers at the bottom of the layer stacking order in the Timeline panel are rendered first and—in the case of 2D image layers— appear farthest back in the Composition panel.

To cycle forward through Timeline panels, press Alt+Shift+period (.) (Windows) or Option+Shift+period (.) (Mac OS). To cycle backward through Timeline panels, press Alt+Shift+comma (,) (Windows) or Option+Shift+comma (,) (Mac OS).

A composition’s current time is indicated by the current-time indicator, the vertical red line in the time graph. A composition’s current time also appears in the current time display in the upper-left corner of the Timeline panel.

For more information on moving the current-time indicator, see “Move the current-time indicator” on page 123.


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The left side of the Timeline panel consists of columns of controls for layers. The right side of the Timeline panel— the time graph—contains a time ruler, markers, keyframes, expressions, duration bars for layers (in layer bar mode), and the Graph Editor (in Graph Editor mode).

Press the backslash (\) key to switch activation between the Composition panel and Timeline panel for the current composition.

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“Work with columns” on page 18 “Using and modifying keyboard shortcuts” on page 638 Work with composition settings You can enter composition settings manually, or you can use composition settings presets to automatically set frame size (width and height), pixel aspect ratio, and frame rate for many common output formats. You can also create and save your own custom composition settings presets for later use. Resolution, Start Timecode, Duration, and Advanced composition settings are not saved with composition settings presets.

Note: The limit for composition duration is three hours. You can use footage items longer than three hours, but time after three hours does not display correctly. The maximum composition size is 30,000 x 30,000 pixels. Note that a 30,000 x 30,000 8bpc image requires approximately 3.5 GB; your maximum composition size may be less, depending on your operating system and available RAM.

• To open the Composition Settings dialog box to change composition settings, select a composition in the Project panel or activate the Timeline or Composition panel for a composition, and then choose Composition Composition Settings, or press Ctrl+K (Windows) or Command+K (Mac OS).

• To save a custom composition settings preset, set Width, Height, Pixel Aspect Ratio, and Frame Rate values in the Composition Settings dialog box, and then click the Save button.

• To delete a composition settings preset, choose it from the Preset menu in the Composition Settings dialog box, and click the Delete button.

• To restore default composition settings presets, Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the Delete button or the Save button in the Composition Settings dialog box.

• To scale an entire composition, choose File Scripts DemoPalette.jsx to run the DemoPalette script, and then click the Scale Comp button.

Jeff Almasol provides a script to set the frame rate and duration of the current composition and all compositions nested within it: www.adobe.com/go/learn_ae_jeffcompsetter.

See also “Change pixel aspect ratio” on page 55 “Change frame rate” on page 53 “Resolution” on page 128 “Specify resolution to use for rendering shadows” on page 181 “About nesting and precomposing” on page 113 “Use motion blur” on page 200 Composition settings

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Start Timecode or Start Frame Timecode or frame number assigned to the first frame of the composition. This value does not affect rendering; it merely specifies where to start counting from.

Advanced composition settings For information on specific Advanced composition settings not listed here, see the related sections.

Anchor Click an arrow button to anchor layers to a corner or edge of the composition as it is resized.

Work with the region of interest The region of interest is the area of the composition, layer, or footage item that is previewed. Create a smaller region of interest to use less processing power and memory when previewing, thereby improving interaction speed and increasing RAM preview duration. Changing the region of interest does not affect file output, though you can change the size of your composition and select what portion is rendered by cropping to the region of interest.

Note: When the region of interest is selected, the Info panel displays the horizontal and vertical distances of the top (T), left (L), bottom (B), and right (R) edges of the region from the top-left corner of the composition.

• To draw a region of interest, click the Region Of Interest button at the bottom of the Composition, Layer, or Footage panel, and then drag to select a viewable area of the panel.

To start over with the marquee tool, hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) and click the Region Of Interest button.

• To switch between using the region of interest and using the full composition, layer, or footage frame, click the Region Of Interest button.

• To move or resize the region of interest, drag its edges or handles. Shift-drag a corner handle to resize while preserving aspect ratio.

• To crop to the region of interest, choose Composition Crop Comp To Region Of Interest.

Set composition background color The default background color for the Composition panel is black, but you can change the color at any time.

❖ Choose Composition Background Color, and then click the color swatch or use the eyedropper to pick a color.

Note: When you add one composition to another (nesting), the containing composition’s background color is preserved, and the nested composition’s background becomes transparent. To preserve the nested composition’s background color, create a solid-color layer to use as a background layer in the nested composition.

See also “Select a color or edit a gradient” on page 236 “Create or modify a solid-color layer” on page 136

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• To hide the thumbnail images in the Project panel, choose Edit Preferences Display (Windows) or After Effects Preferences Display (Mac OS) and select Disable Thumbnails In Project Panel.

Zoom in or out in time

• In the Timeline panel, click the Zoom In button or the Zoom Out button, or drag the zoom slider between the buttons.

• On the main keyboard, press the = (equal sign) key to zoom in or press the – (hyphen) key to zoom out in time.

• In the navigator view, drag the Time Navigator Start or Time Navigator End brackets to magnify or shrink a section of the time ruler.

Dragging Time Navigator End bracket to show more of time ruler.

When zoomed in time, press D to center the time graph on the current time.

Set the work area The work area is the part of the duration of a composition that is previewed or rendered. In the Timeline panel, the work area appears in a lighter shade of gray.

• To set the work area start time or end time to the current time, press B (begin) or N (end), respectively.

• To set the work area, move the start and end work area markers in the time ruler.

Work-area markers indicate the composition duration rendered for previews or output.

• To move the work area, drag the center of the work area bar left or right.

Dragging center of work area bar to move work area

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See also “Preview video and audio” on page 120 Nesting, precomposing, and pre-rendering About nesting and precomposing Nesting is the inclusion of one composition within another. The nested composition appears as a layer in the containing composition.

If you want to group some layers that are already in a composition, you can precompose those layers. Precomposed layers are placed in a new composition (sometimes called a precomposition), and the new composition becomes the source for a single layer in the original composition. The new composition appears in the Project panel and is available for rendering or use in any other composition.

You can also nest compositions by adding an existing composition to another composition, just as you would add a footage item to a composition.

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