AE fundamentals


In this After Effects Fundamentals lesson, you'll learn how to add effects to layers and compositions. Plus, you'll learn what adjustment layers are and when they can be useful.

Learning different effects should NOT be a priority when learning After Effects. Instead, focus on learning animation fundamentals. That said, it is important to understand how to use effects so you can learn about individual effects as the need arises. In this lesson, we'll look at 10 effects that often come in handy as a motion designer.

Apply an Effect

There are two places to find effects: The Effects menu or the Effects & Presets panel. Both places have all the same effects and organize them into the same categories. I tend to use the search bar in the Effects & Presets panel to quickly find the effect I need.

Where to find effects in After Effects

There are a few ways to apply an effect to a layer:

  • With the layer selected, select the effect from the Effects menu or double click the effect in the Effects & Presets panel.
  • Drag the effect from the Effects & Presets panel onto the layer in the Composition Viewer or Timeline.

Effects can be applied to all kinds of layers, although it only makes sense to apply certain effects to certain types of layers. You can also apply effects to compositions (see an example of that here or at 6:05 in the video).

Adjusting and Animating Effects

When you apply an effect to a layer, the Effect Controls panel should appear automatically. If it doesn't, it can be found under the Windows menu.

Each effect adds a unique set of properties to your layer that can be adjusted. Any property with the stopwatch icon can be animated.

You can work with these properties in the Effect Controls panel, or in the timeline. Just toggle down Effects under the layer.

To show the effects on a layer, hit the E key.

How to edit and animate effects

To hide the effect (so it doesn't affect your layer), toggle the fx button next to the effect name off. To show the effect again, toggle the fx button on.

To reset all the properties of the effect back to their default values, click the blue reset button next to the name of the effect.

To delete an effect, select the name of the effect in the Effect Controls panel or timeline and hit the delete key.

A Layer Can Have Multiple Effects

You can apply as many effects as you want to a layer. Keep in mind, the layer order of the effects matters. Just drag the effect (by clicking on it's name), either in the Effect Control panel or timeline, to rearrange the layer order of the effects.

Copy and Paste Effects

Effects, including all their properties and any adjustments and animations, can be copied from one layer to another. If you don't know the copy and paste keyboard shortcuts at this point, what are you waiting for?! Download the AE keyboard shortcuts you should learn now here.

Useful Effects

Here are some examples of effects that can come in handy for motion designers:

Fill Effect

This effect allows you to add a fill color to a layer. If applied to a composition, it will fill everything that's not transparent inside that composition with a solid color.

In the example below, I duplicated the text animation and added a different fill color to the duplicates to create a more colorful animation:

Fill effect

Tint Effect

The tint effect can be useful if you want to recolor something but need more than just a single fill color. With the tint effect, you can change the blacks in your layer to a color and whites to another color. This can be an easy way to make a colorful scene monochrome.

Tint effect

Fast Box Blur

There are multiple blur effects, but Fast Box Blur is a simple way to blur a layer and is relatively quick to render.

Fast box blur effect

CC Bend It

This effect allows you to bend a layer or composition. Make sure to set the Start and End values so that parts of your layer don't get cut off. If you're bending a composition, make sure to have extra space so that the artwork can be bent without it getting cut off. To adjust the size of your compositions hit ⌘/Ctrl K.

CC Bend It effect

CC Sphere

This effects allows you to take a flat layer and wrap it into a sphere. You can easily make a map into a globe that can rotate in all 3 dimensions. Make sure that your map layer is in a 2:1 ratio. For example, 2000 px by 1000px. This helps avoid a seem when the flat layer is wrapped into a sphere.

CC Sphere effect

CC RepeTile

Quickly and easily create a repeating pattern from a single layer (or composition) with CC RepeTile.

CC RepeTile effect

CC Particle World

If you ever find yourself needing to animate a bunch of little particles, this effect may be helpful.

You'll need a layer that fills the composition to apply the effect to. To create one, go to Layer > New > Solid. The color of this layer won't show up once the effect is applied. Now apply the CC Particle World effect to the solid layer.

There are a bunch of properties to adjust and animate on this one, so have fun exploring what you can create!

If you want a specific layer to be the particle in the effect, here's how:

CC Particle World effect

Adjustment Layers

An adjustment layer is a blank layer that you can apply effects to. Any effects applied to the adjustment layer will affect all the layers below it.

To create an adjustment layer, go to Layer > New > Adjustment Layer.

In the example below, the Simple Choker effect is applied to the adjustment layer which affects the three layers below it. The Simple Choker effect shrinks (or expands) a layer so the result is jelly-looking merging of shapes:

Adjustment layers and Simple Choker effect

All the keyboard shortcuts you need, in one place:

Up Next

In the next lesson, you'll learn how to use masks to control where a layer is visible.