AE fundamentals

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In this After Effects Fundamentals lesson, you'll learn how to choose your project settings to get started on the right foot. You'll learn all about compositions, the building blocks of an animation project, and we'll tour the AE user interface.

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Create a New Project




Tour of the AE Workspace


Create a New Project

Go to File > New > New Project

Next you'll probably want to start creating layers and animations or import files to animate. Importing is covered in the next lesson. So, to get started, you'll first need to create a new composition.


A composition is similar to a sequence in Adobe Premiere Pro. They're the building blocks of an After Effects project. You'll export a composition to create a final animation in the form of a video file. A composition can contain multiple layers, which can include other compositions (i.e. nested compositions). A project usually has multiple compositions.

There are a few ways to create a new composition:

  • Hit the New Composition button in the center of the screen when you have a brand new empty project.
  • In the very top menu: Composition > New Composition
  • ⌘/Ctrl N
  • Click the new composition button at the bottom of the Project panel (looks like a film strip)
Three ways to create a new composition
Multiple ways to create a new composition.

Composition Settings

Composition Settings pop-up window

This pop-up will open automatically when you create a new composition, but if you need to get back to it, go to:

Composition -> Composition Settings
Or, the shortcut is ⌘/Ctrl K.

First, always name your composition! Your future self will thank you.

Use a preset or type in the dimensions you want your video to be. Here are some common dimensions:


1920 x 1080px


2160 x 3840px

Vertical video for social media

1080 x 1920px

Square pixels are nice (that's what I always use).

Frame Rates

For animation, it's best to choose a frame rate that's a whole number. It makes it easier to space out keyframes on the timeline when you're working with whole numbers. However, if your composition will include a video file (like if you're adding animation on top of a video), you'll want your composition to have the same frame rate as the video (to avoid glitches).

15 fps

Choppy, cartoony, lo-fi

24 fps

Commonly used in animation

30 fps

Smooth, what I almost always use

60 fps

Hyper-real, can slow down your computer

Take a look at the same animation with different frame rates:


Don't worry about this now. This is the resolution of the preview within After Effects. It's easy to change as you're working.

Start Timecode

It makes sense to start your timeline at 0:00, but you can change this if you find it helpful.


This is the length of time of your timeline. Don't stress if you don't know how long you want your animation to be right now. It's easy to adjust this later by coming back to the Composition Settings (⌘/Ctrl K).

The format of the duration is:

Hours : Minutes : Seconds : Frames

Create a Composition from a File

How to create a comp from a file

Drag a file within the Project panel onto the New Composition button to create a composition with that file in it. The new composition will adopt all the settings of the file. This works with video files, compositions, etc.

Tour of the After Effects Workspace

Project Panel

Project panel where all compositions and project files are stored

The Project panel houses all the files that you import into After Effects, plus all of your compositions. You can use folders to organize your files.

With a file/composition/folder selected, hit Return or Enter to rename it.


The timeline is where layers are added to compositions and keyframes are set to create animations.

The timeline where animations are assembled

Composition Viewer

Pretty straightforward–this is where you see your animation!

The composition panel where you view your animation

Customize Your Workspace

If you don't see a panel that you need, it can be found under Window.

To switch workspaces go to Window > Workspace. You can drag panels around and then save your custom workspaces here too.

Menu to find other panels and workspaces
How to drag panels to customize your workspace

All the keyboard shortcuts you need, in one place:

Up Next

Now that you know how your way around After Effects, it's time to move on to the next lesson: Importing & Organizing Files.