AE fundamentals


In this lesson of the After Effects Fundamentals series, you'll learn all about keyframes. Keyframes are the basis of most animation in After Effects. You'll also get an intro into two important animation concepts: timing and spacing.

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Set Keyframes


Edit Keyframes


Layer Visibility




Timeline Appearance




Set Keyframes

To start setting keyframes on a property, click the stopwatch icon next to that property. This will create a keyframe wherever your playhead is.

How to set your first keyframe

To set another keyframe, first move your playhead to where you want the next keyframe. Now that the stopwatch is activated, there are a few options to set additional keyframes:

  • Manipulate the layer in the Composition Viewer
  • Click and drag over the value (blue numbers) next to the property
  • Click on the value (blue numbers) and type in a new number
How to set keyframes

To play or pause your animation, hit the spacebar.

Don't see a motion path?

If you're animating the position property and don't see a motion path, make sure that the "Toggle Mask and Shape Path" button is toggled to blue and that View -> Show Layer Controls is checked.

How to see the motion path

Edit Keyframes

First, position your playhead over the keyframe you want to edit. Make sure it's exactly over the keyframe so you don't set a new keyframe. It might help to zoom into the timeline by hitting the + key. Then, you have the same options as you would to set a new keyframe:

  • Manipulate the layer in the Composition Viewer
  • Click and drag over the value (blue numbers) next to the property
  • Click on the value (blue numbers) and type in a new number

Delete Keyframes

To delete keyframes select it and hit the delete/backspace key. You can also click the stopwatch icon to turn it off and delete all keyframes on that property.

Select Multiple Keyframes

There are a few ways to select multiple keyframes:

  • Click a keyframe then hold shift while clicking additional keyframes.
  • Click in the empty space next to a keyframe and drag across all the keyframes you want to select.
  • Click on the property name (like "Position" or "Scale") to select all the keyframes on that property.

Keyframes can be copied and pasted:


⌘/Ctrl C


⌘/Ctrl V


⌘/Ctrl X

Layer Visibility

A layer is only visible where the layer's bar is on the timeline.

To trim or extend a layer, hover over the start or end of the bar on the timeline until your mouse cursor turns into a double arrow. Now you can click and drag to trim or extend the layer.

To move the entire layer, click the bar and drag it to slide it along the timeline.

layer visibility

You can also control when a layer is visible with the opacity property. You can animate a layer fading in or out by setting keyframes on the opacity property.

Keyboard Shortcuts to Move and Trim Layers:

Move layer start to playhead


Move layer end to playhead


Trim layer start at playhead

option/alt [

Trim layer end at playhead

option/alt ]


Timing refers to the time between keyframes. Visually, this is the distance between keyframes on the timeline.

Keyframes that are close together will produce a faster animation than if those same keyframes were further apart.

When animating the position property, the dots on the motion path show where the layer will be at each frame between the keyframes. So, dots on the motion path that are close together mean the layer will be moving slowly there. Dots that are more spaced out mean that the layer will move quickly there.


Timeline Appearance

The time increments across the top of the timeline depend on how long your animation is and how zoomed into the timeline your view is. Use the mountain slider on the bottom of the timeline to zoom in and out of the timeline, or try these keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard Shortcuts for the Timeline:

Zoom in on timeline


Zoom out on timeline


Zoom all the way in/out of timeline



Spacing is what happens in the space between keyframes. There are two kinds of spacing:

Spacing in Space

This isn't as confusing as it may sound. A layer's motion path shows this kind of spacing. This kind of spacing is easiest to think about with the position property.

Spacing in space

Spacing in Time

Spacing can also happen in time. A layer can move at a constant speed between keyframes (called linear keyframes, diamond shaped) or it can change speeds (called bezier keyframes, hourglass shaped).

Easy Ease

The easiest way to change a layer's spacing in time, is to apply easy ease to your keyframes:

  • Select keyframes (Click next to and drag over all the keyframes you want to select)
  • Right click on any one of the selected keyframes
  • Go to Keyframe Assistant -> Easy Ease (or use keyboard shortcut F9)

This will change the shape of your keyframes into an hourglass.

How to apply easy ease to keyframes

Take a look at the difference between the linear and easy ease animations:

Linear vs easy ease keyframes

Applying easy ease to your keyframes can help smooth out their motion. Things in real life rarely move at a constant speed, so using easy ease cab be a good idea when you're first starting out.

Smooth Moves: Better Motion with Animation Curves in the Graph Editor

Level up your animations

You can further adjust and customize the spacing of your animation using the graph editor. The graph editor can have a bit of a learning curve to it but it's key to making your animations move more realistically. Once you're ready to take your animations to the next level, check out this class, which explains the graph editor in detail.

Check out the class

All the keyboard shortcuts you need, in one place:

Up Next

Now that you know how to work with keyframes, the world of After Effects is opened up to you. In the next lesson, you'll learn how to work with text.