A ‘very’ short best practice guide to working in After Effects with a team at an ad agency.

First off, animate for what you see, not what is right. By that I mean, step away from your animation every once in a while and don’t get caught up in the minutia. One method: Animate your base as quickly as possible. It should end up looking like a refined animatic. I do take easing into consideration at this point. I usually start with numerical values rather than the graph, but that’s a preference and I have some goto numbers to start with. Make sure you’re animating to the correct time. If V.O. and music are not available, record your own V.O. track and grab an Audio Jungle score that matches the feel of the final. It’s a lot easier to tweak animations when the initial timing is close.

After you have a base, render it out and throw it into Premiere to make quick timing edits. You’ll be able to make realtime edits while you discuss the render with your team. The Premiere edit will act as a reference when you’re back in After Effects land.

This next one can be a point of contention, but I prefer not to pre-comp in the initial pass. There are special circumstances, where object animations are being reused, etc, but in general, I just start layering from bottom to top. This allows me to make changes fast after the initial feedback loop where offsets can leak over different sections and move all over the place. I do color code at this point to keep sections organized.

This is also a good point to remind everyone to name everything and create a logical folder structure in the explorer.

  • Comps
  • Assets
    • PSD
    • JPG
    • PNG
    • AI
  • 3D
    • Sequence
      • Pass
  • VO
  • Music
  • SFX

I usually keep my Master comp in the root for quick access. For PSD’s, make sure to import at layer size. Having well organized PNG’s can be easier to handle for animators, especially with the heavy use of Smart Objects, Masks, and Layer Styles in PSD’s. For AI files, don’t forget you can copy a path in illustrator and paste it as a mask in AE. Any other paths you add to the layer timeline will create a morph between the masks.

For 3D I like to use .png passes instead of multi-layer files. This gives me the flexibility of omitting passes and knowing what passes are available when looking in the file browser. A generous use of object passes will give you a lot of flexibility when it comes to tweaking the animation. For smooth retiming you can render the animation out at two times the frame rate, depending on your render times. To keep render times low, consider rendering a noisier render in exchange for time savings. Run Neat Video on the resulting render and be amazed. An additional piece to the 3D puzzle is the RSMB motion blur plugin. It’s a must in production, even without the motion vector pass.

I’ll continue to add and edit, but that’s it for now.