An After Effects Tutorial
You can create this style of animation in under an hour and with just one effect in After Effects. This guide is based on a mini-workshop I gave at Designer Fund’s Bridge program. I assume you haven’t used After Effects before, but if you have, there’s lots you can skip over!
Step 1 — Illustrator
(For this tutorial, you should set your Artboard to 800 x 600px)
Open or create your vector shape in Illustrator. Keep that as Layer 1. Then create a new layer where you’ll be drawing the paths you want to animate along. Draw these with the Pen Tool (P), you’ll want to start away from the logo then sweep round a few of the curves.
Create another 5 or so of these paths you want to animate along. You can create as few or as many as you like.
Step 2 — After Effects Composition
You’re ready to launch After Effects. You’ll notice that you’re in a blank project. If you’re not, create a new one with alt+cmd+n. You should see something like this:
Next, you’ll want to create a composition (Cmd+N). Compositions are like a Photoshop document. They have layers and you can apply effects and masks to those layers. The difference in After Effects is that you have the additional dimension of time. That means that any effects you apply can be modified over time using Keyframes.
Note: Keyframes are what allow you to make these changes over time. For example going from 0% opacity (set by first keyframe) to 100% opacity (set by the second keyframe) over 1 second (the gap between the keyframes) would create a fade in effect. This is fundamental to using After Effects.
When creating a new Composition, you have various options as well as various presets to choose from. It’s not vital that you make the right choice at this point, so let’s assume that you’re going to use this animation as a Dribbble shot. Make your size 800x600, and set your Duration to 5 seconds, leave everything else as it is.
Step 3 — Illustrator paths to After Effects
Now you’re sitting in a blank Composition, create a new Solid Layer (cmd+Y). You’ll see it added to your timeline. Don’t worry about the colour of the layer as we will be setting that elsewhere.
Switch to Illustrator, select one of your paths, switch back to After Effects with the new Solid Layer selected and hit paste (Cmd+V). If the path is too big, double click it and you can scale it down (you’ll need to scale the others by the same amount too when you paste them). You should see the path in your preview window. (Press M on the Solid Layer in the Timeline as an additional way to reveal the mask.)
Create a new Solid Layer for each of your paths in Illustrator. You can paste them all onto one layer, however they will all animate at once.
You’ll also want to create a Solid Layer for your logo path too — assuming you want to fill the animation is as I have done.
Step 4 — The Effect
With your animation path layer(s) selected, add the Stroke effect.
I’m going to be using just one layer for this tutorial, but you will probably have a few. You can apply what I am doing to each of your layers.
You should have something like this in front of you (depending on how many layers you brought in).
Now it’s time to animate
You can access the properties of the Stroke effect you just added. You can select the layer(s) and press E in the Timeline window (this is what I tend to use).
Firstly, set the Paint Style to “On Transparent”. That will remove the Solid Layer background and just leave you with the stroke.
You’ll see there is a Start and End property for the Stroke effect. With your playhead at 00:00, click on the stopwatch next to both Start and End. That’s your first keyframes.
Next, move your playhead up to around 2 seconds. Don’t click the stopwatch again! There should be a couple of diamond shapes to the left of it. Use those to add additional keyframes.
Try changing the Start value from 0% to 100%. You’ll see the stroke moving along the line until it disappears. Leave it at 100% for both properties at the 2 second mark and bring the playhead back to 00:00. Now change the End to 0%. Both Start and End properties should now go from 0% to 100%. The last thing you need to do is to offset the Start and End times. It should look like this:
Now when you drag the playhead between those to keyframes, the stroke should animate:
That’s the basics for this animation style. There are other values you can play with like Stroke thickness and opacity. You should play around with settings and see how making the stroke longer or shorter (by changing start and end value offsets) changes the style of the animation.
Step 5 — Fine tuning and playing around
The secret to making motion graphics look good is easing. There are many types of easing and there are many ways to set easing in After Effects. For this tutorial, you’ll want to start with Easy Ease. After Effects will do the work for you. Right click on one or more keyframes and you see this menu. Select Easy Ease and your diamond keyframe will change shape. That’s how you know easing is applied.
Where as before the amount of change was divided up evenly over time, easing may increase the amount of change at the start and slow it at the end. It’s like driving up to a set of traffic lights, you don’t just slam on the breaks, you bring the car to a gentle stop by applying more break as you approach a red light. That’s easing.
To preview what you’ve been working on, you should use RAM Previews. This enables you to see the rendered animation in real time. Press ctrl+0 and it will render the animation. This is the only way to test your animation in real time. Give it a moment to render, you’ll know it’s doing something as a green bar appears in your timeline window.
Animating Stroke Thickness
In the same way you created keyframes for the Start and End values, I also used this for the Brush Size. In this case I create 3 key frames so that my Brush thickness can go from 2 to 12 then back to 2 again.
Offset your Timings
Here’s what my finished Timeline looks like. You can see that I’ve varied when the layers appear so they are staggered. This is so all of the animation doesn’t happen at once. There’s not an exact science to it, so play around with timing.
A great way to supplement this style of animation is to create some smaller animations that you layer on top. I made a burst effect in exactly the same way using the stroke effect.
To create these extra bits, you should make a new Composition like you did at the beginning. The great thing about compositions is that you can reuse them, but edit them in one source comp. I tend to reuse and resize them so they look like different animations.
Step 6 — Getting it out of After Effects
Once you’re ready to show the world, you’ll want to render the animation. To do this, make sure you’re in the Composition you want to render. From the top menu select Composition > Add to Render Queue.
Next, you’ll need to find where your Render Queue window is. It’s usually another tab next to the timeline. In there, you can set destination and output settings. If it’s telling you it’s going to output as a .mov, that’s all we need for now.
Hit the “Render” button top right, it’ll give you a “ding” and it’s done! You now have a Quicktime movie ready to share to the world. To get it on to Dribbble, open the movie file in Photoshop then “Save for Web”. In that dialog, select GIF as the format and a little further down select looping forever ☺
To help you get started, I’ve made the Illustrator and After Effects file available for download.