As a beginner, working with Adobe After Effects can seem complicated. Many newcomers are scared off by its daunting user interface – looking like like photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop or film editing suites like Apple Final Cut. So many buttons and expressions yet so little you know about them.
Do not fear! This article is here to help you with an important part of After Effects' workflow: the keyframes in the composition window. This is what all animation in the software is based around. The purpose of this guide is focused on making you understand the concept of keyframes rather than how to technically use them.
Regular, old-school animation, is done by individually creating each frame by hand. For example: if you wanted a ball to bounce over screen, the animator would draw each frame – in the air, slightly closer to the ground, even more close to the ground, really close to the ground and hitting the ground. With modern motion graphics this time consuming process is no longer needed, thanks to the wonder that is keyframes. A keyframe is just what it sounds like: a frame that is key to the animation.
To keep the ball metaphor going, an animator working with keyframes would place a keyframe when the ball is at the top of the drop, and one at the bottom. The software then calculates what happens in between the different states, called tweening. Using this method, we can animate position, scale, rotation, opacity, blur levels – basically anything that can have a numerical value. You can even animate distortion of clips to create funny facial expressions for example.
You can also use easing, a process when the computer calculates the speed of change between the keyframes. For example, if you animate a car starting and driving away, you would want the animation to seem realistic in that the car slowly accelerates. In order to do this, you place one keyframe at the start of the driving stretch and one at the end, and apply the easing. Now the car will start off slow, and finally reach it's driving velocity. Combine this with keyframe-animated wheels and – voilá – it took you seconds to do what would have taken hours years ago.
So the concept of keyframes makes use of the computational skills of After Effects. Instead of animating frame-by-frame, you can nowimate animate keyframe-by-keyframe and let the computer do the rest of the work!