This guide is written for the beginner who is interested in developing a sound workflow for Adobe After Effects. This series will show you
- How to set up your Folders, Drives, and GPU
- How to choose the right Project Preferences
- How to import Video and Projects into Adobe After Effects
- How to Ingest different Codecs for Best Quality
Let’s get started.
Where to find help
The first place to look when you’re stuck (or starting out!) is the Adobe After Effects manual. To find it (yeah, it’s sort of hidden) you’ll need to fire up the Adobe Help Manager and download it. Every time there’s an update, you might need to update the manual as well. The Adobe Help Manager will tell you if there’s an update available, just like the Creative Cloud app.
If you don’t read the manual, you’re missing out, period. I learnt to use After Effects by reading the manual. If you’re having trouble finding the manual with the Help Manager, go to: http://helpx.adobe.com/after-effects.html
If you’re still stuck, the coolest place to ask for help is the Adobe Support Forum.
This isn’t very important to most users, but because of the ‘hype’ you might want to know if this works…you know, like a rite of passage.
Adobe After Effects CC supports both OpenCL and CUDA. However, ray-tracing is only supported with CUDA.
What is ray-tracing?
According to Wikipedia:
Ray tracing is a technique for generating an image by tracing the path of light through pixels in an image plane and simulating the effects of its encounters with virtual objects. The technique is capable of producing a very high degree of visual realism, usually higher than that of typical scanline rendering methods, but at a greater computational cost.
It’s a way of rendering images so they look more real. A more detailed rendering means a better processor capable of more calculations per second. If you have CUDA enabled, you will be able to benefit from GPU-accelerated (meaning calculating using the GPU’s processor so the CPU is free to do other things) rendering.
How to enable CUDA or OpenCL
If you have an ATI/AMD graphics card, you only have OpenCL, and don’t need to do anything else. However, if you have an Nvidia graphics card supported by Adobe After Effects, then:
- Go to After Effects > Preferences > Previews… (for Macs) or Edit > Preferences > Previews… (for PCs)
- Under Fast Reviews, click on the GPU Information… button. You’ll see this:
Initially, even if you have an Adobe-supported Nvidia, the CUDA box might be greyed out, and the Ray-tracing drop-down will only let you pick CPU. In this case, you’ll need to make some changes:
- First, ensure you have the latest CUDA drivers for Mac or PC installed.
- For PC users, open this text file – C:Program FilesAdobeAdobe After Effects CCSupportFilesraytracer_supported_cards.txt (for CC), or C:Program FilesAdobeAdobe After Effects CS6SupportFilesraytracer_supported_cards.txt (for CS6)
- For Mac users, go to Terminal, and the type this: sudo nano /Applications/Adobe After Effects CC/Adobe After Effects CC.app/Contents/raytracer_supported_cards.txt (for CC), or sudo nano /Applications/Adobe After Effects CS6/Adobe After Effects CS6.app/Contents/raytracer_supported_cards.txt (for CS6)
- Most likely, your card isn’t listed among the graphics cards. This also might happen every time you update your software, and the file is rewritten. Yeah, I know. It’s a pain.
- Add your graphics card to the list. In my case, I added GeForce GTX 675MX in its own line.
- Save the file and exit.
- If you have Adobe After Effects open, close it and reopen it. You should see the CUDA box filled as shown above, and the Ray-tracing drop-down preselected with ‘GPU’.
This is all you have to do.
Now that we have the GPU issue sorted, let us look at the more important settings we’ll need to change prior to beginning a project.
Go to After Effects > Preferences > Previews… (for Macs) or Edit > Preferences > Previews… (for PCs). You have many sub-menus to choose from, each with its own parameters. Let’s look at the important ones:
Levels of undo is set at 32. There is no magic formula here. I have never needed more than 20 undos. After screwing up a few times I realized it’s always best to test an effect separately before throwing it into a large timeline. If you’re new to After Effects, let it remain at 32. The more the number, the more RAM After Effects will need to remember for instant recall.
Leave everything else as is for now.
If you have a powerful GPU and/or Tesla on board, you could check the Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer and Footage Panels box. I suggest you check this box. Previews will use the GPU, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Under Still Footage choose either a time-duration or ‘Length of Composition’ for still images that you want to import. Sometimes, the length of a composition is an hour or more long, so consider a fixed time-duration for stills. I find 5 seconds fine for small batches. Larger batches will need a lot more thinking!
Under Sequence Footage, you have settings for image sequences. The default rate is 30 frames per second, but you need to change that to your project frame rate. Keep ‘Report Missing Frames’ checked. If there are a few missing numbers in the sequence, you’ll know right away. Otherwise you’ll know later when the knowledge will deliver more pain.
Under Automatic Footage Reloading, you will find a drop down for Auto Reload. The manual completely fails to tell us how to use this setting. You have two choices, both of which are valid. If you are working in Premiere Pro, Encore, Photoshop, etc., simultaneously, and want to make changes to the footage itself, it will automatically reload and appear in After Effects.
- Choose ‘Non-Sequence Footage’ (default value) if you want all footage to load, except image sequences.
- Choose ‘All Footage Types’ if you also want image sequences to automatically load when changed.
As far as the Drag Import Multiple Items As drop down is concerned, it depends on how you import stuff into After Effects. If you are working in batches of footage, and they need to be in one composition (comp), then you can choose ‘Composition’. As a beginner, this is impossible to predict, so I recommend letting the default (Footage) be. Everything you import will appear as ‘Footage’, and nothing earth-shatteringly horrific.
Media & Disk Cache…
Definitely leave the Enable Disk Cache box ticked. As I’ve mentioned in How to Import Video into Adobe Premiere Pro, a Disk Cache must be a separate drive, only for this purpose. Adobe recommends an SSD (I do too), and allocate all of its space as Disk Cache.
Under Conformed Media Cache, choose the drive you usually have your source files in (your footage). If any proxies or intermediaries are created, it will also go here. The idea is to keep all the ‘read’ media in a drive that is optimized for ‘reading’. This goes for both ‘Database’ and ‘Cache’.
Under XMP Metadata, if you are using Prelude and Premiere Pro for a workflow with lots of metadata that needs to be preserved, keep the Write XMP IDs to Files on Import checked. If you are round-tripping to non-Adobe software, like FCP-X or Resolve, uncheck it.
I prefer checking the Automatically Save Projects box. The default setting of 20 minutes is fine for starters. Later, when you learn your own speed, you might find another value better.
Memory & Multiprocessing…
After Effects is a RAM-lover. If you can max your RAM (24 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, and more) do it. It’ll make working with and previewing your work a lot less painful. Let the defaults (2 GB for other software) be as it is. This is used by the OS and other running apps, including an NLE.
This allows you to save your preferences incase you want to login and work from another computer. If you’re only working on one computer, let it be at its defaults, where the When Syncing drop down is set at ‘Ask my preference’.
The two simple ways to import footage/clips
This one’s easy:
- File > Import > File…, or
- Right click in the Project panel and choose Import > File…
You can choose any media as long as it is supported by Adobe After Effects.
Of course, there are more options under ‘Import’. In Part Two we’ll look at these options, and the types of codecs, files and projects Adobe After Effects supports.