In Part One we looked at setting up your drives, GPU and preferences for Adobe After Effects.

In this part we’ll look at what kind of codecs, files and projects can be imported into After Effects, and how to import them.

First though, you must understand how people use Adobe After Effects:

  • You can use it as a compositing application.
  • You can use it as a motion graphics application.
  • You can use it as a color correction application.
  • You can use it as an editing application.
  • You can use it as a finishing application.
  • You can use it as an encoding or transcoding application.

 
I’ve used Adobe After Effects for all of the above, and it excels in every department. When you look at the Adobe CC video pantheon, I’d say without a shadow of a doubt that After Effects is their most-prized possession.

Determining an import strategy

Some people call After Effects ‘bloated’, because it really is a huge application in terms of capability and features. This also means it will fit infinite types of workflows. So, how does your workflow determine your import strategy?

  • You can import footage or media or clips in small groups and work on them. E.g., you could just do chroma keying or VFX or compositing work on them, and take them back to your NLE.
  • You can import an entire project from an NLE and continue working on it.
  • You can use it just to create titles, motion graphics and 2D animations.
  • You can import a master (Prores or image sequence or whatever) just for grading and finishing.
  • You can import media just to transcode it to something else.

 
The permutations and combinations of what After Effects is capable of is endless, really. You can think of any workflow, and it is possible to put After Effects in it somewhere.

There are four major kinds of ‘things’ After Effects can import:

  • Media or footage (Video, still frames or image sequences)
  • Projects from other non-Adobe applications
  • Adobe Premiere Pro projects
  • Projects or clips from other Adobe applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, Encore, Bridge, etc.

 
In this part we’ll deal with the first one. Before we get into that, there’s one more ‘bunch of settings’ we have to take care of.

Project Settings

Go to File > Project Settings… and you’ll get this box:

Under Time Display Style, you’ll most likely have ‘Timecode’ selected. You can change this at any stage. It’s always a good idea to leave the default selection (Use Media Source), unless you know explicitly you’ll be rebuilding a project from scratch.

The Color Settings are critical. Most 1080p projects only need to be 8-bits, but if you’re working with 10-bit, 12-bit or 16-bit material you’ll at least want your project to be in 16-bit. On the other hand, I recommend working in 32-bit float in After Effects, regardless of what you’re doing. The overhead is minimal.

If you are using an sRGB monitor, you can ‘simulate’ a Rec. 709 display or DCI P3 projector display by enabling your working space to it. Follow these steps:

  • Choose a Working Space (the color space you want your project to be in eventually).
  • Once you do this, Color Management is turned on. You can always turn this off or on at will.
  • Go to View > Use Display Color Management (this should be checked)
  • Go to View > Simulate Output and select a preset. If you don’t see a preset (like DCI P3), you can create your own custom profile.
  • From here on, the view panel will display the image as it might appear on a monitor with that color space. Obviously, it won’t be perfect, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for expensive external monitors. However, if you have no budget for an external monitor, this works quite well.
  • When you don’t want to simulate output, Go to View > Simulate Output > No Output Simulation.

 
I won’t go into detail on the color settings in After Effects, because that’s beyond the scope of this guide. One thing we could look at, though, is the Linearize Working Space box, which sort of removes the gamma and ensures you’re working in linear 32-bit float. If you don’t know what this is, don’t use it!

Lastly, you have the Audio Settings, which is fine at 48 KHz (default).

How to import video with different codecs

There are many codecs and container options out there. Just when you think you have a handle on things, a new codec is announced. It’s a way of life, which is unlikely to be ‘corrected’ soon.

You always have to stay ahead of the game. Let’s look at a few codecs and how to deal with them.

H.264

H.264 is the ubiquitous codec, and it looks like it will stay for quite some time. Adobe After Effects supports H.264 natively, via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

For more information on shooting with DSLR footage, read the Adobe DSLR Workflow Guide.

H.264 – ALL-I

The ‘new’ entrant to the H.264 family is just an interpretation of the codec with interframe turned off. Adobe After Effects supports it natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

AVCHD

AVCHD is a ‘version’ of the MPEG-4 AVC specification, or H.264, and Adobe After Effects supports it natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

XDCAM

Adobe After Effects supports all versions of XDCAM (EX and HD) natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

XAVC

Sony’s new 4K baby codec is supported by Adobe After Effects CC natively, via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

CANON XF (MXF)

This applies to files from both the XF series cameras as well as the Cinema EOS line (Cxxx).

Adobe After Effects supports it natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

HDV and DV

HDV is still supported natively, in both transport stream form as well as wrapped as MOV, etc. You can use either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

REDCODE RAW R3D/RMD

Adobe After Effects supports Redcode RAW natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One. All resolutions, compression levels and ‘Gammas’ are supported, including RedColor3,  RedGamma3 and Magic Motion.

To manipulate color and other information:

  • Right click the footage in the Project Panel.
  • Select Interpret Footage > Main…
  • At the bottom left corner you’ll see the More Options... button. Click it.
  • You’ll get the R3D Source Settings box, where you can adjust exposure, color space, ISO, etc.

 

ARRIRAW

Adobe After Effects supports Arriraw (.ARI) natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

Since .ARI files are saved as single frames (sort of like Cinema DNG), you might try to import them as image sequences, but this isn’t possible. Just select the first frame in each folder and After Effects does the rest.

To manipulate color and other information:

  • Right click the footage in the Project Panel.
  • Select Interpret Footage > Main…
  • At the bottom left corner you’ll see the More Options... button. Click it.
  • You’ll get the Arriraw Source Settings box, where you can adjust exposure, color space, ISO, etc.

 

HDCAM SR (SStP)

This codec is not supported natively. You’ll have to transcode to Prores, etc. Now that Sony has brought this codec back (in a tape-less version), we might see native support in the next update. But don’t hold your breath.

MPEG-4

Adobe After Effects supports MPEG-4 (.MP4) natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

X.264

X.264 is not supported by Adobe After Effects unless you rewrap it into a MOV container with the Quicktime player installed.

You could try the FFMPEG command-line tool to rewrap files.

PRORES

As long as you have Quicktime installed, Adobe After Effects supports Prores (.MOV) and most Quicktime codecs natively via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One. No transcoding or rewrapping necessary.

DNxHD

Adobe After Effects supports DNxHD natively, both MXF (OP1a and Op-Atom) and MOV versions, via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

This support also extends to alpha channels.

DPX

Adobe After Effects supports both Log and Linear DPX sequences up to 16-bit plus an alpha channel via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

IMAGE SEQUENCES – CinemaDNG, TIFF, JPEG, PSD, OpenEXR ETC.

Adobe After Effects supports image sequences (8-bit and 16-bit, compressed and uncompressed, with an alpha channel) via either of the import methods mentioned in Part One.

You only have to select the first image/frame in the folder, and tick the box that says ‘Image’ Sequence. Make sure they are numbered correctly in sequence.

In the case of CinemaDNG, the word used is ‘Camera Raw’ Sequence, and it is natively supported.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. For codecs I’ve left out, check out Adobe’s Workflow Guides.

In addition to these codecs, there are two new additions to After Effects CC:

  • Unicode Conversion – more characters are recognized and the earlier limit of 260 characters have been removed.
  • Finding missing footage, effects or fonts – Under File > Dependencies you have various new options to find things you’ve ‘lost’:

 

We have covered everything you need to know to set up your Adobe After Effects project. In this article, we have also covered some of the most popular codecs and how to import them.

In Part Three we’ll look at how After Effects imports projects from other applications like Cinema4D, FCP-X, Resolve and Premiere Pro.