Effects overview and resources

After Effects includes a variety of effects, which you apply to layers to add or modify characteristics of still images, video, and audio. For example, an effect can alter the exposure or color of an image, add new visual elements, manipulate sound, distort images, remove grain, enhance lighting, or create a transition.

Effects are sometimes mistakenly referred to as filters. The primary difference between a filter and an effect is that a filter permanently modifies an image or other characteristic of a layer, whereas an effect and its properties can be changed or removed at any time. In other words, filters operate destructively, and effects operate non-destructively. After Effects uses effects exclusively, so changes are non-destructive. A direct result of the ability to change the properties of effects is that the properties can be changed over time, or animated.

Note: Path operations on shape layers, such as Zig Zag and Pucker & Bloat—which you apply through the shape layer’s Add menu—are called effects in Adobe Illustrator, but they function differently from other effects in After Effects.

You browse and apply effects using the Effects & Presets panel. You modify effect properties using the Effect Controls panel or Timeline panel or by moving effect control points in the Layer panel or Composition panel.

You can apply multiple instances of the same effect to a layer, rename each instance, and set the properties for each instance separately.

For a video tutorial on applying and working with effects and animation presets, go to the Adobe website at www.adobe.com/go/vid0228.

Note: If you open a project that uses an effect for which After Effects has not loaded the plug-in, a warning dialog box appears, and instances of the effect have Missing: at the beginning of its name in the Timeline panel and Effect Controls panel. To show all instances of missing effects in the Timeline panel for the active composition, press FF.

Effect plug-ins

All effects are implemented as plug-ins, including the effects that are included with After Effects. Plug-ins are small software modules—with filename extensions such as .aex, .pbk, and .pbg—that add functionality to an application. Not all plug-ins are effect plug-ins; for example, some plug-ins provide features for importing and working with certain file formats. The Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in, for example, provides After Effects with its ability to work with camera raw files. (See Plug-ins.)

Many effect plug-ins are written in C/C++; increasingly, many image-manipulation effect plug-ins are written in the Adobe® Pixel Bender™ language.

Because effects are implemented as plug-ins, you can install and use additional effects that parties other than Adobe provide, including effects that you create yourself. You can add a single new effect or an entire folder of new effects to the Plug-ins folder, which is located by default in one of these folders:

  • (Windows) Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects CS4\Support Files

  • (Mac OS) Applications/Adobe After Effects CS4

When After Effects starts, it searches the Plug-ins folder and its subfolders for all installed effects and adds them to the Effect menu and to the Effects & Presets panel. After Effects ignores the contents of folders with names that begin and end in parentheses; for example, the contents of the folder (archived_effects) are not loaded.

Adobe provides many third-party effect plug-ins with After Effects. Keylight, Color Finesse, and Cycore FX (CC) plug-ins are installed by default with the full version of Adobe After Effects software. These plug-ins are not included with the trial version of Adobe After Effects software. The installers for some plug-ins install their documentation in the same directory as the plug-ins themselves. Documentation for the Cycore FX plug-ins is available on the Cycore website.

The EXtractoR and IDentifier plug-ins from fnord software are included with After Effects to provide access to multiple layers and channels of OpenEXR files. See ProEXR plug-ins, IDentifier and EXtractoR.

Animating effects

You animate effect properties in the same way that you animate any other properties—by adding keyframes or expressions to them. In most cases, even effects that rely on animation for their normal use require that you set some keyframes or expressions. For example, animate the Transition Completion property of a Transition effect or the Evolution setting of the Turbulent Noise effect to turn a static effect into a dynamic effect.

Color depth

Many effects support processing of image color and alpha channel data at a depth of 16 or 32 bits per channel (bpc). Using an 8-bpc effect in a 16-bpc or 32-bpc project can result in a loss of color detail. If an effect supports only 8 bpc, and your project is set to 16 bpc or 32 bpc, the Effect Controls panel displays a warning icon  next to the effect name. You can set the Effects & Presets panel to list only the effects that support the color depth of the current project. (See Color depth and high dynamic range color.)

Render order

The order in which After Effects renders masks, effects, layer styles, and transform properties—called the render order—may affect the final result of an applied effect. By default, effects appear in the Timeline panel and Effect Controls panel in the order in which they were applied. Effects are rendered in order from top to bottom in this list. To change the order in which effects are rendered, drag the effect name to a new position in the list. (See Render order and collapsing transformations.)

Adjustment layers

To apply an effect to only a specific portion of a layer, use an adjustment layer.

An effect applied to an adjustment layer affects all layers below it in the layer stacking order in the Timeline panel. (See Adjustment layers.)

Andrew Kramer provides a video tutorial on his Video Copilot website in which he shows how to use an adjustment layer to apply an effect to only a short duration and to only specific portions of a movie.

Expression Controls effects

Expression Controls effects do not modify existing layer properties; rather, these effects add layer properties that expressions can refer to. (See Expression Controls effects.)

Preventing edge clipping with the Grow Bounds effect

Because an effect is applied to a layer, the results of some effects are constrained to within the bounds of the layer, which can make the effect appear to end abruptly. You can apply the Grow Bounds effect to a layer to temporarily extend the layer for the purpose of calculating the results of other effects. This process is not necessary for newer effects, which tend to be 32-bpc effects.

Managing effects and effect properties with scripts

Paul Tuersley provides a script on the AE Enhancers forum with which you can search compositions for effects and turn them on or off.

Paul Tuersley provides a script on the AE Enhancers forum that makes synchronizing changes to effect properties on multiple layers easier.