After Effects Shapes

By Tom Womack

What’s crazy about shapes in After Effects is the same tools you use to draw shapes will draw masks if you have a layer selected depending on what kind of object is on that layer. It is worth noting that, that is all there is to it. If you intended to draw a shape, and see that you are drawing a mask, ‘uncheck’ the layer you are on, be sure you are drawing a new object, and you will create a new shape!

The rules are pretty simple. If you choose a shape tool and have no layer selected, After Effects knows that you want to draw a shape. If you choose a non-shape layer, for example a text layer, After Effects knows you want to create a mask. You can do some very cool effects in a very simple way with text and a shape mask by drawing an interesting shape that passes over your text, partially revealing your text as your movie runs.

What about the shape layer? What if you want to draw a new shape on a shape, or want to draw a mask? On the very top toolbar, just beyond the first line of tools, a little jump down from your puppet tool are two icons, a star and a mask. These only appear when you have chosen the shape or pen tool. Choose shape to draw a new shape on an existing shape, choose mask to create a mask.

The drawing tools for shapes are so much like all the drawing applications we use, I am going to be brief emphasizing instead, what is different and special in After Effects. When drawing shapes you choose color, stroke and fill, you define with inner and outer radius. Practically any attribute of a shape can be manipulated so your classic five point star becomes a multi-petaled flower by increasing it’s points to fifty. Of course in After Effects, any of these attributes can be animated. Simply having a star shape go from five to fifty points is a pretty cool animation by itself.

As you define your shapes, they are labeled appropriately on your layer: rectangle, ellipse, polystar. You can ‘scroll’ through these shape options entering ‘q’. When you enter the ‘q’ keyboard shortcut, you will see your shape on the toolbar change to the next setting. Try entering ‘q’ repeatedly after choosing shape to see these tool icons change.

Shapes have their own special set of effects. Some are quite intuitive such as a trim or ’round corners’ while others invite you to experiment a bit. Of course I like them all. When you twirl open your shape layer, directly across from the top item, ‘Contents’ is an ‘Add:’ option. When you twirl this open, you will see the shape effect family of options presented.

Pucker and bloat produce a more complex shape with the appearance you would expect but they do this with one click which is pretty nice. Twist rotates your shape but it also reforms your shape like a force acting upon it. A star’s points become more narrow as they are wrapped around it’s center. An ellipse will ‘grow tails’ taking on the look of a flower petal. These effects are perfect candidates for your experimentation sandbox.

A real favorite and a powerful effect is the repeater. This effect instantly creates copies of your shape but you immediately create a geometric pattern. You tell the repeater how many copies you want, set an offset, place above or below your source. Repeater has a transform option that will let you set (and animate of course) position, scale, and rotation.

Finally, applying repeater to a shape is also a perfect candidate for After Effects ‘Brainstorm’. As you play with the various settings, let After Effects do the work for you, or at least some of the imagination part! Choose any of it’s settings, then choose Brainstorm and see what kind of instant combinations After Effects will produce for you.

I often speak of endless possibilities when talking about what you can create in After Effects but you will be amazed what you can create, simply starting with a simple shape and the repeater, for example, with just a few clicks.

Full Moons, Dogcreek, think globally, act locally.

Web Designer Tom Womack uses Adobe Design Suite creating dynamic sites with rich media.

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1 Comment

  1. Leila says:

    That is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.

    Simple but very precise information… Thank you for
    sharing this one. A must read post!

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