Animating graphics is an essential skill to keep in your filmmaking wheelhouse. Whether you’re refining some beautiful bumpers or lower thirds, you will undoubtedly brush digital shoulders with After Effects in your animating journey. To properly execute in After Effects, you’ll want complete control over the elements within your graphic. To achieve this, you should first design your graphic in Adobe Illustrator and then import it into After Effects as separated layers. Follow these short, simple steps, and you’ll have complete control over your awesome graphic in no time.
Why Illustrator over After Effects?
It’s not really one over the other. It’s more: Illustrator first, After Effects last. While you could use After Effects for some of your design needs, the truth is that Illustrator is just easier, more functional, and intuitive. For simple shapes and text animations, designing in After Effects might be the quicker route, but for more complex graphics, Illustrator will save you time and sanity.
To begin, create an artboard in Illustrator that is the same size as your video, in our example we’ll use 1920x1080. The final version will be a vector image that you can scale infinitely, but I find that it’s nice to design in the same frame size as my video for perspective.
After creating your graphic, you need to think about which pieces of it will need to be controlled in After Effects. You may find that you want control of every single element, or it might make more sense to keep certain elements together. Once you’ve decided what you want to control, you will need to separate them out into their own layers.
Layer, by Layer, by…
To create these separate elements, you’ll have to create new layers (click on the box with a folded corner). Each will function as its own separate layer in After Effects, so create as many layers as you need, and begin dragging the elements you want to control into each new layer.
Be sure to keep your layers in the same order in which you designed them, so that the correct elements are on top. As you drag your elements into their own separate layers, make sure to name each layer so that you can stay organized (and so you can keep track of order). The nice news is these names transfer over to After Effects.
Transferring to After Effects
When you’re finished, save your .ai file and open After Effects. Simply drag your .ai file into the Project panel in After Effects. A menu will pop up. Make sure for Import Kind, you choose “Composition,” and for Footage Dimensions choose “Layer Size.” Then click OK and a new composition will appear in your Project panel.
Open the composition and BOOM! your layers are in your composition, nicely separated, organized, and ready to be animated. Before you begin animating, make sure to check your Anchor Points. This is good practice since Anchor Points can get messed up, creating problems with scaling animation, in addition to other types of animation. You can move your Anchor Points around using the Pan Behind tool (Y).
If you want to be able to scale your layers infinitely, you turn on “Continuously Rasterize” for each layer. You can also right click on a layer and choose “Create Shapes from Vector Layer” if you want even more control over your layer(s). Happy animating!
Designing within Illustrator in separate, organized layers allows you to manipulate every piece of your design to then animate in After Effects. Illustrator is a program meant for design, so in the long run starting your project there should be easier, and you’ll have far more creative control than if you start in After Effects.
If you’re hungry for more post-production filmmaking topics, check our Video School page for lessons on everything from lighting to color-correction.