Animating graphics is an essential skill to keep in your filmmaking wheelhouse. Whether you’re refining some beautiful bumpers or creating compelling lower thirds, you will undoubtedly cross paths with After Effects during your animating journey.

In order to properly execute in After Effects, you’ll want complete control over the elements within your graphic. The best way to achieve this is to design your graphic in Adobe Illustrator first, and then import it into After Effects as separated layers. We’ll walk you through the process below.

Why Illustrator over After Effects?

It’s not really one over the other. It’s more: Illustrator first, After Effects second. While you could use After Effects for some of your design needs, the truth is that Illustrator is just easier, more intuitive, and more functional.

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.

Creating your graphic

To begin, create an artboard in Illustrator that’s the same size as your video. In our example, we use 1920×1080. The final version will be a vector image that you can scale infinitely, but it’s nice to design in the same frame size as your video for perspective.

After creating your graphic, consider 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’ll need to separate them out into their own layers.

Layers on layers on layers

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 as you need and then begin dragging the elements you want to control into each new layer.

Be sure to keep your layers in the order you designed them, so the correct elements are on top. As you drag your elements into their own separate layers, give them a name. This will help you stay organized and keep track of them all. Bonus: these names will carry over when you move your work to After Effects.

Transferring to After Effects

When you’re finished in Illustrator, save your .ai file.

Next, open After Effects and drag your .ai file into the Project panel. When the menu pops up, make sure to choose Composition for Import Kind and Layer Size for Footage Dimensions. When you click OK, a new composition will appear in your Project panel.

Open the composition and boom your layers will appear, 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 the ability to scale your layers infinitely, turn on Continuously Rasterize for each layer. You can also right click on a layer and choose Create Shapes from the Vector Layer to give yourself even more control over your layer(s).

Happy animating!

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