Layers & The Timeline Panel In Adobe After Effects Ep3/48 [Adobe After Effects for Beginners]

Hello and welcome to the third video in
this Beginner’s Guide to Adobe After Effects. In this tutorial we are going to
take a closer look at layers and the timeline panel in Adobe After Effects. In
the previous episode I introduced you to the Adobe After Effects interface where
I briefly introduced you to the timeline panel. Now this panel is one of the most
important panels in this program. There’s a lot to learn and understand about this
panel which is important before we move on in this course. In this video we are
going to be covering the following topics: Layers, the time indicator, Ram
preview and the timeline work area. After this video you will get a better
understanding of how all of this works and hopefully feel more comfortable
moving forward. So let’s start with the layers. Now if you’re completely new to
After Effects you will soon come to realize that layers are the fundamental
basis for any composition created in After Effects and these layers are
managed in the timeline panel. Everything we see visually in the
composition panel above is coordinated, managed and composed in the timeline
panel below. So here is the timeline panel at the bottom of the interface and
inside are all the layers making up this composition. To follow along with this
tutorial you will need to open this document I have prepared especially for
this video. This can be found in the introduction folder in the project
folder. You can download this project folder for a small fee, the download link
with instructions is in the description. The download folder comes with lots of
exercise documents we will be using on this course that have been carefully
developed to aid your learning experience. The folder also comes with
document resources such as videos, graphics and images you can use to build
your first video presentation from scratch later on in this course. To get
the full learning experience I recommend you get the project folder, download link
with instructions is in the description. So with the project folder open click
into the S-1 introduction folder then into the third
folder, layers and the timeline panel and open the tower bridge file inside and
you should have something that looks like this. So what we’re looking at here
inside the timeline panel is a timeline composition. Up in the visual composition
panel above we can see an arrangement of visual objects in the canvas area that
make up this composition. We have an illustration, some shapes and we have
some type elements. Now if we look closely in the timeline panel we can see
that each element that exists in the canvas area above is represented by its
own individual layer which are all stacked on top of each other in rows as
bars. Now if I move my mouse cursor over the top of the panel we will see the
cursor change. This is indicating I can click and drag up or down to increase
the visibility of the layers within. However this will make the composition
panel smaller but for now I want us to focus on the layers in the timeline
panel so I’ll drag this up a little bit like so. In this instance I have a few
layers which I still can’t see. On the far right of the timeline panel you will
see a slider which you can drag up or down to see more of the layers within, or
if you have a scroller on your mouse you can place your mouse cursor into the
timeline panel and scroll using that. So here we can see there are quite a few
layers. Each layer has a name with an icon to the left this to give us a quick
preview as to what type of element is on that layer such as a video an image a
shape or audio. To the right of these are a series of switches and modes that can
be applied to the layer and over on the far left we have the visibility switches
to toggle the visibility of layers and lock layers on and off in the visual
composition panel above. The way the timeline panel works is by stacking
layers on top of each other in a hierarchy quite like stacking sheets of
paper on top of each other. Whichever layer is at the top of the layer stack
is the layer which will have the most visibility and the layer at the bottom
will have the least visibility hidden by any layer which happens to be above it. Layers are created here in the timeline when an
item is dragged in from the project panel on the left or created using the
tools on the top bar such as the type or shape elements. Now in After Effects we
don’t only work with hierarchy but we also have to work with time. Notice the
numbers across the top of the panel on the right this represents the length of
time of this composition. As we can see here by the number indicator across the
time line this composition is currently 36 seconds long, so everything in this
composition occurs within 36 seconds. You will also notice that these layer bars
are set at different widths from left to right, this indicates their presence
along the time line. You can see for example that some layers are visible
throughout most of the sequence where some only for a short period. So now I
want to bring your attention to the blue line here on our timeline, this
represents a particular instance in our composition which is visible in the
composition panel in the middle of our interface. If I come to the grabber at
the top and drag left or right we can move through time either back or forward.
As you move you will see the graphics changing in the composition above. You
will also see the time change in the top left of the timeline panel in blue. This
will clearly tell you at what time the current timeline indicator lies and
where in the composition you are. Now this time indicator is fundamental to
using After Effects and you will see later how we will be paying close
attention to this to compose all animations in After Effects. Now notice
that as you move the bar from left to right crossing over the layers in the
timeline panel you will see visual elements coming and going. It’s important
to note that whatever you see visually in the composition panel is linked to
the position of this blue line the current time indicator here in the
timeline panel. To edit the composition through time we must use this time
indicator and place it where appropriate along the timeline to create the
composition. Now if you click on a layer bar in the timeline panel you will see
that visual elements selected in the composition window with the layer
controls around it. However if you click a layer bar that is before or after the
blue line time indicator, you will notice that it is not selected or visible in
the composition pane. Remember you can only see in a visual composition panel
where the blue line the time indicator is in the timeline panel. If there is a
layer selected in the timeline panel you want to see in the composition panel you
will have to select the time indicator and move it on top of the layer you wish
to see. Now you may also notice that these layer bars are in different colors.
In After Effects we can change the colour of the layer bars. This allows us to
organize our layers visually. To do this we can simply click on the colored
square on the far left next to the layer name and select a colour from the drop
down, simple. So right now we can see an arrangement of the layers from top to
bottom, remember the way the timeline panel works is by stacking layers on top
of each other in a hierarchy, whichever layer is at the top of the layer stack
is the layer which will have the most visibility and the layer at the bottom
will have the least visibility hidden by any layer which appears to be above it.
To change the hierarchy we can simply click and hold on a layer name on the
left and drag up or down. As we do that we will see a blue line indicating where
it will be placed upon release. Should you want to drag multiple layers at once
simply click on the first layer then press and hold command on Mac or Ctrl on
PC and click other layers. When selected you can then click and drag them
wherever you want, simple. So the last thing I want to show you about layers
are the layer properties. Notice next to each layer name over on the left we can
see a triangle pointing right if we click this for one of the layers, we will
reveal the layer properties, let’s look at this type layer for example. Upon
click you will reveal the properties below and here we can see
text and transform. Now it is really important to mention and for you to
remember here that every layer regardless of what kind of media object
it is, be it an image, a shape, an audio file or text layer we will always see
the transform property. If we drop this down we will see the following: Anchor
point, Position, Scale, Rotation and Opacity. These are the basic properties
you can animate over time on any layer to create your video sequence. Now if we
take a look over here under the layer adjacent to the properties, you will
notice these little shapes. Now you may be wondering what these are? These are
called keyframes and these keyframes are what set the parameters for all effects
over time such as position, scale, rotation and opacity over on the left
here. As you begin with After Effects you will learn that almost every effect you
create is set with keyframes and there is a lot to learn about keyframes which
we’ll be going into in more depth in the next video. But for now keep in mind that
it’s from here we do basic animation. So above this we see the contents drop down
now this is what varies depending on what type of layer it is at a glance
you can see that there are lots of properties on a layer we can animate and
customize. To close the layer properties simply click on the triangle to the left
of the layer name and that will close. Remember you can toggle this triangle to
hide and reveal the properties. So the next topic I want to discuss with you is
previewing so far I have shown you how to move through the timeline with the
time indicator by clicking and dragging, but what if you want to preview the
video composition to see how it looks in real time? To do this we use what is
called a RAM preview. So first I’ll carefully put my mouse cursor over the
top of the timeline panel, look for the mouse cursor to change to the up and
down arrow and click and drag this down so I can see more of the visual
composition panel above. Now if I click on the timeline indicator and drag it
back to the beginning of the timeline on the keyboard I will press space bar. Upon click you will see a red line start to move out from the
blue time indicator line and across the time line and preview the video sequence
in real time in the composition panel above. Also notice the green line that
appears and builds across the time line at the top. Now this is called a RAM
preview, it’s called a RAM preview because After Effects uses the
computer’s RAM to preview the sequence. This green bar here represents how much
has been loaded into Ram and whatever is green should play
smoothly. If I press spacebar again this will stop the RAM preview. Notice how the
time indicator also moves to where we stopped the preview, you will also notice
the green line stops. Upon stopping RAM preview you will also stop the preview
loading into RAM. If I press spacebar again it will
continue, if I press it again it will stop. Now I can click on the timeline
indicator, drag back to the start, press spacebar again and I can watch the
sequence again and again. Now as you create your composition sequence in
After Effects you will be constantly RAM previewing your composition like this in
order to test and make sure your animations are in time and you are happy
with them. Now it’s important to mention that the more complex your animation
sequence for example, if you have lots going on in one instance it’s going to
require more RAM and slow things down a little. If you have a computer with a
fast processor and lots of RAM this will work more smoothly tho if you have a
lower spec computer this will be a slower process. Now there is something
that makes RAM preview more streamlined and less of a pain to use. In the last
episode where I introduced you to the interface I showed you the resolution
factor here at the bottom of the composition panel. So right now this is
set to full, this means full resolution of the preview in the visual composition
here in the panel above. Now if I click this and select half, third or quarter
you will notice the visual comp become pixelated. Now if I click the time
indicator and drag back to the start and press spacebar to activate the RAM
preview. This will preview a lot more smoothly. This is
because we have downgraded the resolution which loads less information
into the RAM preview. This puts less stress on the hardware and allows it to
preview a lot smoother. As you create sequences in After Effects you will be
toggling this a lot in After Effects. You will find that as you work on your
project you will be working in half, third or quarter resolution to test your
sequences and when you want to preview in full quality or focus on a particular
part of a sequence to refine you will toggle to full resolution. Now another
thing you will need to learn about the timeline panel is the work area. If you
look closely just under the time line number indicator you will notice a bar
with two blue ends, one here on the far left and one on the far right. On the end
of each bar we will see a blue grabber as we place our mouse cursor over this
you will see the mouse cursor change. For example I will click and drag the blue
grabber on the far left and drag over to say ten seconds. Next I will click and
drag the blue grabber on the far right and drag it into 16 seconds. So right now
I have set the work area between 10 and 16 seconds. Now if I click and drag the
time indicator into this work area space and press spacebar to activate the RAM
preview you will notice that the red line travels to the end of the work area
and loops back to the start when it gets to the end. This bar just under the
timeline numbers is the work area and we use this work area in After Effects to
focus on particular time frames in our sequence. For now I’ll just press
spacebar to stop the RAM preview. Something else you can do here is place
your mouse cursor over the work area, notice the mouse cursor change to a
left and right arrow. If I click and drag I can move the work area across the
timeline to another place and then click the blue handles on the ends to tweak
the work area time. Now we can use this work area to preview the entire sequence
or right down to a second and there will be many instances where we will want to
focus on just a few seconds and loop a preview to make sure the animation or video sequence is exactly how we want it. So using the
workspace area and the resolution factor we can make previewing the composition
in real time smooth and easy. These are very important things to remember when
using After Effects as you will be using these a lot as you create a video
sequence in After Effects. So this brings us to the end of the video. So to recap
the timeline panel allows us to focus on three things: Determine layer order and
hierarchy, timing and animation, and treat and manage individual composites through
a motion sequence. So in this video I discussed layers and how they work. What
we are looking at here inside the timeline panel is a timeline composition
which contains all these layers for this particular animated sequence. In this
instance we are currently looking at a single timeline composition. Now it’s
important to note that a simple project can include many individual timeline
compositions to create an entire video presentation. It will help to think of
compositions as individual video parts. Some animated sequences can be very
complex and require lots of layers, so we can use compositions as a way to focus
on particular sequences, organize and manage a project. In the next video we
will be taking a closer look at compositions, learning more about them and how they work to build a project in Adobe After Effects. So see you in the next video!


  1. To get the full learning experience and follow along:

    Get the FREE PDF course index and the downloadable project folder from the course overview video here:


  2. I am absolutely over the moon happy that I found this course. This is the best course I've taken on anything!! So much better than anything even from Adobe. How are you giving it away? Is there a Premiere Pro course anywhere? If not, please, please, please make one. I got the files. I'd love to support you further. What do I get with the different levels if I join?

  3. hello sir, i need project folder as i can not pay for it. can you please give it to me for free. if you give it to me for free, i promise i would not skip any of ads on your videos & in this way i will compensate the cost of your folder. I will keep my promise. thanks

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