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Fun With Precomping in After Effects 75 Comments

In this short tutorial, I show you how to make a complex animation with only a few keyframes with the power of PRECOMPING!!! I do this all the time in projects, and it creates some really fun animation.

Final Animation

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  1. Philipp M.

    The result is looking awesome!

    Looking forward to this tut :)

    Great job, Nick!

  2. Darren Case

    Happy Birthday! Great tutorial too! The dots remind me of Wonder Bread.

  3. Joshua

    So glad you posted this! I am in the middle of a project and importing illustrator files (clicked the rasterize button). Then I have animated them, PRECOMPED them, and once in the final scene (w/camera) I’m getting pixelated. This is probably SO rudimentary to all the AE Gurus out there.
    What’s the trick? What am I doing wrong?

    Share the love.
    Thanks much Nick!

    • Hey Joshua,

      Make sure the illustrator layer and the precomp it’s in are both rasterized.

      Also, is the illustrator file an .eps or an .ai? I rememeber having some problems with pixelization with .eps files and I just saved it as an .ai file.

    • Joshua

      Thanks! When I put the AI file as rasterized (before the pre-comp) everything is fine. Once I rasterize the precomp (the final scene w/camera) it becomes invisible. (You still see that there is SOMEthing there but the actual shape is invisible.


    • Hm, just tried to recreate your problem but everything seems fine to me.

      Here’s what I did:

      1) Imported .ai file
      2) Dragged .ai file to ‘Create a new Composition’ button
      3) Ticked rasterize and 3D buttons on the .ai layer
      4) Precomp’d the .ai layer – chose ‘Move all attribute into the new composition’
      5) Ticked rasterize and 3D buttons on the new precomp’d layer
      6) Created a camera and moved around
      7) Went back here and typed this…

      Hope that helps!

    • Joshua

      thats its! SO SIMPLE! i breezed over the 3D buttons in first layer (before precomping) so that when I was 3D for the final, it couldn’t find 3D attributes.

      damn! Chris. thanks! really appreciate it.
      thanks again.
      It helps a lot!

  4. Again you pull me from work to watch your tuts Nick!

    It would’ve looked cool with some d shadow like you said. All one would have to do is put it on the original circle and BAM! – all 30 kajillion of those circles get the drop shadow.

    Oh and being a big keyboard shortcut guy, Command+Y (New solid) and Command+Shift+Y (Solid Settings) has collectively saved me hours.

    Anyways, I have an odd craving for some fruit loops right now…

    • Sure ’nuff.
      Me and my boys are shooting booth interviews for “Studio Daily” all week and I’ll be cutting them for immediate posting to the website.
      Staying across the street for easy access to the ‘edit suite’.
      See you there!

  5. hey Gorilla, thanks a lot for this cool sh!t

    i always need somethings like this to push my thinking and to come up with some simple but cool stuff on my own, thanks again

  6. and happy birthday if it wasnt a joke đŸ˜€
    at first i thought it was.. but then.. spending time on making tut for a loyal chaps is exactly Gorilla’s style, much appreciated style of course. So thanks again for sharing and all the best and just all the awesomeness in the world for you, happy birthday Nick đŸ˜‰

  7. Dude! Great as usual!! Thanks for everything Nick! An out to date cheer for your birthday, hope you had a great day =) Take Care!

  8. Kurtis Thomas

    Thanks Nick!! It’s awesome to see how such a simple beginning can create a deep and awesome animation. I tend to overthink things a lot in AE and this has helped to remember that sometimes simple is better!

  9. Roald André Pedersen

    I just love theese “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid :P) tutorials! I personaly learn lots more from these than those super advanced tuts (thou a good mixture of both is superb), cause it just gives you so much room to play around with! Thansk for yet another awsome tutorial…

    And ohh yes, happy birthday you big hairy gorilla! đŸ˜€

  10. sjoerd wijn

    hee nick,
    nice one, looks really cool. gave me the little big planet feeling.

  11. Brandon

    Do you have to ‘continuously rasterize’ when you do this, since its vector based? Or do you not have to do that for masks?

  12. You can do this kind of thing pretty well in Particular by using the circle animation as the partical. Cuts out all the copying and rotate/move stuff too.

    Plus the shading option gives you the shadows for all the circles, which looks pretty nice! :)

    Cheers Nick!

    • Hi

      Particular limits your layer to 100×100 pixels. So if you want to pan through it or a flyby you will have jagged circles. Also, precomping gives you total control over the elements positioning which is more fun and looks better in the end

    • Hey Ajandi,

      Particular will only give you a warning about that if you use something gigantic.

      It’s quite possible to go over 100×100 pixels if you want, and your computer can take it.

      I was just playing with one using a comp size 300×300 pixels. Worked fine. :)

    • Chrongram

      Nice,that’s new to me. I learn something new everyday! Thanx! :)

  13. Maciej

    Hey Nick ! Great tutorial as always..

    Quick question : How do you make some changes in just one of the precompositions without changing all of them ?

    Let’s say I duplicate the first precomp to have one version who will be quick and a second one who will be slow.. (“Original Circle1” and “Original Circle2”) How do ou do that ? When I change one it automatically changes the other one as well.. I tried to change the names of the precomps but it doesn’t seem to work..

    • Davy Menge

      That’s not possible without another version of the original, with different keyframes. At least that’s the easiest way.

      Nick’s precomps all use the same comp as a reference so you can’t make one slower than the other.

  14. Christina

    Quick question Nick, any way to click-drag-duplicate in AE? I often try the Photoshop trick of option drag but that just gives the wireframe in AE. I think you did it once or twice in the tutorial (the option click) and wanted to ask. Thanks for all the great knowledge!

  15. Have you considered using screen capture software that shows the keys that you are hitting when you’re recording your videos? It would be nice to be able to see the shortcuts that you’re using. Sometimes it’s the little things that make everything a lot easier and faster.

  16. woow, cool, maybe a good idea for a five-second project: use only two keyframes, and no expressions.

  17. Good to see some crisp Ae tuts again :) Been a long time.

    Where did your white bright layout go??


    • I had the bright layout when my screen was my only light for my screencasts. Now that I have some other lighting, I made it dark again.

  18. Sweet! It’s cool how easy it can be to make something look professional and very awesome. This made me want to create more slick, original, simple effects! Great tips, great result and great motivator! Thank you!

  19. marsio

    anyone has ideas or link to nice animations with dots?

  20. I really love your tuts. Thanks again, for sharing this knowledge with the rest of us :)

  21. marvinbek

    This sounds like Andrew Kramer. Is this him? Nah, Kramer’s using Windows.

  22. hi there!! nice tut but i have a problem… when i duplicate some of the precomps, some of the circles get cuted, like if there was an invisible black edge… im stuck and it looks aweful :(

    i know this is old, but it can help me A LOT!!!

    thanks! Jupa (Mendoza, Argentina)

  23. Pretty inspiring how easy you make cool looking stuff! Simple tools used in an awesome way. Thx for that one! I’m really looking forward to play around a lot more with such easy precomp stuff

  24. Nora G

    that’s really cool.. i know it’s an old post but i have a question, i don’t get the whole idea behind the “null object” why didn’t you just resize the original circles comp with scale? from what i understand is that as long as the adjustment is done in the original comp it will affect whatever this comp is used in. right?


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Comment Rules

This is a friendly community. Please treat everyone with respect. We don't all have to agree, but we do have to be nice. Criticism is fine, but rude comments and name calling will be deleted. Use your real name and don't be spammy. Thanks for adding to the conversation.