How To Use Simple Shapes and Masks to Make an Entire Animation

June 16, 2009

In one of my most asked for tutorials for After Effects, I go though the process of making my personal project from 2005, “Conform Non Conform” I go though the process of using masks to animate simple shapes. Then, using precomping and simple plugins, we warp and distort the simple shapes into our final animation. I purposely kept this tutorial loose and unfinished so that you could use the techniques involved to make your own short project. Post yours in the comments! I would love to see examples on what you would make with simple shapes and pre-comping. We have all seen exact copies of tutorials… try to make it your own so you can put it in your reel will ya?

Based On This Animation I Made in 2005

Also, what do you think about this type of tutorial? Again, I purposely made it as “in the moment” as I could. I just went through the process of how I would make something. Nothing was pre-made or scripted. I make mistakes and try different ways of doing things. I want to know what you think about it. Is it annoying or is it insightful to see me problem solve on the fly? Leave your feedback in the comments please. Enjoy!

Tutorial Focus:  ,

  • Hey I was gonna put that you should use the radial wipe in the part where you were havin some problems with the orange solid, but as soon as I was gonna make this comment you figured it out. Another way that you could do it is have circles with a stroke instead of solids with masks, and then animate the strokes from 0 to 100. Great tut, love the site.

  • i thought the tutorial was great, thanks very much! i please post some more

  • I’m so confused. How are you seeing your 2d background solid through your 3d solids by way of custom view 1? Every time I do this custom view 1 gives me the animation but only with the solid black composition background. Am I missing a step?

    I’ve seen you do this twice now without changing any additional settings. Everyone I ask is of the mind that custom view doesn’t work the way you’re showing, so how is it being done?

    • For Derek Edwards :
      I think you have to leave the background 2D, not 3d, so it stays all the time unchanged of the camera ๐Ÿ™‚

      • And work in custom view all the time

        • I have the same problem!! I’m working on Custom Viem 1, when i pre compose the strips and make it 3D my back ground turn black! How can i fix this to do like on the tutorial?

          • I figured out, you just need to change background color of composition, so probably follow this steps:

            1. right-click on comp1
            2. choose composition settings
            3. Find Background color
            4. Take pipette and take the color of your solid layer

  • Amazing vid dude – keep up the ace work!
    Bezier! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Great video- loved the ad lib mistake fix. Problems like that occur in real professions life + great to see how you worked through it, came up with a better solution, and didn’t give up. Disappointed that you didn’t show how you made the paint textures, brush stroke edges, and the white dots- would still love to know how you created that. Overall great tutorial- I’m a new fan!

  • I love the parts where you you had issues! It really helped going through the motions and thinking it through along side you. Thats how it actually is when I am mucking about in After Effects.
    Do more unscripted videos please ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thank you!

  • Hi
    I watched this tutorial all the way through. It was long but that was good because it was real. You made mistakes like I make mistakes but this time I didnt feel like a doosh for not being able to follow the instructions and have it turn out right. Nice job, I hope you feel encouraged to do more tutorials like this.


  • Hey this was a great tutorial. i was thinking about 5 min before you got stuck (around 34:00) that i like that he talks like i dont have to follow a step-by-step script, and then you you got stuck and kinda stumbled along, BUT you came up with a solution [clock wipe]. It was great and that made me feel better about knowing if i get stuck, theres always a way to get through. I really thought it was genuine and i appreciated that. Well thanks for your time!!

  • You are a great teacher and very generous to share this info. I learned, I laughed, I hope you make more. Take care…

  • I just discovered “trim paths” via this tutorial, that will resolve the circle animation:

    cheers, H

  • Tutorials are – in my opinion – about how you do stuff, not about the final outcome. So I’m very happy with this tutorial. Thanks!

  • A Fantastic tutorial, i was hoping that you could explain how you did the paint brush end masking to the stripes at 01:44 i know you said they were self explanatory but i really don’t know how to it, ive been struggling with luma mattes to try achieve it but no luck. i would really appreciate if someone could explain the process, im sorry if it a basic technique to ask for help on it.


  • GSG,

    Great tutorial. Love your work. Fabulous website. You’ve got a good sense of humor too (and don’t take yourself too seriously…which is a good thing to do now and again :-)) Please keep up the great work as it is inspiring to watch what you do and i’m sure many first timers (like myself) are relieved there are great teachers out there, like yourself.



  • Hi !
    Please help me with this:
    I work on a project in Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5 ( a short movie) and I use Dynamic Link to edit scenes from Premiere in After Effects.
    I work with masks to cover different parts of the scene, everything works fine in After Effects, but when I play the same scene in Premiere the mask is a little out of place. I tried everything to fix this..but I didn’t succed.
    Please help, I’m stuck.

    P.S. The masks are made in Mocha.

    Here is an example:

  • Hi there! Your website is absolutely fantastic and I’m proud of your effort in making tutorials available for everyone. Since I can’t pay myself a master’s degree nor a degree in motion graphics / design, you can’t imagine how helpful and inspiring your tutorials are for people who must learn by themselves!

    This has been my result so far:

    I’ve used the radial wipe solution for the circles as well, but added some expressions into a null to randomize their starting angle (using a seed) and the transition completion. So, I did found I hadn’t to use any matte. The drawback is that you must duplicate the circle comp on the project box if you want a bunch of circles with different start wipe angles. (They can be rotated as well).

    Enough talk. Again, thank you Nick!

  • The link to your 2005 project is broken. Would you be willing to share your project with an AE newbie?

  • This was very helpful and entertaining. And as a newbie to After Effects, it’s great to see how you troubleshooted your way through this… it’s always fun to see process. Thanks for sharing! ๐Ÿ™‚


  • I love your tutorial videos. You make it fun and interesting… I also loved your google search for how to spell Bezier ๐Ÿ™‚ I like seeing how you pieced it together, and it’s comforting you had to stop and figure out the preset just like I would. Although, a 45 minute video was kind of long. Other than that, great job! (As usual)

  • 21:34 video stop

  • Thanks for the great tutorial!

  • I really loved this tutorial and technique , Here’s a link to mine

    Thank you Nick for all the hard work you’re putting in these tutorials . I’m also following the C4D ones . I hope i can come up with something soon .

  • Hey thanks for the tutorial! Was wondering how to do the effects lke in Apple’s new ad – It is kind of the same, meaning that lines grow and circles nd the rest. Would you be able to make a tutorial on a bit of the ad?

  • Hello nick ๐Ÿ™‚ i also did this recently , i appreciate to hear what you think of it

    Thank you

  • Love this, know it’s old, but your way of working with animation in after effects is nice and relaxed..

    Love some more..
    And the mistakes you make are like you say a good way to show you are only human!


  • What a great tutorial and what an expert animator you are. Many thanks. However, Regarding the circles and how to reveal them by using masks first then clock wipe, There is really a very simple way – in case you haven’t found it out yet after 4 years – which is drawing a circle using the shape tool then adding “Trim path ” effect.

    Many thanks again. keep it up.

  • Excellent.. I only started using after effects again after a 5 year hiatus, (went into print, majored in graphic design; big mistake, thanks dying print industry)… Love the stream of consciousness tutorial, that bezier part: gold..

  • I’m loving your tutorials on AE and C4D nick. Amazing stuff!
    I have another request for the brush or paint strokes at the beginning and end. I too have no idea what to do to get a similar look. Maybe a quick 2 minute video or comment to explain would be great for all of use wondering about this.

    I kept saying to the screen BEZIER!!! WITH Z. WITH Z lol
    Thank you very much for all your time and hard work.

  • Hey man … thts an awesom tutorial… i love it…I have a doubt… How can you create something like this

    The way the text forms…. with those small animating shapes… how to do that…can u plz give me an idea… thanks

  • I’d loved it, it helped me a lot!!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Hey Nick. Just getting into your tutorials. One question though.

    I just watched your understanding 2D/3D layers tut. In it you mentioned that if you have 2D and 3D layers in your scene, when you switch to custom view, the 2D layers won’t show and your background essentially turns black.

    In this video, after you’ve precomp’d the stripes, you turn the ThreeStripes comp into 3D and switch to your custom view camera. Your off-white 2D background layer that you still shows. When I do it, my view goes black.

    What gives?

  • thanks a lot man very very helpful thank you

  • Awesome!!!!! Extremly grateful!!! Iยดm learning much more with your tutorials than with some teachers

  • love this, nice tutorial. I am learning so much from you guys. thanks

  • I learned so much from you nick ,
    here is a simple freelance project i did using what i learned from this tutorial

    Illustrations also made by me in illustrator , just want to note here that all the motion here was done using only After effects CS3 …

  • This taught me more than most tutorials, and its so practical. Nice work. Thanks!

  • This tutorial was so helpful! I had been looking for exactly this and was so glad I found it here as Greyscale Gorilla tutorials are always so easy to follow and understand.

    Here is a link to the project it help me complete!

  • From the description, I thought this tutorial was exactly what I need to learn at the moment. Unfortunately, the video seems to have lost its audio (March 2015). Since it seems to be 6 years since it was posted, I may be giving this feedback to no one. But if anyone is out there who can fix the sound, I’d love to able to watch this. Thanks.

  • I’m just wondering if Greyscalebanana might be a better name?

    ‘This is Greyscalebanana and I’m the banana…’

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