After Effects - Animated Infographic Video & Data Visualisation

Animating TIP - Grouping in After Effects is called precomping

Daniel Walter Scott

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Hi there, in this video we're going to look at something called Precomping. It's not part of the animation tips but we need to do it about now before we can carry on with the rest of them. We're going to do it because we're going to start bringing in all of our Icons. Can you see that all start appearing now? They all do the little animations. But what we don't want to do is have a big messy Time Line. We just want every Icon to be on there by itself including the little noises and the Pops, and the Circle Burst, all together. Let's go and learn what a Precomp is.


To create a Precomp we're going to select the three layers that we want to be part of it. Why are we going to do it? It's just because we're going to duplicate this. It's about 10 different Icons we're going to use. And our Time Line's going to turn to mud when we have 10 times 3. That's 30, I can do basic Math. But it's going to be near impossible to work with in the future. So what we want to do is just group them together. So they're locked into a nice little unit that we can use. So select all three of them.

So at the top one, hold 'Shift', select the last of them, so these three. There's 'Bloop', 'Icon1-House', and 'Circle Burst'. Right click one of them and go to 'Pre-compose'. We need to give it a name, we're going to call this one 'Icon 1'. Then click 'OK'. Nothing really changes. You can still see, it's all still there on the Time Line. If I drag back and forth, it still does its little thing. But what's happening now is that they're all just tightened to this one little layer. And all that a Precomp is… remember, earlier on, we did this one called Overshoot? We created a New Composition and went in here, and started dragging it, and building it manually. All that's happened, if I go back to 'Value of Sleep', is that Dreamweaver has done that function for us automatically and built that Comp out of those layers we had selected. There’s no physical difference between the Comp that we may call Overshoot and this new one called Icon 1. That's the Precomp. But really just a Comp, if that makes sense.

To edit it, I can go inside of it, double click. Go inside, and I'm seeing my Comp just by itself, on its own little Time Line. So I can work on it, nice and separately. They're three little layers. Then I can go back to my main Comp. And it's nicely tied together here. I can double click it down here as well, to get into it. And I can switch between it using these little tabs. These are the three Comps that I've got. So it's inevitable you'll end up with more than one Comp, especially if you're opening up somebody else's work or working with a Template. This gets even better if we want to, say, adjust this thing. And we'll switch it out for the different Icons. Let's look at doing it.

First of all, I want to adjust, because for some reason my Star Burst starts far too early now, but it's because we're playing around with that Expression and the timing's are all off now. So what I want to do is, go inside of it, double click it. And I'm going to zoom in a little bit. And down here I want the Star Burst just to start earlier. So, Star Burst to start earlier. Actually I need these two to move further away because I'm stuck at the front here. Still not enough time. So it starts, there, it looks better. So now I can go back to 'Value of Sleep', check this out. Mine's running a bit slow at the moment. You can turn your resolution down to Quarter, so it's not stressing your machine out so much. There we go, and I'm just going to get my timing right, so we can see the value of Precomps. All these Compositions made for us.

Now, it gets even better when we use these Comps. But switch out the Icon. So what we need to do is, don't copy it down here. You need to copy it in your Project window. Down here, it's just going to make two versions of the same Icon. And if we change one, it will change both of them. But if you duplicate it up here… the easiest way to duplicate it is to select it up here in your Project window, go 'Command C', 'Command V' on a Mac, or 'Command C', 'Command V' on a PC. It even names it, 'Icon 2' for me. So I've got two versions. They look the same but they're actually disconnected, so I'm going to double click 'Icon 2', and on the inside of here, there's Icon 1, Icon 2.

And what I need to do is, I need to update this Icon here. So it's this thing here, 'Icon 1-House', I'd like to switch it out. I could manually just delete it, and drag it in, but I'd lose all of that lovely Easing that we've done and the Expression that we've applied. To make this a little bit more automatic, I'm going to open up my Files panel. I'm going to bring in some of the Icons. So the next one is Icon 2- Girl. I can just drag it to my Files here. Doesn't go in the right place. Get in there. And there's Icon 2-Girl, I already had one, from earlier on. But that's how you drag them out and get them as part of your Project file.

Then what you can do is you can have this guy selected down here. This is the one we were on, remember, we were on Icon 2. Hold down the 'Alt' key on a PC, or the 'Option' key on a Mac. And just click, hold, and drag our 'Girl' on top of this guy, and it switches out. Too easy. Let's go back to 'Value of Sleep', our main Comp. You'll see, we've still only got Icon 1 over here, so let's grab Icon 2, there it is there. Drag out Icon 2, there it is, in the top corner there. Where am I going to put it? There'll be a little room issues with all these icons. So we're going to have to position it using the Black Arrow, and we're also going to play around with the timing because it appears right at the start. So just drag him along to after, first, and where does it go? So, my wife is there. She'll be able to kind of appear around this. We'll play with the timing. That's not bad.

So you can see, once you've done it once, and done all your Easing, and got things going, you can repeat this process by duplicating your Comp, and just switching out the image inside. It means that, if you've got something that needs to be done every month, say some sort of emailer, publication, presentation thing, things that get rolled out every week or month, you can use the same animations but with different graphics. We'll do one more together, and then we'll speed up the process.

So you, copy and paste. Double click to open it. Find this. Select it. Here's my files. Actually I don't even remember what we're doing next. Let's zoom out. Okay, Megaphone. Then 'Sleep'. So back into my 'Icon 3'. Where's Megaphone? There you are. Instead of dragging it across, and adding it to the project-- it doesn't really matter. There you are, get into my special folder. I have to drag you across. Back to my Comp. Click 'Icon 3', on there, somewhere. Here you go, get the timing right. Come here, come here… To Megaphone, about there. So I'm going to kind of both do this now. I'm going to duplicate all of these, and replace all of these in one go. But we're going to do it in fast mode because you don't want to watch me do every single one. All right, engage Fast mode.

Okay, come back in. Now, even though it got spread up, you probably noticed that it was not the smoothest of my operations. I don't know why; Brain Fog. But you should be able to get into a little bit of rhythm with that. One of the things I want to show you is, first of all, I forgot to make a sleepy Icon so just ignore that, goes from Monster, all the way down to Coffee. You can make your own sleepy Icon in there. And one of the things I want to show you, you probably left this up, see this little bar here? It's a little bit hard to get between these two panels here. You can kind of make it bigger and smaller. I did that because I didn't want to show you my super shortcut until now. So what I want to do is, I want to show you the super shortcut.

Because we're not with quite a big panel, you can see down here, my Time Line's quite complicated. So what I want to do is, two things. So this Vignette, it's down the bottom, get him all the way to the top. It happens all the time. And let's say I want to make this a lot bigger. What I can do is, wherever your mouse is hovering above, you can hit the apostrophe key. Often it's tied together with the tilde '~' key. On my keyboards in front of me, I got two of them, it's underneath the Esc key. Often though, it can be over next to your L or P key depending on the type of keyboards you've got. It's a little squiggly line with the apostrophe. You might have to hit a few other buttons. And wherever your mouse is above, watch, it makes that whole Panel really big.

So if you've got your Panel really small, you just want to tap it over it, goes really big. It's wherever your mouse is hovering. So this, makes that screen bigger. If you want to go into your Library, hover above it, tap it, big giant Library. Your Effects & Presets, hover above it. Giant effects in Presets, you're getting the picture. It can be handy in this Project window wherein you've got lots of files. So wherever your mouse is, tap it on and off, to jump back and forth. There we have mine up like that and hit 'Save' because that is it for Precomping and Grouping. Let's hit 'Save', and get on to small animation tips.