Using After Effects’ Graph Editor to control animation

Published by | Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

The difference between a good animator and a great animator is finesse, and no matter what application you’re using, adding finesse to your animations boils down to having control. Using any kind of animation software is a lot like playing a musical instrument, and the greatest musicians in the world all need to have control over their instruments to create the strongest final product.

For musicians, finesse means moving from one note to the next in the appropriate manner, which can mean abrupt movement or seamless and smooth movement. The same is true for motion graphics, except an animator’s finesse means moving with appropriate control from key frame to key frame, rather than from note to note. For motion graphics, After Effects, and CINEMA 4D (C4D) are my instruments. In C4D, you finesse your animations using the F-Curve manager (which you can learn more about in the CINEMA 4D R12 Essential Training course). In After Effects, you finesse your animations using a tool called the Graph Editor, which is like a  flipped version of the timeline—where you see the key frames themselves in the timeline, we see what’s happening in between the key frames in the Graph Editor.

By definition, a key frame is simply the value of an animation parameter recorded at a specific moment in time. Normally the software will automatically figure out the animation from one key frame to another, but each application has its own default method. For After Effects the default animation between key frames is a linear transition from one value to another. That means that the values automatically move in a straight line with a sharp transition at each key frame. Sometimes that sharp transition is just fine, but there are other times where smoother, more fluid transitions may be the answer. To achieve these fluid transitions, you could use one of the preset key frame interpolations like easy ease (which is my solution about ninety-percent of the time if I need a smooth transition in key values). It’s when you need extra control over your animation’s finesse that I recommend using the Graph Editor.

If this introduction to the power of the Graph Editor gets you fired up, make sure to check out the course After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation by Chris and Trish Meyer and pretty soon you’ll have all the finesse you need!

Interested in more?
• The full Design in Motion series in the Online Training Library®
• All 3D + animation courses in the Online Training Library®
• Courses on CINEMA 4D in the Online Training Library®
• Courses by Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer in the Online Training Library®

Suggested courses to watch next:
After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation
CINEMA 4D R12 Essential Training
CINEMA 4D: Rendering Motion Graphics for After Effects
After Effects CS5.5 New Features

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