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How to Move the Anchor Point in After Effects

By Caleb Ward
After Effects

In this article we’ll show you how to move the anchor point in After Effects.

We’ve all been there. You’ve designed the perfect After Effects composition, but you need to have your layer rotate around a different point. Or maybe you want your layer to scale down around a specific point so you can make your movement more balanced? What are you to do?
Well, simply put you need to move the anchor point.

What is the Anchor Point?

The anchor point in After Effects is the point in which all transformations are manipulated from. In a practical sense the anchor point is the point in which your layer will scale and rotate around. While it may seem silly to have an anchor point and a position transform property both of these parameters do very different things.
Anchor Point Demo Vid.gif
As good practice anchor points should be set before you begin animating your composition. So how are you supposed to move your anchor point? Well I’m glad you asked…

How to Move the Anchor Point

If you’ve ever tried moving the anchor point in the transform menu you were probably surprised to see that your layer moved around as well. Many new After Effects artists conclude that this must mean that Anchor Point and Position do the same thing, but this is simply not the case.
On most After Effects project it is not ideal to move your anchor point using the transform menu because doing so will physically move your layers position. Instead you will want to use the Pan-Behind Tool. Here’s how it’s done.
Moving Anchor Point and Position.gif
Although they both can move the layer, anchor point and position are two different things.
Pro Tip: Don’t set keyframes until you’ve moved your anchor point. You won’t be able to adjust your anchor point if you’ve set any transform keyframes.

Step 1: Activate the Pan-Behind Tool

Select the Pan Behind Tool in After Effects.gif
Activate the Pan-Behind Tool by hitting the (Y) key on your keyboard. You can also select the Pan-Behind Tool in the toolbar at the top of the After Effects interface.

Step 2: Move the Anchor Point

Move the Anchor Point in After Effects.gif
The next step is simple. With the Pan-Behind Tool selected move your Anchor Point to your desired location. If you have your transform menu open you will see the anchor point values automatically update as you move your anchor point around the composition.

Step 3: Deselect the Pan-Behind Tool

Selection Anchor Point in After Effects.gif
After you’ve moved your Anchor Point to the desired location simply select your Selection Tool by hitting (V) on your keyboard or select it from the toolbar at the top of the interface.
That’s it! On most After Effects projects you will be adjusting the Anchor Point for 70% of your layers, so it’s important that you get used to this workflow.

Anchor Point Tips

1. Center the Anchor Point on a Layer

Move to the Center.gif
Pop to the center!
By default your anchor point will be at the very center of your layer, but if you’ve moved your anchor point already and want to revert back to the original center location all you have to do is hit the following keyboard shortcut:
  • Mac: Command+Option+Home
  • PC: Ctrl+Alt+Home

2. Move the Anchor Point in Straight Lines

Hold Shift and Drag.gif
X and Y
You can actually move the anchor point perfectly along the X or Y Axis by holding down Shift and moving the anchor point with the Pan-Behind Tool selected. This is a great way to insure that your anchor point is in the pixel-perfect location.

3. Activate Those Anchor Point Guides

Anchor Points Guides.gif
Who said there weren't snap guides in After Effects?
Need your Anchor Point to be directly in line with an object in your composition. Well the best way to do that is simply by holding down Control on a PC or Command on a Mac. As you drag your anchor point around with the Pan-Behind Tool you will find that your anchor point will snap to illuminated crosshairs in your composition.
Well that’s all there is to say about Anchor Points. Best of luck on all your Motion Design projects!
Anchors Aweigh