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Build an Automated Render-Bot in After Effects

By Joey Korenman
After Effects

In this video tutorial, We'll show you how to automatically edit, render, and share a motion design project without lifting a finger using Templater from Dataclay.

We all know there is a fine line between super heroes and motion designers. And, today, we are going to hone your growing super powers. With the power of automation you're going to edit, render, and share a motion design project without lifting a finger. Clients and superiors will be amazed at your agility, and will praise your ability to get out work at such magnificent speeds. The secret is... robots are going to do everything for you.
You've probably made yourself familiar with one of the hottest new features for After Effects, the Essential Graphics Panel. If you've tinkered with setting up .mogrt files from EGP (as the cool kids say), if your work forces you to do repetitive After Effects tasks, or if you're looking to create a side business with automated motion design projects, this tutorial is for you.
We want you to focus on the creative work, not repetitive tasks. Using automation you could potentially take away a lot of the boring tasks in your day-to-day workflow and open up a world of creative possibilities.
In the tutorial, we'll lay the foundation for using the Essential Graphics Panel, then jump over to Dataclay's fantastic plug-in, Templater. From there, we'll lay out step-by-step instructions and insight on how you can use Templater in your After Effects workflow. If this is the first time you've been introduced to automation, then prepare those onomatopoeias. It's time to "ooo" and "ahh" our way through this potentially career changing tutorial!

Download the Mograph Automation Project Files


What is Automation?

Automation is a workflow process where an individual or a company leverage their available tools to replace common operations or tasks that are easily repeatable with minimal effort.
For example, you can ask Siri to set an alarm on your phone instead of opening your phone, finding the alarm application, add new alarm, and setting the time. This is a very simple automation that doesn't seem to save much time, but Siri recognizes a command given and completes that workflow for you, that's automation.
Some modern approaches that involve relatable automation are location based reminders, If This Then That (IFTTT) workflows, and that annoying sensor on the back of the toilet that flushes for you (mostly at the wrong time). They are time saving processes that we are able to do, but these process have been left up to machines to process and complete.
In Motion Design, automation is the process of using robots to do tasks that would normally require a motion designer to complete. Sure, you could create the lower thirds by hand; but just like the toilet example, that's gross and should only be reserved for VERY special situations.

What are the advantages of automation?

In motion design, automation starts to free up your time and can help generate more money by allowing you to take on work that you previously couldn't due to time restraints.
Using this tool you can help video editors on your team, who don't know After Effects, do simple tasks by making .mogrt files. These files can then be opened in the Essential Graphics panel to use in Premiere Pro, giving them the power to work through simple changes so you can focus on harder and better tasks.
But the main focus of this tutorial goes one step further, you can use tools like Templater to go almost entirely hands-free. This allows you to set up projects that can literally be edited, rendered, and shared via something as simple as an online form, text message, or spreadsheet update. This could even start to move over into a form of residual income for creative automation projects like those found on MoShare.

What do I need to start with After Effects automation?

To get started you can use Dataclay Templater to easily render out as many variations of an After Effects as you need. While you can use a lot of different integrations the easies to understand is probably a combination of:
This method will allow anyone who can use a Google Sheet (basically everybody) to edit, render, and share an After Effects project.
You can set up a fully autonomous render robot using the Templater Bot. This isn't just really cool, it's also a brand new business model that companies like MoShare (Cub) and Algo (Illo) are employing. The example I build is a web form that triggers a render which automatically gets uploaded to Twitter.

How do I make an automated After Effects project?

Using After Effects and the Essential Graphics Panel (EGP) we can empower other humans to make changes to a design without hoping into editing software. Here are the steps you can take to set up the bot inside of After Effects. This is NOT the only way to setup a project with Templater, but it is easy...ish.

1. Build a .mogrt File in the Essential Graphics Panel.

The first step is to create a .mogrt file using the Essential Graphics panel. Depending on your use-case you may want to use a .mogrt to do everything from changing lower thirds-names to automatic sports score updates from an online database.
  1. Choose what type of project you want to build. This could be a lower third, a graph, or an infinite number of other possibilities.
  2. Use the Essential Graphics Panel to add editable options for the end user.
  3. Build animation accordingly so that it is rigged to react to changes in the EGP.

2. Set up a Google Sheet

Now it's time to setup a Google Sheet. The Google Sheet will be used as a 'bucket' where Templater can pull new changes to your motion design project. Google Sheets is great because it can be accessed and changed from anywhere in the world in real-time.
  1. Create a new google document that you can link to Templater later.
  2. Set up the first row with column headers that match the layer names and conditions that need to be met in your project file.

3. Set up Templater

Now it's time to connect Templater to your Google Sheet.
  1. Link Templater window in After Effects to your Google account
  2. Select the document you want Templater to reference.
  3. Apply the Templater Settings effect to the layers that need to be updated by the Google Sheet.
  4. Under bot setting select the action "replicate" for rendering in Media Encoder. Also select "Send replicates to Media Encoder"

4. Set up Output/Watch Folder for Media Encoder

Now we need to tell Media Encoder (the software we will use to render the After Effects project) to look for new projects in a watch folder.
  1. From Templater set your output folder location. This location is where your duplicated After Effects files will be picked up for rendering.
  2. Navigate to the Watch Folder tab in Media Encoder and add the same folder we set in Templater. Media Encoder will then watch this folder for new project files and render them.
  3. Navigate back to the queue tab in Media Encoder and make sure the "Auto-Encode Watch Folder" checkbox is active.
In our tutorial we have it setup to automatically post to Twitter using the social posting automation in Media Encoder, but for most practical applications you'll probably just want the files to automatically be placed into a folder connected to an online database like Dropbox or Google Drive.

5. Run the Bot

Now it's time to turn on the robot and let the magic begin.
  1. Simply press "enable bot" in the Templater window inside After Effects. The bot will then read the Google Sheet data and create new After Effects files in the output folder.
Once Media Encoder notices that there are new files it will queue a render. The renders will be sent to the file path you chose in the watch folder tab. BOOM. Your robot is now hard at work.

Want to hear a secret?

Templater is going to get a big update in the following weeks, including an updated UI panel. You'll also be able to easily open the Data Source, Footage Location, and Output Location from within Templater's panel, too. We'll let you know when the update officially goes live in our weekly Motion Mondays newsletter. In the meantime, here's a sneak peak of the new UI panel... but if anyone asks you didn't see it here.
Templater 2 Tutorial.png

In love with advanced motion design?

If you've got a knack for advanced motion design techniques then we would highly suggest taking the challenge of Explainer Camp. This course pushes you to new levels of thinking, interactions with clients, and start to finish animation workflows.
Explainer Camp is a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s a deep dive into the art of making Visual Essays, and you’ll practice storytelling, storyboarding, design, animation, editing, and every other facet of the real production process.