Clean Up Footage - After Effects Tips for Video Editors

Kyle Hamrick

Clean up footage and elevate your edit with these After Effects tips.

Have you ever seen a great short film with lackluster titles? Do you constantly get requests for “video editing” projects that turn out to require a bunch of footage clean up, compositing and motion graphics work? It seems like you need to branch out from your normal software into...After Effects. But isn't that just for motion designers?

We’re back for part two of our After Effects Tips for Video Editors. If you haven’t checked out the first video, we'd recommend starting there so you can see the foundational tips that we'll build upon in this entry.

In this tutorial, we will:

Let’s get started!

Review The Current Title Sequence

Remember, our goal is to make sure there’s nothing in our footage that distracts the audience from the things we DO want them to be looking at. We want to nullify any background elements that pull focus away from the stars.

There are a few signs in our shots which need to be removed or replaced, which is a pretty common request. We have a flare in one shot that I want to carry over into the next. We need our lead actor to pop a little more, and we have to remove another actor from the background. This is a lot to ask of Premiere...which is why we get to work in After Effects.


There’s actually a lot of workflow strategy mixed into this demo, and we know you’ll appreciate the value of that. This also brings up a very important point: If at all possible, you want to make sure your edit is 100% locked BEFORE you do this kind of work. Tasks such as motion tracking and rotoscoping can be time-consuming and sometimes a little tedious to get right, so you want to make sure you’re not wasting your time perfecting something that’s just gonna to get thrown away.

Part of your role might be helping your project’s decision-makers understand—professionally—that YES, we understand there is a major element that needs to be removed, but we're going to wait until the overall sequence is approved before putting in that work.

For the sake of this tutorial, we’re assuming that we’ve been through a few edit versions and now everything is approved, so we’re confident we can move forward with our compositing work.

You’ll also want to be mindful of your color correction workflow. If you’re doing it yourself, using Adobe-native tools, you can be pretty flexible. If your color is being done by another artist, or in another piece of software, make sure to communicate carefully to confirm whether color should happen before or after these footage fixes. It matters!

Prepping the File for Export from Premiere to After Effects


I made sure to create an export of my timeline, so I can use that for reference as we go further. If we just had a single shot, or a few shots that needed work, you could right-click and replace areas with an After Effects composition. But in this case, we have quite a few effects shots to produce. We'll also be reusing some elements and techniques between shots, so it makes sense to just send this whole project to After Effects.

I’ll rename this new file so it's easy to distinguish. Double-click that to make sure you're working on the proper copy down in your timeline.

We have two tracks of clips here, but since the edit is locked I'm going to highlight everything on this second track and hit Alt or Option + Down Arrow to collapse into one video track.

We’re going to be totally redesigning these titles in the next video, so I'm actually just going to delete those, along with this black layer. After Effects isn’t great for audio work, so I’m just going to drop my reference export in here to handle that.

I'll save my project and now it’s time for After Effects.

How to Bring a Premiere Pro File to After Effects


You should now be in a brand new After Effects file. Come up to File > Import > Import Adobe Premiere Project. Navigate to your project file and click Open.

A little dialog box will pop up and if you have more than one sequence in your project, so just choose the one you want.

This will import all the media in your Premiere project, even if it’s not used in this timeline. If you have other clips that aren't being used, you’ll probably want to trim your Premiere project down even further before this step.

The After Effects Project panel works just like using List View in Premiere’s project panel. This process also imports your existing folder structure, so if your project was already well organized, it will still be that way.


Now you can see your sequence—though in After Effects these are called Composition. You can think of it like a cross between a Timeline and a Photoshop file. Double-click that, and now you can see all your imported clips here on the timeline.

The basics of the UI should all feel pretty familiar. You have a Project panel where you keep your clips and graphics. You have a Viewer where you see what you're working on, and down at the bottom you have a Timeline.

The After Effects timeline is laid out more vertically, because it works with layers instead of tracks. No two elements can occupy the same vertical space in here; whatever’s on top is what will be visible. We’ll want to see our actual clips, so let’s disable the visibility by clicking the little eyeball switch. You can see the little speaker is still enabled, though, which means we’ll be able to hear the audio from this layer.


If I twirl open one of these clips, you can see some have Time Remapping keyframes, a Lumetri color effect I added, and any transform changes I made.

After Effects isn’t aware of Premiere’s clip colors, but you can color-code your layers  by clicking on the color chip. I would recommend establishing a simple color coding system so you can mark completed clips, ones that need work, and ones that haven't been looked at yet.

Oh, one more thing - we haven’t saved our project yet! Let’s go to File > Save, or hit CTRL or CMD S, just as you expect.

Using After Effects to Alter or Remove Elements in Footage


Because of the kind of work we're doing here, I think it makes the most sense to nest each clip. In After Effects, this is called Pre-Composing, but it works very much like

Let’s start with “03 Kick ECU.”

I’m going to pre-compose just this layer by selecting it, and then going to Layer > Precompose or using the hotkey CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + C.

I want to leave all attributes—meaning the time remapping, Lumetri, and transform adjustments will stay here in this main Composition—and nest only the raw clip. You’ll notice the icon for this layer changed from a video file to a composition, and it added our new composition up here in the Project panel.

Double click this to open it up. You’ll see we now have two compositions open in our Timeline panel—and the viewer updates to show the one you’re currently working in.\

Now, back to the main composition

Clicking back into my main composition, I’m go to the first frame of this segment by hitting the I key.

If I double-click the precomp, it’ll bring me into that composition at exactly this time. I’d like to mark that, so I’ll hit the asterisk (*) key to create a marker.

I’m going to hop back to my main composition, hit O to jump to the out point, hop back into the precomp, and mark that.

I’m going to set up my Work Area within this shot—that’s like Premiere’s In and Out—by hitting N to set the END, then I’ll scrub back to that first marker and hit B, for BEginning.

Now we're sure to only be looking at the necessary portion of this clip - what's actually used in our edit - and won't be wasting our time tracking, fixing or even looking at the parts that aren't necessary... but we'll have easy access to them if anyone changes their mind later!

If I open up the settings for this composition, you’ll notice that we’re also working at the clip’s original 4K resolution in here, unlike our edit which is only 1920x1080.

Work smarter, not harder

Was this a little extra work? Sure, but once we start adding more layers, everything will stay tidy within each "shot," and these extra pixels might come in handy in our upcoming steps!

Okay, we’re diving into the actual techniques now. Since you probably aren’t using the exact same footage I have, I want you to pay attention to the workflow and the thought process—don’t worry so much about the exact values I’m using.

Our first task is trying to match this flare, just to make the cut feel a bit better. I think we can pull that off.

Let's come in here and I'll right click somewhere in this empty area. Choose New > Solid. Let's rename that to “flare”. And I'll make sure this is full black. We’ll, come up to Effects and Presets and search for “flare”, and we'll go for the Lens Flare. Just drag it onto your layer.

The first thing I need to do is change the blending mode so we can see this over the footage. I’ll click to toggle between switches and modes and then set my mode to screen. I'm going to change this flare type to the 105 millimeter prime. This clip has some camera movement, so we'll need to eyeball it a little. As the camera eases to a stop, so I'm going to ease my key frame by pressing F9. That'll give us a nice smooth landing.

That's kind of what I'm going for. Just a little kiss of this lens flare, right at the beginning of the shot. I think that works pretty well, but this definitely isn't quite matching the color of the other lens flares. Again, I think we can just eyeball this. Come back to Effects and Presets and look for Curves. Let's drop the blue channel. Maybe pump the Reds a little bit. On RGB, let's just make a nice S curve to bump the contrast.

That feels pretty good. Let's go back to our main comp, and see how it feels.

You know what, I think I'm happy with that.

Now, if you want to get really creative, we can start exploring Roto Brush and Content Aware Fill ... but that's only covered in the video! Head back up and watch how we can use the tools in After Effects to really clean up our footage.

We just covered a lot, so I hope you stuck with me. We’ve got a few things left on our list, but with the techniques we covered today, finishing those up should be no problem.

Armed with tools such as Motion Tracking, Roto Brush, and Content-Aware Fill, you’ll be surprised how many of these footage fixes you used to dread become "no sweat!" We focused on fixes and object removal today, but these compositing techniques are also a gateway to a whole new world of creative possibilities.

In our final video, we’ll take a more thoughtful approach to the design and animation of our titles, and see if we can take those from “good enough” to being artistic and visually meaningful.

How can you get started in After Effects?

After Effects is a powerful tool, like a jet-powered lawnmower, and requires a certain amount of practice and patience to master. It can seem intimidating from the outside, which is why we developed After Effects Kickstart to launch you on your journey.

After Effects Kickstart is the ultimate After Effects intro course. Over eight weeks, we’ll start you from the ground up on the most popular tool for motion graphics. Whether you’ve played with After Effects before or never even downloaded the app, we’ve got you covered. By the end of this course, you’ll be comfortable using After Effects for MoGraph projects, and gain an understanding of the industry—from its history to its possible future—to prepare you for a career.

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