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Tutorial: Flow for After Effects Review

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Animate faster in After Effects.

Flow looks a lot nicer than your average tool in After Effects, but it's not just a pretty face, Flow is a powerful time saver. If you've taken Animation Bootcamp you know how important working in the graph editor is to get your animations polished to perfection.

The mad genius creators of Flow, Zack Lovatt and renderTom, built this tool to take away some of that tedium by giving you the ability to make presets of your animation curves that you can apply with the click of a button. You can even build a library of your favorite curves to share with other animators on a project.

Grab a copy of Flow here!

Flow has a lot of other powerful features that you're going to want to see in action, so don't delay another moment, check out the Workflow Show!

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Tutorial Full Transcript Below 👇:

Joey Korenman (00:08):

Joey here for school of motion and welcome to another workflow show. On this episode, we will explore a very cool and useful extension for after effects called flow. We'll look into its functionality and talk about some pro tips for using it that can really help you work faster. Let's hop into after effects and find out how this animation tool can save you time and speed up your workflow. The first thing you'll notice when you install flow is that it has a beautiful interface. It's much prettier than other scripts you might be used to using that's because flow is not a script at all. It's an extension. And while that shouldn't make any difference to you, it does allow flow to have an interface that has far more bells and whistles. It's got a responsive layout that allows you to dock the tool in a horizontal mode, a vertical mode, and you can adjust the way it looks by sliding this bar back and forth.

Joey Korenman (00:57):

Great. So it looks nice, but what the heck does it do? Well flow lets you adjust your animation curves inside of its beautiful interface. Instead of going into, after effects is built in graph editor. So on the surface, the tool basically saves you a clicker to, since you can manipulate your curves while still seeing your timeline and all your key frames, that's certainly helpful. But the real time saver is the ability to apply the same easing curve to multiple key frames. All at the same time. If you have any animation with dozens of layers and you want them all to move in a similar way, this tool saves you a silly amount of time flow also lets you save and load your easing curves as presets, which is handy for sharing animation curves with other artists or bringing in libraries of curves to play around with like this library you can download for free from Ryan Summers or this library, which brings in Google's material design presets.

Joey Korenman (01:54):

This can help you be more consistent in your animation. Plus flow can give you exact Bezier values for each curve, which you can share with the developer. If you happen to be doing prototyping for an app, super handy animation is tedious enough. So anything you can do to help speed up the process is fantastic. Here's some of the ways I like to use flow to speed up my work flow. I should have written that better. First. I recommend going into the preferences for flow and turning on auto apply curve. This way, any updates you make in the editor will be applied right away to your key frames. You can also now apply presets with one click. This makes it insanely easy to play with different easing curves while letting after effects is preview loop over and over to CD effects. This works on multiple key frames simultaneously, which is a massive time saver.

Joey Korenman (02:41):

Now the curve that flow shows you is a value curve. It shows you how the values of your key frames change over time. If you're used to using the value graph and after facts of flows, editor will immediately make sense if you're used to using the speed graph, however, you may actually find that using flows editor is far more intuitive. If you have layers that move in curved motion paths, you have to use the speed graph to tweak your easing without screwing up the motion path. But flow gives you a visual representation of your ease. That looks just like the value graph, which in my opinion makes the ease much easier to visualize. You can also copy eases from one set of key frames to another. Let's say you animate one object. You tweak the ease a bit until you're happy and then you move onto something else.

Joey Korenman (03:26):

You can select a pair of key frames, click this arrow on the flow interface and flow. We'll read the animation curve for those two key frames. You can then apply that curve to any other key frames you want creating a consistent field. Now, before we get into some of the really cool things you can do with flow, I do need to get on my high horse for just a second flow is a great tool, but it has one enormous limitation that you have to be aware of. The extension only works on the Bezier curve between two key frames at a time for a lot of work. This is fine, but when you get deeper into your animation and you want to start adding flourishes like overshoots and anticipations, or if you need to animate something more complex, like a bounce flow on its own, can't really do it.

Joey Korenman (04:09):

You can sort of create anticipations and overshoots by using a curve like this one, but you're unable to create multiple eases. Look at how the beginning and end of this curve both slam into the key frame. This creates a jerky start and stop that you may not always want. So my advice is to learn how the full graph editor works. First, learn how to create animation curves like this one and understand why certain graph shapes make sense in certain situations before starting to rely on a tool like flow. If you only use flow to adjust your curves, you're limiting your animation options very severely. And you're in danger of relying on the presets to find your animation instead of crafting it to be exactly the way you want. So use flow as a time-saver, which is amazing for, but don't use it as a crutch.

Joey Korenman (04:58):

Check out our animation bootcamp program for more info on learning the ins and outs of animation in after effects. All right, rant over here are some tips for using flow to its fullest potential first know when to use certain types of curves. This takes practice obviously, but here's a good rule of thumb that can help you get started. When thinking about how to set up your animation curve, if an object is moving from one place on screen to another, generally, you want that object to ease both out of its first position and into its second position. This makes an S shaped curve. If the object enters from off screen, you typically don't want it to ease out of the first position. So that curve looks like this vice versa. If the object leaves the frame, you don't want it to ease into its last position.

Joey Korenman (05:43):

And that curve looks like this steepness in your curves equals speed in your layers. So adjust these Bezier handles to control the speed and acceleration in a way that makes sense for where that object begins and ends its motion flow works. Even if you have expressions on your properties. So for example, if I have a wiggle expression on my layers to give them some random movement, I can still use flow to adjust their overall movement without screwing up my expression. And here's a really cool trick. Remember when I said that flow can't create specific easing between multiple key frames. Well, it's true, but there's sort of a hack. Let's say I've got this layer animating in from off screen it overshoots a little bit overshoots back the other way and then settles. That's three separate pieces of movement. And I would set this up using the plain old graph editor in this case, the speed graph, since I haven't separated dimensions on my position property, I adjust the speed graph to get the easing I want and notice how I keep the speed from hitting zero until the very end.

Joey Korenman (06:44):

This creates a little more tension in the overshoots, which sometimes feels good. Great. So I want to save this overall feel as a preset, but I can't because presets only work across two key frames. So here's the trick select the first pair of key frames. Then click the arrow to read those key frame values, click the star to save those values as a preset and we'll call it move. Oh one. Now grab the next pair of key frames, read the values and save that as ove oh two. Then we grab move oh three and we've got three presets that we can use together to rebuild that same animation curve. Now all we have to do is select the first pair or pairs of key frames on our other layers apply move oh one by clicking it, then select pair to apply, move oh two and finally move oh three.

Joey Korenman (07:31):

And here we are. We now have every layer moving exactly the way we want, but we didn't have to adjust each curve on its own. And we can share these presets with our animator buddies by clicking this button to export our own flow preset library. In fact, if you want to, you can download this simple preset pack. If you're logged into a free school of motion student account, that's it for this episode of workflow show. I hope you're pumped to check out flow and to use it to speed up your animation process. But remember it's a, time-saver not a crutch. If you don't understand animation, then this tool won't make your work any better. But if you do understand it, it can save you hours. If not days on bigger projects, check out our show notes for links to flow and the preset packs we mentioned. Thanks so much for watching. See you on the next episode.