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Tutorial: Tapered Stroke Preset for After Effects

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Do the Impossible with the Tapered Stroke Preset.

If you've ever needed a tapered stroke in After Effects you know that it was impossible without buying a fancy plugin, until now.

Jake Bartlett (School of Motion Contributor and Skillshare Instructor) put together this easy to use preset for After Effects that gives you full control over a tapered stroke with the click of a button, and we're giving it to you for free. Just sign in at the bottom of this page to download the preset and you'll be ready to taper those strokes!

If you're big into expressions you'll definitely want to see how this preset works. Check out how Jake built the tapered stroke rig starting in our two part series.

We want to see what you use the Tapered Stroke preset for. Show off your stuff, post it on Twitter and mention @schoolofmotion so we can check it out!

Rock on!

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Tutorial Full Transcript Below 👇:

Music (00:02):

[intro music]

Jake Bartlett (00:11):

Hey, this is Jake Bartlett for school of motion. And today I'm extremely excited to be walking you through the free to download tapered stroke preset. You might've already seen the two-part lesson that I have on school of motion, where I show you how to code this rig from scratch using expressions. But this preset takes all of the work out of the equation and puts it all into a nice little package with compact controls. That's super easy to use to download the preset. All you have to do is sign up for a free school of motion student account, and that'll give you access to not only this preset, but all of the other lessons, project files, plus a whole ton of other great stuff. So make sure that you go sign up for that free student account. Once you have the preset, you'll need to install it.

Jake Bartlett (00:48):

I have mine right here on the desktop, so I'm going to copy it. And the way I like to install presets is just to come into after effects, open up the animation presets and go to any existing preset, click on it, and then go to this menu and come down to reveal and finder. And that'll automatically take you to the presets folder for the version of after effects that you have open. I'll just go to the root preset folder and paste. Then I'll come back to after effects and go to that same menu and say, refresh list after effects will refresh. And then inside my animation presets, we have the tapered stroke. All you have to do to use it is make sure that you don't have any layer selected and DoubleClick. And just like that, we have a single shape layer, tapered stroke with a bunch of really powerful controls.

Jake Bartlett (01:30):

And you'll probably notice right away that one of the improvements of this preset over the expressions rig that I taught is that all of the controls are contained in a single effect instead of each one of these controls being its own expression controller. So it's just super neat and tidy. So let me show you what you could do with this preset. I'm going to bring out some texts that I made an illustrator and I'll right. Click and say, create shapes from vector layer. Now, just to be clear after effects, didn't just automatically trace a font for me. This is lettering that I traced by hand over top of a font in illustrator. So nothing crazy magical going on there to get these paths into my tapered stroke preset. All I have to do is select all of the paths. So switch to the pen tool, click on one path, hold command, and draw a box around all of them, then copy and I can turn that layer off. And then I'll open up the contents of my tapered stroke layer inside the contents. We have a master group and the duplicate groups, the master group is where I want to put my paths. Whatever you put in this group is the shape that the tapered line will take on. So I'm actually going to delete this master path, cause I don't need that line. And then with the master group selected I'll paste and then move these paths up to the top. Then I just want to recenter these paths in my comp.

Jake Bartlett (02:43):

And obviously something's not working right. If I close up my master group and open up the duplicate groups, these are the groups that are actually generating the taper. And if I open any one of them, you'll see that there's only one path inside each one of these groups. But my master group has 15. What I to do is match the duplicate groups paths to my master group. So I'm actually going to delete all of these duplicates except for the first one. Then I'll go into that taper group and duplicate this path until there are 15.

Jake Bartlett (03:13):

All right, now all of my text has the line applied and I'll make 10 groups again. Then I'm going to come to my effects, controls, and I'll turn the stroke with down. So it matches the original lettering a little bit more closely. And now that it's a little smaller, you can see a lot more clearly that this line is actually tapering off. I want to animate this text as if it was writing on. And if you're familiar with using trim pads, this rig is set up exactly the same way. So we have an end control and an offset control, and I can animate the right arm in the exact same way as if it was a regular shape layer with a single width stroke. The first thing I want to do is change the length of this taper. Cause right now it's being spread across the entire text.

Jake Bartlett (03:51):

So I'm going to come to my segment length, which is a percentage of how much of your paths are being stroked. So right now it's set to 100%. So a hundred percent of my pads are visible. If I turn this down to 50, only 50% are visible. I'm going to back this all the way down to probably around 5% next. I have the end value, which again is driving the trim paths end. So at 100%, it's at the front end of my text. So if I were to back this up, it's actually going in the wrong direction at 0%. I want it to be at the front end where the T is. And right now it's down where the IE is to fix that. I need to rearrange the order of my master group. And the trim is operator is working from top to bottom.

Jake Bartlett (04:33):

So right now the pads are actually in the reverse order they need to be. So I'm just going to quickly reverse the order of my paths so that it trims in the right order. This is a little bit tedious. So I'm just going to speed up the video. There we go. Now that it's in the right order, I can set a key frame on the end value at 0%, go forward a couple seconds and then change that to 100%, press you to bring up my key frames and easy, ease this a little bit, go into the value graph and make the motion just a little bit more dynamic. And then I'll preview.

Jake Bartlett (05:07):

And you can see that tapered line traveling along all the paths so far so good, but that's not actually revealing the text align is just traveling along it. Well, all I have to do is come to this trail. Checkbox enable that and it leaves the last segment untrimmed. So whatever the thinnest part of my taper is, we'll be left behind. I'm going to turn my taper out down a little bit, and this is how you can control how much of a taper you have. If it's set to zero, there's no taper at all. And if you set it to 100%, that's the maximum taper. So I want this to be a little bit less dramatic, something like that. And then we'll preview again and he can see that that trail is now being left behind. So we have a right on.

Jake Bartlett (05:52):

So that's a great, except that at the very end here, we still have this tapered segment. Fortunately, that's super simple to fix. All you have to do is come to auto, shrink out and click the checkbox. And now that tapered segment has shrunk down to be the same width as the trail. And that's exactly what auto shrink out does as the end value approach is 100%. The tapers shrinks down to be the same size as the trail. So you're left with a single width stroke. And if I back this up to the beginning, you can see that on the first frame, that line just appears out of nowhere and that doesn't look all that great. But if I turn auto shrink in on that line will grow from nothing to its full size by the time the entire taper is visible. So let me preview one more time.

Jake Bartlett (06:35):

And just like that with two key frames, I'm able to animate an entire right on with a tapered stroke that automatically scales at the front and tail ends, which is pretty crazy. If you think about it, this animation would actually be pretty complex to do without this setup. And I can very easily change the look of this right on all of these letters are their own paths. And right now it's set up to stroke sequentially. So the trim pads is behaving as if all of these pads were one single path. But if I click on my layer and I type in multiple, that will bring up all of the trim, multiple shapes properties for all of the trim paths on that layer. I'll just select all of them and change it from individually to simultaneously.

Jake Bartlett (07:17):

And now those pads are being trimmed individually. So I could bring this key frame back to make it all happen a little bit faster and then adjust my segment length so that the taper isn't so short, maybe you bring it up to 20% and then I'll play that back again. And I have a completely different looking right on, again, being driven by just two key frames. Some of the other controls are reverse taper, and that will do exactly what you would think. If I enable it, that will just reverse the direction of the taper. So could turn my stroke with down a little bit and maybe increase my taper out. And now if I preview that my taper is going in the opposite direction, I also have taper in and out and I'll zoom in here. So you can see nice. And clearly this is actually tapering in both directions.

Jake Bartlett (08:02):

And I have two separate controls that allow me to change how much each end of that line is being tapered. So it could turn the stroke with up and really taper each one of these ends. But as I do that, I want to point out these little notches in the edge of the taper. And this is a result of the way that the rig is built. And if you remember in the contents of this layer, there were the duplicate groups and we had 10 taper groups. You can think of the number of these groups as kind of the resolution of your taper. The more groups you have, the less noticeable these notches will be as you duplicate more and more groups, this taper is divided up into more and more segments and they're spread out evenly across that taper. And that's, what's driving this entire rig.

Jake Bartlett (08:39):

Something to keep in mind is that the more groups you have the longer it's going to take to render, because there are a whole bunch of expressions that are rendering in the background for every frame and every group. So what I typically like to do is work with around 10 groups until I'm ready to render. And then I'll duplicate the number of groups as times as I need to get that taper, to look super clean and then export. So it looks like I could duplicate this group a few more times, something around 25 looks pretty smooth, and then I'll play that back again. And now I have a totally different look. And finally, we have this offset control, which is driving the offset of the trim paths to make this a little bit clearer. I'm going to just make one more tapered stroke layer really quick. And I'm going to close this path and turn the segment length way down, maybe turn the stroke with down a little bit. And now it could just animate this offset property forever. And we'll continuously loop. One last thing to keep in mind is that if you have both auto shrink in and auto shrink out on your segment link, can't be greater than 50%. Otherwise it will only auto shrink in. So let me back this up to a zero, set a key frame, go forward, change it to 100%.

Jake Bartlett (09:48):

I'll turn my segment length down to say 60%. And then if I back up, you'll see that it auto shrinks in, but then it doesn't auto shrink out. The reason for this is because the auto shrink features are based on the segment length. So the auto shrink intakes 60% of that line to finish. And by the time it's reached 60%, the auto shrink out will have already wanted to start. So those two values are conflicting, but as soon as I drop this down to 50%, there's another line on each end for auto shrink in and out to work. I can play that back. And now I have a working animation, again, being controlled by just two key frames. So that is the tapered stroke. And I hope that you get a ton of use out of it. If you do use it, share it on social media and tweet us at school of motion so that we can see it. And if you liked this preset, I would really appreciate it. If you shared it on social media, it really helps us get the word out about school emotion. Thank you again so much for watching this video and happy animating