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Work Faster in After Effects with the Animation Menu

Matt Nelson

Create and Apply Presets, Control Your Keyframes and Sequence Layers in After Effects

The Animation menu has some of the most unique, helpful, and interesting tools available in After Effects. If you want to be a fast, efficient animator and take full control of the way your layers animate, mastering these menus is crucial.


The Animation menu is full of commands that reduce some of the more tedious steps in animating, and give you more control over the ways your layers behave when you move them. Today we’ll focus on some essential features in this menu:

  • Animation Presets
  • Keyframe Interpolation settings
  • Sequence and stagger layers

Save a Custom Animation Preset in After Effects

The presets built into After Effects are handy, but you can also create your own custom presets. Do you find yourself copying and pasting the same settings over and over? This is where Animation Presets come in.

Let’s say that I have an adjustment layer with some very specific effects and settings. This layer has just the right amount of blur, exposure, and turbulent displace, and looks exactly how I want it. Maybe I plan on using it later in the project, or I just want to have it handy down the road.


To save these custom settings for later, select all of the properties that you want to keep, and go up to Animation > Save Animation Preset.


This will bring up a window where you can officially name and save the preset. By default, After Effects should be saving to Documents/Adobe/After Effects CC (version) (Mac OS) or My Documents\Adobe\After Effects CC (version) (Windows). Name the preset, and you're good to go!


As long as you can fit everything onto a single layer, you can include almost any properties and keyframes you like into these presets - they're not just for effects!

Apply an Animation Preset in After Effects

Let’s imagine that later down the road, you want to pull up that custom setting. Simply select the layer to which you'd like to add the preset, and head up to Animation > Apply Animation Preset.


Now you navigate to the location you saved the preset, select it, and hit Open.


Your custom preset will instantly load up all the customized effects, properties, settings or expressions onto the layer you selected, saving you time and hassle - much better than copying and pasting!


In the next commands in this menu, Recent Animation Presets gives you easy access to several recently-used presets, and Browse Presets will open up Adobe Bridge to peruse visual previews of your presets.

These presets are also available (and searchable!) in the Effects and Presets panel. (You may need to restart After Effects or refresh the menu if you just created the preset.)

Why Isn't my After Effects Layer Moving the Way I Want It To?

When you need more control over the precision and direction of your keyframes, using Keyframe Interpolation is an absolute must. "Interpolation" is a fancy-sounding name for what After Effects does between any two keyframes: it changes from one value to another on a given property.

For instance, say that I have an object here in my timeline, which I want to move in a straight line from point A to point B. But after I've made a couple of Position keyframes, it moves in a weird line that's definitely not what I was intending....


If you’ve ever encountered this problem, you know how frustrating it can be. The key to working around this is to select your keyframes, go up to Animation > Keyframe Interpolation.

This pop-up gives you more control over the way After Effects interprets both the Temporal (time-related) and Spatial (position-related) changes in value on this Position property. For this example, I want my object to move in a straight line, so I’ll set the Spatial Interpolation to Linear.


If you want to animate a custom path that’s curvy and NOT along a straight line, try Bezier. You can edit the motion paths manually using the Pen tool.


The Temporal Interpolation options let you cycle through the different kinds of keyframes - linear, eased, etc. - to give you more control over how these values between the two keyframes change through time.

Sequence or Stagger Your Layers in After Effects

Let’s be honest: arranging layers in After Effects can be a chore. If you have dozens of layers that need to be offset or timed specifically, it can be a huge headache to arrange them one by one.

If you want to save time and instantly stagger layers, select them and go to Animation > Keyframe Assistant > Sequence Layers. This panel will give you the choice of how to time your layers exactly.


For this example, I want all of these layers to play one right after the other in quick succession, so I’ll uncheck the Overlap box and hit OK. They'll be arranged end-to-end, in the order in which I selected them.


Now that I’ve sequenced my layers correctly, everything lines up! And the great part about this is that the more layers you use, the more time you save. No more dragging and clicking long monotonous clips!

Look at how animated you've become!

As I’m sure you can see by now, the Animation tab has some killer features and gems in here. You can build out your own library of custom settings using the Animation presets, refine motion paths with keyframe interpolation, and save loads of time with tools inside the Keyframe Assistant. You'll never regret making some time to explore the other features inside this menu!

After Effects Kickstart

If you're looking to get the most out of After Effects, maybe it's time to take a more proactive step in your professional development. That's why we put together After Effects Kickstart, a course designed to give you a strong foundation in this core program.

After Effects Kickstart is the ultimate After Effects intro course for motion designers. In this course, you'll learn the most commonly used tools and best practices for using them while mastering the After Effects interface.

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