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A Guide to After Effects Menus: File

By Matt Nelson
After Effects

After Effects is the foundation of any motion design career, but how well do you really know it?

How often do you use the top menu tabs in After Effects? Chances are, you probably have a handful of tools you use, but what about those random features you haven’t tried yet? Things like “dependencies” or “copy with property links”? 
The truth is, After Effects is about more than keyframes and rendering. It’s about file structure, computational speed, workflow, and project management. A whole universe of robust, life changing tools and features are buried inside the top menu tab. In this tutorial, we’ll do a deep dive on the File tab. 

Really? An Article About the File Tab?

The File tab in After Effects is deceptively boring. You’re probably thinking, “Yeah duh. I use it to open a new project and save my files.” BUT there are a lot of amazing features built into this tab that you might not have tried. You have to look beyond the surface. In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to integrate Cinema4D, speed up your file saving process, organize your project structure, and a handful of other tricks. 

New > Maxon C4D File

If you're on any SOM forum, you've seen a variation of "How do I open a C4D file in After Effects?" One of the best things about Adobe After Effects is the built-in functionality with Cinema 4D Lite. To get started, simply go to File > New > Maxon Cinema 4D File.
The first thing you should do in C4D is set the frame rate. Make sure it matches the frame rate you have in our After Effects project. Otherwise, you could run into some complications when you begin integrating the C4D file into your project. Make sure you do this both in the render settings and in the project settings. 
Now that you’re set up in C4D, you can start fleshing out your scene and begin animating. 
The best thing about this workflow is that you can quickly preview your animation in After Effects. 
To do this, simply drag the C4D project file from your folder bin into the PreComp icon. To see how the final image looks,  change the Renderer tab under Render Settings to Standard (Final). 
What if you want to make adjustments to your C4D file? No problem. Head back into C4D Lite, make the necessary changes, and hit save. Give After Effects a second to load, and you’ll see the changes updated in your comp. 
Once you’re happy with your C4D project, you can take things to the next level by hitting the “extract” button in After Effects. This will pull out all of the camera and light info from your C4D file and convert in directly in your comp. 
Boom. Look at all of these beautiful keyframes pulled right into After Effects. Now you can combine 2D animation with a 3D camera to seamlessly blend assets and visual styles. 
There you go. Now you'll never have to ask how to open C4D files in AE ever again.

Increment and Save

Projects don’t always crash, but when they do, it’s usually right before a big deadline. That's why so many programs implement an incremental save feature.
Sometimes you misplace a file, change a precomp the wrong way, or a project gets corrupted for no good reason. To avoid losing your work, it’s important to frequently save new project files. There’s a better way than hitting “Save as” and renaming it manually. Instead, try using Increment Save. 
This is the most efficient way to make sure projects are backed up, without wasting time on the naming convention.  
This will automatically save my project file as a second version, and even update the project name. 
To save time, hit the hotkey:
  • Command+Option+Shift+S (Mac OS)
  • Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S (Windows). 
All of the project files will still be saved in the correct folder and the naming will be adjusted to show which version you’re on. 
As a general rule of thumb, you should increment save whenever you want to make an alternate version of a project, or you’re working on new revisions for a client. If you’re concerned about your system crashing, try increment saving more frequently, so you don’t lose progress on a corrupt project file. 
Using this method can save you a lot of time and headaches in the long run! 
Me when I use increment save. 


Have you ever opened someone else’s project file only to discover that ugly notification, “Missing project files”? 
Don’t be that person. 
In this section, I’ll show you three ways dependencies will help get your project files in tip top shape. By using these practices, you’ll be able to gather and send project files to anyone on your team in a streamlined manner. 

1 - Remove Unused Footage

If you’re packaging project files to send to someone else, you reduce the file size big time by removing the unused footage. So how do you do that?
To do this, go to file > dependencies > remove unused footage. This will clear away any unnecessary footage that’s bogging down your project. And honestly, it happens to all of us! It’s normal to experiment, gather reference materials and maybe even some proxy files. 

2. Reduce Project

If you want to take things a step further, select the highest precomp in your hierarchy (or your main timeline) and go to file > reduce project. This will delete any extra assets and precomps you’re not using. Just make sure to double check that you’ve selected all of the precomps you need. 

3. Collect Files in After Effects

Now that your project is all cleaned up, you’re ready to package everything to send. Since you don't want them to experience the dreaded "missing project files" window, you need to wrap everything up together. After Effects can gather all of the media elements like audio, video footage, pictures and illustrator files used in your project and place them all in a folder. To do this, go to file > dependencies > collect files. 
This will compile all of the necessary source footage and assets into one tidy folder that you can compress and send. Be sure to include font files in your folder when sending as well, since those tend to get overlooked. 

4. Replace/Reload Footage

Sometimes, midway through a project, you find yourself sitting on reels of reshot footage. How can you easily replace what's in your bin?
This function is perfect if you’re working with heavy amounts of video footage, and need to update the project with a fresh edit. To get started,  try right clicking the file inside your project window and selecting replace footage > file. Select the correct asset from the browser, and After Effects will reload the file immediately. 
When you do this, the video footage in your project will automatically update in all of your comps. This way, you can avoid the hassle of re-importing new video footage and trying to re-integrate it in the comps. 

Congratulations! Now you know a little more about After Effects 

As you can see, the File tab has more to offer than just “New project” and “Save.” You can seamlessly integrate Cinema4D files into your compositions and enrich your animation. You can manage your file structure in a way that’s clean and intuitive. And you can quickly reload new footage directly into your comps.
Remember: you’re not going to break anything by experimenting with new tools and tricks! Open a new project, and try playing around with these features to get a feel for them. It’s the most effective way to become familiar with all of the incredible tools hidden inside After Effects.

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