How Long Does it Take to Learn After Effects?

Joe Camarata

Let's take a look at the process of learning this essential animation tool.

One question we get all the time at School of Motion is 'How Long Does it Take to Learn After Effects?' While I definitely understand the sentiment behind the question, the School of Motion team firmly believes that becoming great at motion design isn't about mastering any piece of software. That's part of it, sure, but ultimately a great motion designer is a storyteller and problem solver. You just so happen to use After Effects to solve the problems.

That detail may seem small, but it makes a world of a difference and unfortunately many artists learn this lesson the hard way after years of wasted time and energy.

So in the following article I am going to try to honestly answer how long it takes to learn After Effects and shed some light into the process of becoming a Motion Designer. I hope you find this to be helpful and fun.

How Long Does it Take to Learn After Effects?

If you sat down and devoted most of your working hours to learning After Effects you could confidently learn After Effects in about 8 weeks. This will only happen if you can focus on important motion design concepts (workflows, design, organization, color, etc.) and not flashy stuff that you will never actually use. Keep in mind that learning After Effects is a life-long commitment. There will always be more and more to learn.

While there are lots of options to learning After Effects (see below), our After Effects Kickstart course takes the guess-work out of learning After Effects. In the 8-week course you will actually be doing real-world projects and getting feedback from professional Motion Designers.

Here's a quick course overview from Nol Honig, a motion design master and the instructor of After Effects Kickstart.

Websites for Learning After Effects

Here are a few of our favorite sites for learning Adobe After Effects.

  • School of Motion is the world's best motion design school. At School of Motion we pride ourselves in learning essential animation concepts, not just the tricks. From free tutorials to in-depth courses we have motion design training for artists of every skill level.
  • Adobe After Effects is one of the more useful places to brush up on After Effects techniques. By going straight to the source you can learn essential concepts and discover new features directly from the Adobe team.
  • MotionWorks provides After Effects tutorials, tips, and training with a rich collection of free courses for users of all skills.  
  • Motion Array is one of the best places to have your After Effects questions answered. They also have a great collection of After Effects tutorials.
  • Creative Cow has been hosting After Effects content for decades now. The 'Cow' is a good tutorial resources full of all of the nerdy After Effects concepts you could want.
  • ActionVFX is another great place you can look to for quality After Effects tutorials. This is a VFX heavy company that can teach you all about how to composite action stock footage.
  • Video Copilot has a basic training resources section that can be really useful for beginners. Keep in mind that Video Copilot is VFX-heavy website. They also have a lot of free downloads and tools.

If you're looking for a fun challenge check out our 30 Days of After Effects Series. This course was designed to be a fun deep-dive into some essential After Effects concepts.

We also have a free 10-day course called 'The Path to MoGraph'. The series is a deep-dive into the real process of creating motion design in the 21st century. In the course you'll get a tour of four incredible motion design studios. You'll also get a quick guided tour of After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and more. It's the best place to start your motion design journey.

Tips for Learning After Effects

Now that you have a few amazing resources for learning After Effects. Here are some tips for becoming an After Effects master.

  • Design Before Your Animate: While you may be tempted to just hop in and start keyframing, the best motion designers create styleframes (artboards) before they open After Effects. This will allow you to think about the story your are trying to tell.
  • Don't Try to 'Hack' After Effects: There are a million tutorials out there about 'hacking' After Effects through 3rd party plugins, confusing workflows, and effects-heavy tricks. Don't fall for this.
  • Master the 12 Principles of Animation: Learn the 12 principles of animation that form the foundation of motion design work. Memorize them. You're going to use them every single day on your motion design projects.
  • Learn Photoshop & Illustrator First: Focus on your design skills by learning Photoshop and Illustrator first. In an ideal world you'll learn After Effects AFTER you learn these essential design applications.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice! Watch as many tutorials and pick up as many techniques as you can. Look for tutorials from industry professionals who have impressive portfolios or design.
  • Originality is Not the Goal: There is a false perception out there that every motion design project should be original. This is simply not the case. Use other people's work as inspiration for your projects and you'll see your work quickly improve. Good projects don't happen in a vacuum so always be on the lookout for new ideas to inspire you. There's no shame in trying to recreate something you find awesome, just be sure to credit your original source. If you want to learn more about this artistic approach check out 'Steal Like an Artist'. It will change your life.
  • Keep With It! Don’t give up after a few days. Your work is going to be terrible for a long time. After Effects is a beast of a program and will take time to learn. Don’t compare yourself to Beeple, it took him 11 years to get where he's at today.
  • Do More than VFX Tutorials: VFX tutorials are fascinating, but chances are you will probably create a heck of a lot more explainer videos than VFX shots early in your career. Instead of VFX, focus on learning the core concepts surrounding good motion design. If you ever need an explosion in your project there are plenty of tutorials out there to get you up to speed.
  • Learn the Skills Clients Are Looking For: Look and listen for what clients need. Focus on creating Explainer Videos, Commercials, Lower Thirds, Graphs, Graphics, Intros, Outros, Logo Animation, etc. These are far more likely to pay your bills.
  • Share Your Work: Sometimes sharing your work can be just as challenging as the work itself. It takes a special kind of vulnerability to share work online, but one of the best ways to get feedback is to get your work out there. You never know what projects may arise from a simple instagram share.

Sarah Beth Morgan is a great example of an artist who uses Instagram to share her work (featured above).

It's Time to Learn After Effects

I hope you're feeling inspired to take the dive into the world of After Effects. If you want to learn more about After Effects check out the tutorials page here on School of Motion. On the page you'll find 30 Days of After Effects along with dozens of other motion design tutorials.

If you're ready to take the ultimate After Effects challenge, check out After Effects Kickstart here at School of Motion. In the 8-week course you'll learn the essential skills you need to navigate and use Adobe After Effects.

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