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How to Add Squash and Stretch to Animations More Efficiently

By Steve Savalle
After Effects

Animating shapes in After Effects is fun, but time-consuming. Wouldn't it be great if there were a few tricks to speed it up?

Motion Designers spend a lot of time animating different shapes. While this process can be time-consuming, rushing through often means creating lifeless animations. How do you quickly add personality to your shapes without sacrificing quality? Today, I’m going to show you a great trick to quickly animate rounded shapes in After Effects.  
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I'm about to show you my biggest trick to animating a perfect smear and distorted shape every time. As revisions and changes come in—and they will—this method gives you complete control to quickly adjust your timing and spacing.
By the end of this tutorial, you’ll know how to better control your shapes so you can focus on the basic principles of animation instead of fighting the software and endless quest for plugins.

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How to Add Squash and Stretch to Animations More Efficiently


Squares, not Circles

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In this tutorial, we're going to employ the Principles of Animation—namely Squash and Stretch, Anticipation, and Exaggeration—to animate a bouncing ball. It's a very simple shape and movement, but you'll see how a few changes to your workflow keep the entire process as efficient as possible.
First we are going to need a new comp:
  • 1080x1080
  • 24fps
  • 1 second long
Since we know we're making a circle, it's easy to just head to the Shape Tool and grab an ellipse...but that's not how we're going to work today. Instead, grab a rectangle. Trust me on this.
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Hold Shift as you drag out the shape to get a perfect square. Next, I'll click on my Layer, go to Positions, and separate those into X and Y.
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Today, we're only focusing on the Y position. I want to build up to that initial bounce, so I won't set keyframes right at the start. Finding the right frames for your animations takes time and experience, and you'll get better with practice.
I'll set a key frame, move forward 8 frames, then drag the object while holding SHIFT and adding another keyframe.
If I copy the first keyframe and paste it 8 frames later...
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Now I have a clean start and stop point.
To turn this square into a circle (we are bouncing a ball after all), I go to Rectangle Path and Right Click, scrolling down to Convert to Bezier Path.
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This gives us the option for Bezier Handles. If I add Rounded Corners and drag the radius...
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Now we have a perfect ball shape and a nice, clean bounce...which looks just terrible. Now that we have a strong foundation, let's build our animation.

Grab that Graph Editor

I'm going to click on my Y position and go into my graph editor. I like to have both my Reference Graph and Value Graph up. I can grab the Bezier Handles and start affecting the movement so it becomes a bit more natural
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A nice bounce should move quickly at first, ease at the top (get that sweet hang time), and then accelerate down with gravity. Now we have something that moves better, but doesn't look right. That means we need to add Squash and Stretch.
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Squash and Stretch

When you film something in motion, you likely capture motion blur. This occurs when the object moves while the lens is exposed. Since there is no lens capturing an image here, we have to employ a key Principle of Animation: Squash and Stretch.
When an object impacts, it should squash down. When it moves quickly, it should stretch. Since we already set ourselves up with a simple object and defined keyframes, this is going to be a snap.

Squash

The first thing I want to do is grab my keyframes for my Path and my Rounded corners. This is my circle in its perfect shape. Then, I'm going to squash it down.
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Once I'm satisfied that I can feel the Weight of the ball, I want to move a few frames forward so the ball is in the air. By copying the keyframes of the original shape and pasting them in the timeline, the ball is back to its true form.
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This is starting to look really good. Now it just needs a sense of speed. That's where the Stretch comes in.

Stretch (Smear if you're fancy)

So now we get into the keyframing,which is the best part. A smear should only last a frame or two, it’s going to act as our motion blur and really help sell the speed of this.
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Find the two frames where the ball is moving the fastest using the graph editor. Using a ruler to define the “backstop,” we are going to hit an imaginary floor and bounce back from it.
On the other end of the movement, pull the object all the way to the "floor" and have the rest snap into it, causing a slight squash at the end. After a few tweaks...
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This is just a quick sample, so make sure to check out the video for even more tips!

Check you out now!

And that's how it's done! Pretty straight forward, and you can layer this technique in so many different ways. Now it's your turn. Using the same tips I just shared, make your own short animation and share it on social media with #TearsForSmears, and tag @schoolofmotion and @ssavalle. We can't wait to see what you create!
If you’re looking to step up your AE game, or get a better handle on the foundation, be sure to check out Animation Bootcamp and After Effects Kickstart. Each course is packed with lessons to get you to your next level.