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Mastering Layers in After Effects: How to Split, Trim, Slip, and More

Jacob Richardson and Ryan Plummer

The Top Time-Saving Keyboard Shortcuts for Manipulating Layers in After Effects

Every second counts when you're editing video footage in After Effects, and keyboard shortcuts represent one of the most effective ways to increase your efficiency.

In our latest Quick Tip Tutorial from Birmingham-based motion designer, director and SOM alum Jacob Richardson, we show you how to use keyboard shortcuts to masterfully — and quickly — manipulate your video footage with layers in After Effects.

Video editing? Learn how to cut and slice, slip and move layers in After Effects now...


Please Note: While this Tutorial video shows keyboard shortcuts for macOS and Windows, in this article we use keyboard shortcuts only for macOS; if you use Windows, whenever you see CMD simply swap it for the Control key.



How to Cut a Clip in After Effects: Explained

Keyboard shortcuts can be incredibly useful when you're editing video footage and need to re-parent a layer, change animation direction, remove effects but maintain the layer... and the list goes on and on.

To split a layer, for example, all you need to do is press CMD + Shift + D.

Here are some more.


If you're like us, you've probably spent a fair amount of time dragging the in and out points of layers.

Not anymore. To trim a layer to the current time indicator:

  1. Select the layer(s) you want to trim
  2. Set your current time indicator to where you want to trim
  3. Press ALT + [ to create a new in-point

This will prove especially handy if your layer's in or out point extends beyond your composition duration.

Have you ever updated the duration of your composition only to find your layers don't stretch to the full length of the composition?

Here's a quick and easy three-step solution:

  1. Press CMD + A to select all layers
  2. Move the current time indicator to the end of the composition
  3. Press ALT + ] to move the out point of your layer to the end

Be sure to double check that you've unselected any layers you intentionally trimmed shorter.


If you're not looking to trim a layer, but rather move it in its entirety, you'll want to use this technique.

To move a layer's pre-existing in or out point to the current time indicator:

  1. Select the layer(s) you want to move
  2. Press the left bracket ([) to bring the layer's in point to the current time indicator; or, press the right bracket (]) to set the layer's out point

This will prove incredibly helpful if you have a lengthy piece of footage on your timeline and need to see the end of the shot — this is much faster than dragging the layer to the left until you reach the end point.


The term slipping isn't commonly known in After Effects, but if you edit video you'll be happy to learn our quick tip for expediting the process.

So what is slipping?

If you've already set a layer's edit and don't want to change its position in the timeline, you can essentially pull the layer left or right as if it were underneath the edit.

You'll notice that the video in the composition window is changing, since we're re-defining the in and out points from the layer's source — and not in the timeline.

To slip a layer in After Effects, use the Pan Behind Tool, which is automatically equipped when you hover over any portion outside the layer's in and out points.

When you're ready to slip the layer, simply click and drag left or right in the transparent portion(s) of the layer.

More After Effects Timeline Tips

Got a growing need for speed?

We'll show you how to use hotkeys to move a layer up and down in the timeline, and so much more.

Accelerate your workflow today with our Pro Tips list of After Effects timeline shortcuts.

How to Work Professionally in After Effects

Looking to get your foot in the door as a motion designer? Our mission is to break the down barriers standing in your way, and equip you for the work ahead.

We reached out to the top motion design studios across the country and asked their leaders what it takes to get hired. Then we compiled the answers into a free ebook.

For key insights from the likes of Black Math, Buck, Digital Kitchen, Framestore, Gentleman Scholar, Giant Ant, Google Design, IV, Ordinary Folk, Possible, Ranger & Fox, Sarofsky, Slanted Studios, Spillt and Wednesday Studio, download How to Get Hired: Insights from 15 World-Class Studios:

How to Get Hired: Insights from 15 World-Class Studios

Download Now

How to Stand Out Among Your Peers

No matter what role you're hoping to fill, you can enhance your value as a candidate by investing in yourself through continuing education.

While we (and others) do offer a ton of free content (e.g., tutorials like this), to truly take advantage of everything SOM has to offer, you'll want to enroll in one of our courses, taught by the top motion designers in the world.

We know this isn't a decision to be made lightly. Our classes aren't easy, and they're not free. They're interactive and intensive, and that's why they're effective.

In fact, 99% of our alumni recommend School of Motion as a great way to learn motion design. (Makes sense: many of them go on to work for the biggest brands and best studios on earth!)

Want to make moves in the motion design industry? Pick the course that's right for you — and you'll gain access to our private student groups; receive personalized, comprehensive critiques from professional artists; and grow faster than you ever thought possible.

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