School of Motion

Saving and Sharing After Effects Projects

  • By Sara Wade
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Saving and Sharing Tips for After Effects

You know that feeling when you open up an old After Effects project and you see dreaded color bars?  

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After Effects Missing File Color Bars

Yeah, we’ve all been there. You can try using “Find Missing Footage” but we all know it’s far from a magic pill.

Let’s fast forward through the repetitive task of locating each piece of missing footage in the project panel. Maybe you don’t even know where to start because you are faced with a project panel full of footage that was from the last thirteen iterations of the project. What a mess!

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Maybe you are super organized as you work and dutifully delete every old bit of footage from the project the second you take it out of the comp. Maybe I’m batman?...

More likely, you get a lot of rush changes that have to be done yesterday. As a result you focus on getting the render out and vow to worry about file organization later. Three weeks later when the client needs to add yet another ad disclaimer you're screwed...

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Well friends, I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. After Effects has some great little tools for organizing and archiving your files that will make future you want to travel back in time to hug current you.   


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Organizing your files 

After Effects has some hidden gems for taking that project that’s been through 46 revisions back to the clean organized state we all dream about. These amazing tools can be found in the “File”  >> “Dependencies” menu. 

Collect Files 

This might be my favorite organization feature in After Effects. This swiss army knife of commands will go out and find every bit of footage used in the project. It will copy them all to one place and organize them according to your project panel folder hierarchy.

Long story short, you can make your entire project organized in just a few mouse clicks. Badass.  

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Consolidate All Footage 

Ever end up with multiple sources for the same clip? This tool will fix that.

Consolidate All Footage finds redundancies in your project source files and removes the copies.

Have two identical copies of a company logo in your project? This tool will delete one and source them both to the first (if the interpret footage settings are the same for both). If they are different, After Effects is going to assume you have a good reason for it and leave well enough alone.   

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Remove Unused Footage 

This does just what you might expect. It removes all those references to imported source files that maybe didn’t make the cut. If it’s not used in a comp, out it goes. 

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Reduce Project 

This one is super awesome for sharing parts of a project. Say you have a whole package and you want to share just a comp or three with another collaborator.

You can select the comps you want to share and this tool will remove everything not used in the selected comps from the project. Just make sure to save a copy, this way you don’t reduce everything for yourself too.

  • Select the comps to be shared
  • Reduce Project
  • Collect Files
  • Send to the next Motion Designer      
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Archiving your files 

Did you finish the project and now you want to save it somewhere on the “just in case” hard drive? I suggest using a combo move. No, I don’t mean up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start, select, but this is almost that good. 

First, use “Remove unused footage” to neaten up your project. Next, go to “Collect Files” and check out the first pull-down menu. My favorite is the “For All Comps” option. But if you want to pull out one comp to pass on to the next person the “For Selected Comps” option is for you.

If you are one of those Motion Designers with a really organized render queue there’s an option for you too. 

Once you hit the “Collect” button, After Effects will ask you where you want to save it. This is the time to create a fresh clean folder for the project. After Effects will work some magic and then present you with a freshly saved version of the project. This new project will only contain the footage files needed for the project. Boom! You are now an organized Jedi.   

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Time Travel In After Effects 

Saving Backward 

We don’t love to do it, but sometimes you need to be able to go back to older versions.

Well this can be a little bit trickier than you might think. Good ole After Effects will only let you save back one version. So if you need to go from CC 2017 back to CS6, you’re going to have to install previous versions to get all the way back. 

This is of course trickier in the age of the Creative Cloud, so instead I recommend beginning your project in the old version to avoid back-saving if possible. 

Opening Older Versions 

This is a bit less complicated than saving backwards, but it’s still not quite as easy as you might hope. If you’ve been in the game for a while you might have projects that are too old for your current version to open. In that case, you will need to install an older version of After Effects. 

Lucky for you, we have created a handy dandy cheat sheet for all the backwards and forward compatibility you might need. You can download it below!

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Download our After Effects Version Conversion Reference

Download Version Conversion Guide

Collaboration Tools 

If you're like me, you frequently collaborate with people that are not in your immediate physical location. There are tons of tools for collaborating from afar. Here's a few of our favorites: 

Cloud Storage and Collaboration 

The “big three” of cloud data storage options are Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. They are all basically big virtual hard drives for your project files. You can sync between different systems (all three will sync between iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows), invite other users to collaborate, and they are all free to use up to a certain amount of storage. Use up the free storage and you can select from various levels of paid plans. 

Google integrates tightly with Google apps. Likewise, OneDrive integrates well with Microsoft Office apps. Dropbox doesn’t make any special apps like those, so that can be a good or bad thing, depending whose apps you are most down with. Pick one, set it up, add your files, invite your collaborators, and voila… everyone can see all the things. 

Creative Cloud Libraries 

I think it would be pretty difficult to find a motion designer who doesn’t use Adobe software. Given that, the Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries can be a great collab tool. They let you share things in libraries, but in an Adobe tools centric way. You can share brushes, images, videos, fonts, templates and other assets for a specific project, team, company, or client. 

The thing that makes this extra cool is that you can access the shared libraries right inside your favorite Adobe apps. You can link assets in shared libraries, so that if one team member updates an asset, everyone else working with that library can then update it automagically. 

You can also use Adobe libraries without sharing just to keep track of your own favorite groups of assets like color palettes, font combos, and animation clips. These libraries are all integrated with Adobe stock assets so if you find yourself needing something you don’t already have, you can buy it from Adobe’s stock collections. Find them in After Effects menus Window >> Workspace >> Libraries.   

We'll do a tutorial about how to use these in the future. 

Hopefully you feel inspired to organize your projects in the future. An organized Motion Designer is a happy Motion Designer. 

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