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This is a great little trick for seeing a panel in full screen. All you have to do is tap the tilda key (the little spanish looking character above the tab key on the keyboard), and the panel that your mouse is hovering above will automatically become full screen. Tap again to return to normal. Using this is perfect if you have a couple hundred layers in a comp, or if you want to watch your RAM preview full screen.
There are a lot of buttons on the bar below your Preview Panel, one of which is the Snapshot. This is super handy not just for taking a snapshot of your comp window, but every screen you have connected to your computer. You can use this as a screen capture tool, but only if you have After Effects open.
Render Region or Work Area
A lot of people forget about the render region or work area in the timeline panel. You can set these by pressing B and N (beginning and end) for the area that you want to render within your comp. This is handy if you just want to render out sections of a comp for proofing purposes, instead of rendering out full comps (especially when the entire render could take hours.)
If you do a lot of roto, and have tons of masks getting in the way, you can press this sweet little button to hide them temporarily. It is located at the bottom of the Preview Panel between your timecode and Guides button.
Always Preview This View
Right next to the viewing sizes dropdown menu, there is a button that when you press it down when in a multiple view situation, you will always preview a certain view, such as the Front view instead of the top, bottom, left, or right views. This can save some confusion when RAM previewing and its not doing anything if you have a top view selected that only shows where layers are.
Crop Comp to Region of Interest
I use this all the time, especially after I precomp a couple elements and that precomp becomes the exact dimensions of the comp it is in, when in actuality, the elements only take up minimal space. It is handy for organizing and making layers reflect their actual size in relation to how much space they take up.
Paint Panel Duration Parameter
A lot of times, people use the Eraser, Clone Stamp and Paint tools in After Effects thinking that they automatically paint on the entire clip. You actually have to set the Duration to Constant, and even then, it is only constant from the frame that you started writing on. Same goes for if it is constant, and you only want it on one frame. There are certain parameters that you need to set dependent upon your situation.
CS5 brought a nice goodie called Auto Keyframe. It does exactly that when pressed down... any parameter that you modify is automatically keyframed in, so you don't have to worry about remembering to set them ever again. This can get to be kind of frustrating as well though too.
Audio > Stereo Mixer
If you ever work with audio that only gets recorded into one channel, and nice little trick I use is to duplicate that track and then mess with the Left Pan and Right Pan sliders (depending upon which channel the original audio is in) until you can get the same audio cloned over to the opposite channel.
Browsing Blending Modes
# Messing around with some Blending Modes for your layer? Just toggle up and down by using the command Shift - (minus) or Shift + (plus). Makes things a lot faster.
Comp Search Bar
If you are notorious for naming your layers, but happen to be working in massive comps with hundreds of layers, you can use the little search bar next to your timecode to search for that layer name, or file name inside the timeline. It has saved my eyes many a late night instead of having to squint through stacks of multi-colored layers.
Typing in Timecode
Another quick way to jump around your timeline is to just key in your timecode. if you need 3 seconds in just click the timecode and type 300. If you need to go ahead 26 frames, just key in +26. If you need to jump to an exact time like 1:34:17 just type 013417... I think you get the idea.
If All Else Fails... PRECOMP
A lot of really annoying things can be fixed just by precomping. If an effect isn't working right, an Adjustment Layer isn't affecting another layer correctly, layers look like they are stacking out of order, just precomp and most of the time it will fix the problem. It gets kind of annoying, but I have saved my save many headaches just by making that my default fix for some very minuscule issues.
Audio Unchecked in Output Module Settings
I have rendered my comps without audio on countless occasions for the simple fact that I forget to check the Audio tab in my Output Module Settings. By default this is unchecked (no idea why this has never been changed), but make it part of your routine to check it, and double check it to make sure it is on. This little catch could save you hours.
Default Spatial Interpolation to Lineaar
The curse of wobbly keyframes has gotten us one time or another. There are ways to fix it in the timeline panel, but I have found if you go into your preferences under the General tab, you can default your Spatial Interpolation to Linear, and pre-empt the attack of those wobbly keyframes!
There is a (not-so) Secret tab of preferences that you can access by holding Shift and navigating to your preferences. Beware, some of these options in here can mess around really heavily with the way AE works.
This is a not-so-secret, although usually overlooked aspect of your panels. In the corner on some of them, there are individual options for the type of panel it is. Explore these and you might find some interesting things that you didn't realize you could set, customize, or utilize to make your life a little easier.
There are some things about After Effects that slip our minds every now and again. Little shortcuts that are able to shave off five seconds here, and a minute there, it can greatly incease your workflow and allow you to work smarter and faster. Some of these you might know, and you probably have some of your own to contribute, so let us know in the comments what your favorite tricks are in your workflow.
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