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Getting Started with Animating Vector Assets in After Effects

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Adobe Illustrator and After Effects go hand in hand when creating classic vector motion graphic design. In this tutorial, we will walk through the basic process of how to prepare an Illustrator file, and how to then properly import & animate the file in After Effects. This tutorial also covers basic animation principles to achieve smooth and eased animation for vector objects.


Step 1: Set Up Your Illustrator File

To properly animate the Illustrator file in After Effects, all assets must be separated into their own individual layers. It is also important to name each layer appropriately as to not become confused layer in After Effects.

Make sure the Document Color Mode is set to "RGB Color" (this ensures colors will be accurate when importing to After Effects. If RGB Color is not checked, you may notice a difference in color hues.)

Then save your Illustrator file as a *.ai file.


Step 2: Import Illustrator file into After Effects

File>Import file (or Command/Option + I).

Make sure "Composition" is selected rather than "Footage." This ensures the Illustrator file will not import as a flattened image, but rather with your named layers. For animation purposes, this is very important.


Step 3: Animation

The first step to animating any asset is to set the anchor point. The anchor point affects how the object will move once animation keyframes are set. For the typography at the top of the page, "Learn. Create. Discover." the anchor point was moved to the top-center of the lettering. This allows the letters to flip down from the top. Also, make sure you mark the "3D" option, as we are using z-space in this animation.

The shadow layer position (the blue text duplicated in the back) is animated from its position.

For the Aetuts+ logo animation, each anchor point was moved to the bottom edge of each letter. This allows for a unique animation, where the letters give off the illusion of having a "weight" to them as they animate on to the screen. For this animation, the position and rotation of the letters were animated and eased.

This animation overshoots the space allotted in the composition. In this case, the letters need to stay within the ribbon space. Combining the letter layers into their own composition allows a single mask to do the trick. The mask needs to be present on the composition, and not the individual layers.

Moving on to the laptop animation, the same principles apply. For the base of the laptop, the anchor point was moved to the center to properly animate the scale. Here the scale was animated (0%--100%) and eased. In this case I overshot the scale in the middle to 104% to give a "bounce" effect as the laptop scales in, then out. Note: make sure the Continuous Rasterization option is clicked for all vector objects.

The lid of the laptop was made 3D to make the "flipped open" animation effect, with the anchor point at the base of the lid.

In this case I made the opacity 0% in the first frame of the animation and then 100% int he second frame to ensure the layer would not be visible until the beginning of the animation. The same "bouncing" technique was used to show the laptop flipping in, and was eased.

For the brain, the opacity was simply animated from 0--100%, and the cursor's position was animated. This is entirely up to the artist on how this looks, but I chose to have the cursor come in from behind the laptop lid layer.

There are many ways to reveal the text and graphics at the bottom of the composition, and in this case I decided to start the animation with the left piece of the ribbon. After moving the anchor point to the center of the image, I animated the scale and rotation. I made sure to ease the rotation animation as to avoid any abrupt movement. The other part of the ribbon will animate its position across the screen. Animate a mask reveal for the text that grows alongside the ribbon as it crosses the screen.

As we did for the previous text at the top of the screen, make sure to lastly animate the blue text behind the original text on the Y-axis of the position (and don't forget to ease!).


Step 4: Secondary Animations

To avoid any static periods of time. secondary animations can be added. Secondary animations help keep the piece interesting by using subtle movement. In this piece, I chose to animate the retro decorations on the right and left sides of the AeTuts+ logo. The anchor point was moved to the top of each vector, and the rotation was animated. Again, the technique of "bouncing" the keyframes allows a move believable animation as the vectors rotate downward. The animation was reflected from the left to the right to support the symmetry of the piece.

The other secondary animation is even more subtle. The center circular ribbon is constantly rotating. It is important to rotate the circle on the center axis, and to only rotate the circle by a few degrees. This animation is not meant to draw too much attention to the view, but to only add a little more movement to the overall piece.

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