The Beginner’s Guide to After Effects: Tutorials & Templates to Get Started

Written by:  Liam McKay 

After Effects is a powerful bit of kit that is capable of some hugely impressive things when it comes to the world of Motion Graphics, VFX, 3D, and Animations. However, if you are new to AE, don’t be put off by the sheer scope of what this app can do, because it’s actually surprisingly comfortable to get started with some of the simpler aspects of using AE, all helped along by a friendly and familiar interface.

So why would we use After Effects, and what is the difference between After Effects and the other video editor from Adobe called Premiere Pro? In it’s most basic terms, After Effects is a lot like the ‘Photoshop’ of the video world, allowing you a lot more options and control to edit or manipulate footage and animations, whereas Premiere Pro focuses more on piecing together footage, titles, and music to tell a story, After Effects provides all of the sparks and smoke for the action scenes!

Before we get into the list, it has to be said that Adobe does a surprisingly great job of explaining the very basics of After Effects with a fantastic series of videos on their own website where you’ll quickly start to understand how the interface works, so if at any time you find yourself lost with anything it’s definitely worth at least glancing over the official help guide to find your feet.

If you’ve ever had the need or the urge to try your hand at some video effects, or motion graphics here’s a complete rundown of concise, easy to follow video tutorials along with templates and resources with the goal of getting you going with Adobe After Effects for the very first time, each collected into handy categories for quick reference on specific points of AE.

Interface, Windows & Panels

Most versions of After Effects operate with the same basic interface layout from the moment you launch the application. In very simple terms you can break the main interface down into 4 key sections. You have your Project Files i.e. your media files, footage, and images etc on the left. Your Composition Window sits in the very center, which is essentially a ‘live view’ of what’s happening as you make edits. Over on the right side you basically have your Effects and at the very bottom of your screen you’ll see your Timeline.

Basic Introduction to the After Effects Interface

Panels & Windows Introduction in After Effects

30 Essential Keyboard Shortcuts in After Effects

The Timeline

Those of you that are comfortable with graphics editing may be used to the idea of using layers to build up a piece of work, and thankfully something similar exists in After Effects. When working with video or motion graphics inside AE you still have the ability to stack layers just as you would expect, but this all happens via a timeline where it is just as important to control the duration of your layers or effects, and then control what happens to them and for how long. Changes made to your layers will be ‘recorded’ via your timeline, and then you have the to play with the timing of those parameters. This is where your battle with AE can be won or lost, so make sure you grow comfortable with your timeline window.

Effects, Plugins & Presets

Where after effects starts to prove itself as the ‘Photoshop for Video’ is with the various effects and plugins that are available. Lots of fantastically powerful effects are included from scratch when you install AE, ranging from basic controls such as Brightness & Contrast all the way up to advanced smoke and particle effects. Best of all there is a fantastic community of creators that support the app with a wealth of 3rd party plugins, tools and presets too — so there’s always an ever evolving eco-system to help push your work to the next level, or make things easier for you.

There’s no real starting point or introduction with effects as there are an incredible number of possibilities, so in order to become comfortable with effects you need to really need to find some time explore and experiment, or take a glance at some of the videos we’ve collected below to give yourself a head start.

Presets can come in handy if you want to use ‘ready made’ styles, effects or transitions that you can just apply to your footage in an instant, with the values or controls already defined by the preset maker. These work almost like the idea of using ‘filters’ on Instagram for example. Or you can of-course make your own presets to create a re-usable style or effect that you’ve created.

Templates are complete projects or compositions that you can open in AE and use as the base of your project, then by simply dropping in your own footage or editing a text layer or two you have a custom, high quality end result without having to put hours of work in.

Here’s some useful explainer videos and resources to give you an insight into how effects and presets are applied, and what plugins can be installed to step up your vfx.

Built-in Effects in After Effects

10 Best Built-in Effects in After Effects

Quick Snow Particle Effect

Handwritten Text Reveal with Stroke Paths

Text Effects in After Effects

Motion Tracking in After Effects

Recommended After Effects Templates for Beginners

11-LOOPER Animated Gradients
LOOPER is a pack of stylish animated gradients to add a modern ambience to any project. Perfectly looped and compatible with After Effects, there is also a flat collection of PNG files included for graphic designers too.11-LOOPER Animated Gradientsby TemplateZuu in GraphicsSave

Energy Opener for After Effects
Energy Opener is a quick and energetically animated After Effects template with dynamic text animations and creative transitioning effects. It’s so easy to use, simply edit the text, drag and drop in your media and hit render.Energy Openerby Motion Imperia in TemplatesSave

Orange and Teal LUT Pack
Orange & Teal LUT Pack by Navpreet Singh gives you cinematic style footage using LUT’s (look up tables) – which essentially takes the hard work out of color grading your project using the magic of maths. Quick and easy beautiful looking footage.Orange and Teal LUTs Packby Navpreet Singh in Add-OnsSave

Light Leaks Generator for After Effects
Light Leaks Generator is a great tool for After Effects that allows you to generate several looks in a single template. This template features three separate light leaks layers with full control of color, frequency, contrast and more. You can control each parameter quickly and easily.

Fast Typo Opener
Fast Typo Opener is a type focused video opener template made without the use of plugins, so it’s a very easy project to quickly edit to make it your own in seconds, created by Red Moon Studio.

Lines — Video Brush Pack
Lines is essentially a pack of video files that can be dropped into your project to provide easy, fun brush animations without having to get too involved in the controls. This pack contains 13 unique brush stroke animations, each having two different line styles; a clean and a rough version to allow you to set the tone of your animation.Lines – Brush Stroke Animation Packby iamrossmason in GraphicsSave

Cinematic Slideshow
Cinematic Slideshow is a fantastic way to show off a collection of images in a slideshow, or you can use it as a dynamic intro for your video. It includes a beautiful parallax effect and it boasts quick render times due to the fact that no plugins are used or required.Cinematic Slideshowby mdlabdesign in TemplatesSave

Hand Gestures
These fun animated Hand Gestures allow you to add real hands to your touch-screen app demonstrations. The pack includes 13 gestures and can be used in either Photoshop or After Effects.Video Gestures [ Front View ]by LazyCrazy in TemplatesSave

Masking

When it comes to masking, what you are in essence doing is using shapes to ‘cut out’ part of a layer allowing the layers below to be seen through the shape you make. Of course it’s a whole lot more advanced than that once you dive into all of the things that masks can do, but for those that are very new to masking you basically use shapes to hide and reveal parts of a layer or piece of footage. These are great for transitions and reveals and anyone using After Effects extensively will be likely be using masks on almost every project.

Basic Masking in After Effects

All About Masking in After Effects

Masking Using Shapes and Alpha Matte

Animations & Keyframes

One of the fundamental parts of After Effects is understanding animations and keyframes. Once you realize what these little guys do, everything starts to click into place when it comes to motion and time. Keyframes mark a set of values at a specific point in time, essentially the main trigger points for your animation, defining how something looks at that point in time — then AE will do it’s magic to smoothly fill in the gaps between your main keyframes, creating an animation.

You can control anything with Keyframes, so you could decide an object’s position, it’s opacity or even various effects all at once — basically anything you can apply to a layer can also be controlled with keyframes, allowing you to alter the values over time in order to animate a specific parameter. Once you have your main keyframes in place you can even alter the velocity that those actions take place by editing the easing, making your animations softer and more realistic.

>5 Simple Animations in After-Effects You Need to Learn
Introduction to Keyframes + Easy Ease / Graph Editor

Adjustment Layers

Adjustment layers are not unique to After Effects, so if you are familiar with the idea of adjustment layers then you’ll be happy to see them here in AE too. Adjustment Layers are a great way to apply effects or properties to multiple layers at once, so instead of having to go through and copy / paste settings individually, you would simply apply all of those properties to your adjustment layer which would in-turn apply those properties to the multiple layers below that you want it to affect. This can save you all sorts of time and effort when you are looking to apply global effects to your project and it’s particularly useful when color-correcting your footage.

Basic Demonstration of Adjustment Layers in After Effects

Color Correction & Adjustment Layers

After Effects Basics from a Pro

There is a fantastic couple of videos from Peter McKinnon who is a professional photographer and cinematographer where he runs through all of the aspects we’ve mentioned in this article all at once, plus a whole lot more. A great way to take in all of the AE basics from a single voice.

After Effects Basics 1

After Effects Basics 2

Taking After Effects A Step Further

So there we have it, a quick rundown of some of the main basic starting points in After Effects that will guide you when getting started, obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything that you can achieve with AE, but if you get these foundations right, and learn to combine these skills and carry them on to more advanced AE features you’ll be well on your way to success. If you’re feeling brave, or you feel like you’ve already got a good handle on these After Effects basics, here are some slightly more advanced tutorial makers on YouTube to finish that are really worth a follow if you are interested in learning AE at a more advanced level: