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The Best Free Tools for Learning After Effects

After Effects

5 min read

After Effects can be an absolute monster to learn at first or a straightforward tool you can learn-as-you-go to create great video and animation projects.

While the outcome applies to your creative approach, determination and familiarity with using Adobe’s other products, it can also heavily rely on your support system; the tools and resources you have at your disposal to effectively learn the programs and its counterparts.

I’ve been diving more and more into After Effects recently, so I’d like to tell you about some of the most powerful free resources and tools I’ve used to step up my After Effects game, and become a better producer, animator and creator.

Creative Cow and Other Online Forums

If you’ve ever searched for a solution to a particular After Effects problem (or Premiere, Photoshop, or general video/design/photography predicament), you’ve probably visited Creative Cow’s website (https://www.creativecow.net/) or forum at least once.

When it comes to solving specific issues that deal with frame rates, multiple-composition mixups and all-around After Effects features, Creative Cow’s website and forum have probably covered it all.

I’m by no means an After Effects guru, so when it comes to weird technical issues that can—and do—come up when using the program, I can almost guarantee there’s a Creative Cow article or forum thread that covers that exact issue; sometimes there are even screenshots leading to a solution. To boot, they even have their own series of video tutorials and walkthroughs for all things production across the Adobe suite of products.

Your Professional Network and Chat Channels (Slack)

Your most valuable asset to master After Effects and the software-side of video production may be lying directly under your nose. I’m talking about the folks you know: the creative teams you’ve traded information with, the freelancers you used to collaborate with, and the open (ahem… Slack) channels you’re a part of.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gained both nuggets and entire chickens of information from peers within my existing network.


What’s most valuable about learning from your existing connections, and specifically chat channels like Slack, is that you’re not reviewing a stream of After Effects questions from several years ago, or watching tutorials that may be dated or no longer applicable.

By checking your communication channels on a regular basis, you can see an overview of common production problems and After Effects quirks people within your space are dealing with today… in addition to solutions to those problems. It’s a win-win for everyone when that information is out there.

After Effects Plugins and Templates

Some of the most valuable tools I’ve used in learning the After Effects program are those that physically give you a foundation—a playground, really—to learn general concepts. We’re talking downloadable After Effects plugins and templates.

These are the useful plugins and After Effects templates that are provided for free (usually a limited selection) and for pay by an onslaught of providers, including Rampant DesignMotion Array and hundreds of others. With some tutorials or README files, these After Effects plugins provide the right direction to create something neat on your own within the program.

What’s great about these plugins and scripts isn’t the end product you create by going step-by-step with a template, but rather the core concepts and techniques within After Effects you learn in the process.

For example, a basic motion graphic title template will teach you how to take X provided title, control various adjustments, and edit expressions and keyframes between compositions in a single project. This helps you get familiar with how this affects that, which is a big early hurdle in learning After Effects.

YouTube After Effects Tutorials

If you have any questions about After Effects’ features and capabilities (that aren’t specific to your project, of course), you can find a step-by-step video walkthrough on YouTube.

The best thing about this is that the users or companies that create these tutorials almost always have a complete channel filled with dozens upon dozens of other tutorials for After Effects, as well as other programs in the full suite of Adobe products.

There’s a reason they do this, and it only serves to benefit you—the end user. If you’re making, say, an animated “explainer” style video, you can expect to spend a lot of time in Illustrator and Premiere, in addition to After Effects. If you’re compiling a series of interviews about a killer product or testimonial video, you’ll be switching back and forth between Premiere, After Effects, and Audition.

By covering the gamut of Adobe video products in their tutorials, these uploaders create a one-stop shop for almost everything you need to know to become proficient with After Effects. Go ahead and subscribe to them for updates (show your love; they helped you out for free, after all).

YouTube tutorials (and yes, other free video tutorials around the web) serve as a form of continued learning. By checking out a tutorial channel, you’ll likely find an entire catalog of new features and techniques to ramp up your After Effects skills.

While Creative Cow and other forums are great for solving specific or even niche issues (“My Adjustment Layer’s effects aren’t applying to its child layers in the latest update… here’s a screenshot of my timeline; what am I doing wrong?”), YouTube provides a venue for exploration in the program.

All of the above are incredibly valuable tools and resources for both beginner and advanced After Effects users. Jumping into After Effects blind for the first (or hundredth) time can be an overwhelming experience.

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information online you can use—for free—to resolve specific issues and expand your knowledge of the software. So, stop reading this and go get learning, creating and loving what’s possible with After Effects!

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Published on May 3, 2018


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