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david van brink // Mon 2009.07.6 18:00 // {after effects}

AE: Feature Wishes

After Effects is just about my favorite software application. Very elegant model, and a clean & responsive UI.

But I think I can articulate two well-considered features that would boost its utility quite generally.

Feature Request 1: Foldering

When working with many layers, it would often be nice to group several of them together. To do this, I’d like to create a folder for them. This would help manage the grouped layers visually, and collapse to reduce them to a single line item.

You’d be able to apply effects to the folder. Maybe it’s called “groups”.

This is very similar to a precomp, of course, but you can work on the keyframes locally, instead of switching up and down the tree or using a split view.

Feature Request 2: Exportable Rigging Properties

Precomping is great, but it still doesn’t let you “rig” and “instance”. In my particular case, I’ve got two “claws” animated. They’re identical, but need to animate differently. Today, I need to duplicate the layers (either in the comp, or as separate precomps). Which is a shame, because I’d like to fiddle with the claw design, maybe later, and have my changes affect both!

So, this feature lets you expose a keyframable property on the comp, so that when it’s nested you can control it from the parent comp.

You can, if you’re overly clever, use Time Remapping to accomplish this a little bit. But I’d rather see clearly named “rigging” properties on my comp, itself, to animate.

(You could imagine also being able to add rigging properties to a folder, or maybe even any layer. This would be the same functionality as the “Slider” effect, but maybe tidier.)

As well as sliders and checkboxes, you could export “layer” properties, which pipe in a layer of the parent into the child comp. This lets you create an effect out of a comp. Presets can do this, a little bit, but in a flat, non-tweakable non-instanceable fashion.

I’ve heard one AE developer refer to a variation on this idea as a “Capsule”. The idea he described would require (I think?) you to save a comp into a separate file, before being able to reuse it. I think one of the brilliant project features of After Effects is that you get multiple timelines within one project. I like the One Big File workflow! (I wish 3d apps had this; as far as I know, they all work only on a single timeline per document.)


It would be nice to drop in a “reference” layer, that could repeate a different layer within the same comp to a different layer order. This would need to be post effects to be useful. It would let you perform different treatments on the same source… again, without a precomp.

It would also let your manage a folder, and still retain flexibility on its layer order.

To conclude…

After Effects is already quite strong in terms of “instancing”. That’s practically its main power. But it fails for purposes much beyond “tidiness”. “Rigging Properties” addresses this key omission.

Photoshop recently got “foldering”, and lets you set transfer mode and transparency on a group of layers. This is grand! I want it for After Effects.

Todd Kopriva // Wed 2009.08.12 23:3011:30 pm

Here’s a link to the feature-request form:

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