So, you want to learn After Effects. Well, there’s no easy way to do it so I’ll go over the best way to get started.
Get a book.
I know that the four letter word “book” is old school, but still, there’s no replacing a good paperback reference. There are many books available today that cover the entire program from start to finish. From every effect, to every blend mode and the transform order (complicated stuff) even how to pull a good key, there’s just no substitute for reading about the technique. Another great feature is that you can go back to those pages any time you need to brush up on your skills. Yeah, the technology can change constantly but the technique is sound and won’t change any time soon.
Watch a tutorial.
Need to know how to add sunglasses to an actors face after the shoot has wrapped? Maybe you need to fake an explosion? Got to remove those cables from every outdoor shot on 5 minutes of footage? Chances are, there is probably a tutorial for that out on the net. Tutorials are great since you get to watch the artist build the comp from start to finish. They will usually cover all of the issues you can run into, and you can even pick up a few workflow tips along the way since most of the guys making tutorials have been using After Effects for quite some time.
Download a template.
One of the best ways to learn cool techniques is to have access to other artists projects. That is easy to do if you already work in a shop, or know quite a few people using after effects. But, what if you are just starting out or are a student in school? Well, luckily, there are templates that are available for free. You can download the template, and reverse-engineer the project. Every artist is different, so what you thought was a complicated effect might actually be really simple and easy to execute.
The drawbacks of all of these techniques.
Books are expensive and most people don’t like to take the time to read. Tutorials are often one-trick ponies that end up on everyones reel. Free templates are great to reverse engineer but are usually good for only one type of effect. The best option would be to use all three. Get a great book on After Effects. Look on Amazon, there are plenty to choose from. Find a great site for tutorials and watch several each day. Download some free templates and reverse-engineer them.
If you apply each of these techniques, you should be well on your way to learning after effects and becoming a very capable motion graphics artist.