I dawned on the realization that teaching myself animation in After Effects limits my grasp on the program’s scope. Tinkering with the program did give me a useful working knowledge of the interface, however, it did not make me the autodidactic expert in After-Effects I hoped to be.
I turned to the After Effects I course offered by HOW Design University and Sessions College, which is part of the Certificate in Animation I, to finesse my rough-hewn animation skills. Educator Bruce Bicknell walks students through the process of animating rain in the first lesson. Since it provides an excellent introduction into animating in After Effects, I decided to share the After Effects tutorial. Let’s make it rain!
After Effects Tutorial: Animating Rain
Lesson by Bruce Bicknell
Quick Overview of Transform Properties
Creating an animation is all about making changes to layers over space and time. Every layer in a comp has five Transform properties. Go to your Timeline now and click on the triangle to the left of your layer to see the Transform tab. Then click on the Transform triangle to see the five properties: Anchor Point, Position, Scale, Rotation, and Opacity.
The Anchor Point is the point from which transformations occur. The other properties are pretty self-explanatory: You can change an object’s position, its size (scale), its rotation around an anchor point, and its transparency.
As you can see, for each property there is a corresponding value to the right. This column is called the Switches column, and this is where you edit the values of each property.
Make it Rain Exercise
This animation exercise requires you to import a layered Photoshop file as “Composition – Cropped Layers,” to animate various elements, and then to export an MP4 file. When you’re finished, you will feel comfortable with keyframing more than one property at a time and using several layers in a comp.
In After Effects, open up your RainyDays comp. You’re going to animate rain falling. First, turn off the visibility of the umbrella and cloud layers using the icon in the A/V column.
Then make two keyframes for the raindrop by clicking on the stopwatch , the first above the canvas, and the second below, so that the raindrop falls through the frame. The duration I chose is 1 second.
You’ll notice a motion path appears in the Comp panel as a dotted line between the two keyframes. Each dot corresponds to a single frame, so you can see where on the path each frame lies.
With the raindrop layer selected, go to Edit > Duplicate (Ctrl/Command-D) to duplicate that layer. Now hold Shift to select both position keyframes on the new raindrop 2 layer. You’ll see them appear as filled-in squares in the Comp panel. With both keyframes selected, you can click and drag either one from the Comp panel to reposition the whole layer. For now, place it right next to the other raindrop layer. You could do the same thing from the timeline, but it’s easier from the comp panel.
With both layers selected, your Comp panel should look like this:
Keep repeating this step until you have five raindrop layers spreading across the canvas. Next, click and drag some of the raindrop layers back on the timeline to offset them, so the drops aren’t falling at the same time.
If you hadn’t already guessed, you can also duplicate more than one layer at a time. Select all of your raindrop layers and press Ctrl/Command-D to duplicate all five layers at once. This will place the duplicates on top of the layers.
With the duplicates still selected, drag up in the layer stack to place your new copies at the top. Then you can click on the color box on the left of the Timeline to change the label color of the new copies. Move them down in the timeline to offset them.
You can keep repeating this until you have many drops that simulate rain.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration to spark your creativity, check out an example of rain animations below. Please note that this video is intended to inspire only—don’t copy it or treat it as gospel. Rather, think of it as a sample of the range possible within this project, and allow yourself to be challenged and stimulated!
This example was created by Sessions student Shannon Eary for this very exercise! Note how Shannon plays with layering the umbrella and the raindrops to create a pleasing liveliness. She also goes above and beyond by adding an animated character to hold the umbrella, which you don’t need to do, but you can see how multiple elements play off each other to really make the animation come together.