Getting started with After Effects (CS4, CS5, CS5.5, CS6, & CC)

I see evidence that a lot of people just dive into the deep end with After Effects (and other creative software). I understand the temptation to get straight to doing the cool stuff, but I always find myself guiding people back to learning the basics first because–well, to stick with my metaphor–I want people to swim, not flail and drown in the deep end. Hence this post, which I hope will give beginners a good idea of how to start learning After Effects.

1. Overview
Watch this brief video overview of the basic workflow, fundamental concepts, and most used parts of the user interface.

Then read this brief introduction to the basic workflow and fundamental concepts in After Effects. This page covers much of the same information as the video, but it also gives links to additional resources for more information.

2. Hello, world.
Take a few minutes to follow the step-by-step instructions in this tutorial. It’s just a quick warm-up that takes you from nothing to creating a simple movie. You won’t learn many details, but you’ll break the ice and get a sense that this After Effects thing isn’t going to be so hard, after all.

Next, follow along with this very simple set of three videos, which show you the basics of importing media, trimming footage, animating with keyframes, adding effects, and exporting to Vimeo, YouTube, and other common formats using Adobe Media Encoder.

3. Quick tours introducing the fundamentals
You’ll see that on this page there are a few links to other resources that give a general overview of what After Effects is and the basics of how it works. I especially recommend the excerpt from Chris and Trish Meyer’s After Effects Apprentice and the excerpt from the After Effects Classroom in a Book, both of which guide you by the hand through creating some simple animations, explaining things along the way. Actually, I recommend those books in their entirety for beginners.

If you prefer video training, then I recommend the Classroom: After Effects CS5 video series by Adam Shaening-Pokrasso.

4. Extensive courses that get into some details
Once you’ve gotten a general sense of where things are and how the software works, you can really dig into a set of video tutorials that walk you through the basics.

I recommend starting with this set of video tutorials provided by Adobe, Andrew Devis’s After Effects Basics series, or Andrew Kramer’s Video Copilot Basic Training series, all of which are free.

There are also many free video tutorials from the After Effects CS6: Learn By Video series and After Effects CS5: Learn By Video series by Angie Taylor and me, a DVD and book series created specifically to teach the basics of After Effects.

This overview page also serves as a good starting point, and this set of tutorials is continually being updated by folks here at Adobe.

5. Real exploration and creativity begin, now that you have the tools
After you’ve gotten a good grounding in the fundamentals, I encourage you to just play and create, frequently consulting After Effects Help to learn about more and more features and possibilities. Whenever you have a question, try searching for an answer using the After Effects Community Help search. If you can’t find an answer yourself, come on over to the After Effects user-to-user forum.

6. Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Even after you’ve learned the basics, there are still some things that might be confusing. I recommend that everyone read through this set of frequently asked questions and answers, or at least watch these short FAQ videos.