The best Adobe After Effects tutorials for beginners
Want to learn Adobe After Effects
from YouTube tutorials, but no idea where to start?
You’ve come to the right place.
First things first:
How NOT to learn After Effects
So, you want to do [X] and you know After Effects does [X]. You search YouTube for ‘After Effects how to do [X]’. You follow step by step instructions, and if you’re patient with a good tutorial, you’ll be able to do [X]. Hoorah!
You repeat this ten or twenty times, and find yourself thinking “hey, I kind of know After Effects. Yay me.” But then you spend the next year searching for all the little things that weren’t in those tutorials – how to move anchor points, see hidden layers, draw a shape instead of a mask... if you’re anything like me, there’ll be holes in your knowledge big enough to drive a CGI truck through.
This is bit-by-bit learning. It’s how I learned, and trust me when I say it’s a Bad Idea.
A better way to learn
What you need is an overview of the program – what it does and how to learn it step by step. You need a good beginner’s course. This will involve learning some things you don’t immediately need, which might seem like more work for you now, but Future You will thank you for learning this stuff.
However, there are many, many tutorials, so how do you choose one that’s right for you?
First, a few general tips:
- Learning should be fun, so find someone who isn’t annoying and stick with them. There’ll be lots of tedious button clicking and frustration, so your best antidote to this is to find a tutor – or better yet, several tutors – who make you enjoy learning.
- Think of what you want to learn – Ae is a huge program with many different paths you can take, so make sure the
teacher you choose is heading in (roughly) the direction you’d like to go. Some examples include:
- traditional animation, going frame by frame like Ben Marriott
- snazzy logos and onscreen graphics, where Sonduck Film is a good place to start
- VFX and compositing 3D motion graphics, for which there’s no-one better than Andrew Kramer at Video Copilot (not really for beginners, but once you have the basics you should be able to follow along)
- Read the comments. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but sometimes – just sometimes – YouTube comments contain useful information. You’ll find a lot of people in the After Effects community who really want to share what they know; this is great if you get stuck following a tutorial, as chances are someone has had the same problem as you and shared their solution in the comments.
So, what are the best beginner tutorials? These are my top picks, and there should be something for everyone.
Ben Marriott is my hands down favourite for absolute beginners – he’s got a really down to earth style, and explains things with minimum fuss. His intro course comes in at a very reasonable 10 minutes, in which he covers the basics of the workspace, keyframing and creating a basic text / logo overlay. If you enjoy this, you’ll probably like his 50 Tips, Tricks & Secrets for Beginners.
TipTut has an Intro to Motion Graphics series that also really worth checking out – I love his relaxed style of presenting, which focuses on the skills needed to learn, not just ‘click these buttons to produce X’. This course is around 1.5 hours, and if you follow along you’ll have a smooth bit of motion graphics typography to show the world. (He’s also done a broader Intro to motion Design course that takes you through the Illustrator > Photoshop > After Effects workflow, but beginners should start with his first course above.)
Josh Olufemi hosts fellow designer Nick Khoo, who offers a fine hour-long intro to Ae. He takes you through the basics like many others, but he also brings a designer’s eye, and the end result after an hour is some pretty stylish animation.
Our very own Mathias from mamoworld has a beginners’ course that’s mostly focused on VFX (compositing effects into live footage), but along the way he covers the basics of keyframes, masking, pre-comps and more. It’s from 2013 so the interface has changed a little, but the advice is still sound (and especially useful if you’re still using CS6!).
School of Motion also have their Path to Mograph course. It’s professional, slick and gives some great results; it’ll also give you an overview of how you can get into the motion design industry. It’s completely free, but you will need to register on their site to watch the series.
Roland from Graphic in Motion offers a fairly in-depth course, beginning from the preferences panel to set up the program, before running through all the basics. It’s a slower format, but personally I like his deliberate, methodical approach to teaching.
Peter McKinnon has a good intro to the After Effects world here. His talkative style may not be for everyone, but the end result (some text 3D tracked into footage) is a nice result for a short beginners’ tutorial.
Envato Tuts. At 4.5 hrs this is one of the longer courses, but it’ll take you through all the fundamentals of Ae including keyframing, workspaces and tools, keyframing, masking and motion tracking. It’s from the ubiquitous Envato brand (who offer a subscription service for motion graphics materials), so expect some branding, but it’ll give you a solid grounding in the basics.
What's the next step?
After you’ve got some of those basics, read Motion Graphics in After Effects, a free eBook (also from Mathias here). Motion Design is about far more than knowing how to use the software, and Mathias will guide you through the basics of colour, typography, design, workflow and more – it’ll even teach you how design influences your audience’s brain. It taught me many, many things that I wish I’d known when I started as a designer, and I’d highly recommend it for beginners and intermediates.
I hope this list is useful to you. After Effects is a great program that can takes years to learn properly, but with the right help – and there are so many helpful people out there – you can produce good results in much less.