In all of my more recent After Effects tutorials on YouTube I display a difficulty metre at the beginning of the video to let you know what After Effects competency you should have to comfortably follow what is going on.
Since I am still receiving a large number of questions from viewers struggling through tutorials that are way above their skill level, I decided to provide a little bit of a guide to determine which difficulty category you fall into.
Note that these are just my personal guidelines that I use when determining how to rate my own tutorials; they are not universally recognised… yet!
If you have just started using After Effects or have not been using it for a long time, you probably fall into the beginner category. Try to answer all of the following questions to see if you have all of the beginner knowledge covered:
- How do you import footage into After Effects?
- How do you export your composition from After Effects?
- What is a composition and how do you pre-compose your layers?
- How do you use layers and masks
- What is an adjustment layer and how does it work?
- What is a track matte and how does it work?
- How do you animate properties using keyframes?
- What is parenting and why it is useful?
- How do you change the blend mode of a layer?
- What is a null objects and why would you use one?
If you struggle with some of these questions you might be best off going through all of my After Effects beginner tutorials. In these tutorials I will go a bit slower and cover a lot of the basics, explain common keyboard shortcuts or show you how to navigate the UI.
Once you’ve absorbed all the basics knowledge for After Effects, the real fun can begin and you will start to create some more practical effects. You should probably have used After Effects for a couple of months and be able to answer all of the questions from the beginner section above.
Then try to answer the following questions to see if you have mastered the intermediate level:
- What are expressions and how do you use them? What are expression controls?
- How do you use motion tracking in After Effects to track or stabilise your footage?
- How do you create particle effects?
- How and why do you use the RAM preview?
- What is rotoscoping and how do you use the Rotobrush tool? What other option do you have to rotoscope your elements?
- How do you use the graph editor to control keyframe interpolation?
- How do you use the 3D Camera Tracker?
- What is the After Effects Puppet Tool and how do you use it?
- Where do you enable motion blur, frame blending and collapse transformations? What do these options do?
- Where do you find the Interpret Footage dialog and what is it for?
At the intermediate level you should also start to be able to come up with your own solutions to some custom visual effects you want to create. Many people end up getting a bit stuck in the follow-tutorial-by-clicking-same-buttons mentality and never really break out of the intermediate level.
Try to answer the questions above and start to create your own visual effects without always just following tutorials. But while you are still learning, check out my intermediate After Effects tutorials to get you moving forward!
Once you have created lots of your own visual effects and know most of what there is to know, you can move on to the advanced tutorials. You should be able to navigate the After Effects interface blindfolded and find most options and settings without hesitation. To move past the advanced user skill level you should be able to easily answer the following questions:
- What is a 3D integration effect and how do you do it? What are the steps involved and common problems encountered? How do you use the Cineware plugin in After Effects CC?
- What is the difference between object tracking and motion tracking and how do you do it?
- How do you remove a visual element from a moving shot?
- How do you prepare for filming a scene with VFX? What are common pitfalls to avoid?
But answering questions becomes less important the higher your skill level becomes. It comes down more to the ability to now take all of this knowledge and apply it intelligently and innovatively to find new solutions and create some amazing visual effects. And while you are refining your craft, check out my advanced After Effects tutorials to learn how to create some more complex visual effects.
To me, someone who claims to be an expert should know all there is and use this knowledge intrinsically like it was a part of them. Being an expert in After Effects would mean all features available, what they do in detail and which situations they apply to. You should be able to plan out and envision complex visual effects in your head before you even start working on them. And once you start working on them you should not have to refer to anyone else to ask questions or look up specific techniques.
To me, an expert is someone who knows everything. Since I don’t believe I am at that level yet – and might never get there – I do not yet have any ‘expert’ tutorials on my channel.
I am pretty competent at using After Effects and would classify myself as an advanced user. There are still lots of things I want to learn, questions I want to ask and visual effects I want to create. I wonder if I will ever reach an expert level – or if I even want to. Once you classify yourself as a ‘know it all’, you run the risk of stoping to ask questions, to learn, to innovate and to grow. And I never want that to happen to me so I prefer to keep regarding myself as an ‘advanced’ user of After Effects.
To me, the fun visual effects and film making in general is that there is always something new: new features, new tools, new techniques, new tricks, new solutions and I love to constantly learn about them and keep evolving as a film maker and visual artist.