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Chapter 4. Compositions > Selecting Composition Presets

Selecting Composition Presets

With After Effects, you don't need to manually enter all of the various composition settings (frame size, pixel aspect ratio, and so on); instead, you can simply select the most common ones from a pull-down menu of presets. If the list doesn't include a preset for your most commonly used settings, you can save your custom settings to the list. You can even delete the presets you don't want.

To select a composition preset:

1.
In the Composition Settings dialog box, choose an option from the Preset menu (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5. Choose an option from the Preset pull-down menu.


Choose the preset that matches your needs. Presets include common settings for film, video broadcast, and multimedia projects. Individual settings are set automatically. However, you may still want to enter a starting frame number and duration for the comp (see “Setting a Composition's Starting Frame Number,” and “Setting the Composition's Duration,” later in this chapter.)

2.
Click OK to close the Composition Settings dialog box.

The composition appears in the Project window.

Tip

  • A project usually contains several com positions, most of which are contained as layers (or “nested”) in a final composition. Although you may set the final composition's settings according to your output format (NTSC DV, for example), you may want to employ different settings (particularly for frame size and duration) for intermediate compositions.


To save a composition preset:

1.
In the Composition Settings dialog box, enter the settings suitable for the composition.

See the following sections for instructions on choosing specific settings. You can choose an existing preset to as a starting point, or you can choose Custom from the Preset pull-down menu.

2.
Click the Save button (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6. Enter the comp settings you want and click the Save button.


A Choose Name dialog box appears.

3.
In the Choose Name dialog box, enter a name for your preset, then click OK (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7. In the Choose Name dialog box, enter a name for your preset.


The settings you specified are saved as a preset, and its name appears in the Preset pull-down menu of the Composition Settings dialog box.

To delete a composition preset:

1.
In the Preset pull-down menu of the Composition Settings dialog box, choose a preset.

2.
Click the Delete button (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8. Select the preset you want to remove, and click the Delete button.


A Warning dialog box prompts you to confirm whether you want to delete the preset.

3.
In the Warning dialog box, click OK to delete the selected preset (Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.9. In the Warning dialog box, click OK if you're sure you want to delete the preset.


The preset is deleted and no longer appears in the Preset pull-down menu.

Tip

  • You can restore the presets that ship with After Effects by Option-clicking (Mac) or Alt-clicking (Windows) the Delete button.


Choosing a Frame Size

The frame size determines the viewing area of the Composition window. Although you may position images in the work space outside of this viewing area, only the elements within the visible frame will be rendered for previews and output (Figure 4.10, Figure 4.11, and Figure 4.12).

Figure 4.10. The frame size defines the dimensions of the viewable area of the composition. Over time, an element may move from the “off-screen” work area…


Figure 4.11. … and into the “on-screen” visible frame…


Figure 4.12. … and vice versa. Only elements within the visible frame appear in the final output.


Often, the frame dimensions of the final output determine the frame size of a composition. However, if the composition is to be nested in another composition, the frame size may be larger or smaller than the pixel dimensions of the final output. (See “Nesting Compositions,” later in this chapter, or see Chapter 15.)

The Composition Settings dialog box provides a list of preset frame sizes, or you may enter a custom frame size. The frame size you choose is centered in a work space that's limited to the same maximum dimensions as imported image files. As with imported footage files, chances are you'll run out of available RAM before you exceed the maximum image size (up to 30,000 x 30,000 pixels, depending on the output option).

For more about the maximum frame size of images, see the sidebar “Wham, Bam—Thank You RAM,” in Chapter 2. If you change the frame size of an existing composition, the Anchor setting determines where the existing layers are placed in the new comp (see “Setting a Composition's Anchor,” later in this chapter).

To set the frame size:
1.
In the Composition Settings dialog box, do one of the following:

  • Enter the width and height of the frame size in pixels.

  • Choose a preset frame size from the pull-down menu (Figure 4.13).

    Figure 4.13. Enter the frame dimensions, or choose a preset size from the pull-down menu.


2.
If you're changing the frame size of an existing composition, choose an anchor point from the Anchor section of the Composition Settings dialog box (visible when you select the Advanced tab).

Tip

  • You can enter a custom frame size that uses the same image aspect ratio of a preset frame size. First, choose a preset frame size that uses the image aspect ratio that you want to maintain. Then, check the Lock Aspect Ratio To checkbox and enter a custom frame size. When you enter a value for one dimension, After Effects automatically fills in the other, maintaining the same aspect ratio.


Table 4.1. Common Composition Presets
PRESET FRAME SIZE PAR FRAME RATE USE
NTSC 640 x 480 1 29.97 Full-screen, full-motion video, used by low-end cards
NTSC DV 720 x 480 .9 29.97 DV standard for North America
NTSC D1 720 x 486 .9 29.97 Broadcast standard for North America
HDTV 1920 x 1080 1 24 High-definition standard using 16:9 image aspect ratio
Film (2k) 2048 x 1536 1 24 Film transfers
Cineon Full 3656 x 2664 1 24 Film transferred using the Cineon file format


Pixel Aspect Ratio

A typical computer monitor uses square pixels to display an image. Professional video, in contrast, uses nonsquare pixels to display images. As a result, an image created on a computer can appear distorted when transferred to video, and vice versa.

One of After Effects' great advantages is that it can compensate for differences in pixel aspect ratios. In fact, when you choose a preset frame size, After Effects automatically selects the corresponding pixel aspect ratio, or PAR. If you want to override this setting, or if you enter a custom frame size, you can choose the correct pixel aspect ratio manually.

Your composition's PAR should match the final output's PAR. After Effects compensates for any difference between the pixel aspect ratio of the composition and individual footage items. For example, if you add a square-pixel footage item into a D1 composition, After Effects automatically resizes the image to prevent image distortion in the final output (Figure 4.14 and Figure 4.15).

Figure 4.14. Incorrectly interpreted as having nonsquare pixels, this 640 x 480 square-pixel image seems to lose its 4:3 aspect ratio in this 720 x 486 (D1/nonsquare pixels) composition.


Figure 4.15. Correctly interpreted as having square pixels, the image is automatically resized to compensate for a composition set to the D1 standard.


For a detailed explanation of pixel aspect ratio, see the sidebar “PAR Excellence,” in Chapter 2.

To set the pixel aspect ratio of a composition:
  • In the Pixel Aspect Ratio section of the Composition Settings dialog box, choose a PAR from the pull-down menu (Figure 4.16).

    Figure 4.16. In the Pixel Aspect Ratio pull-down menu, choose the pixel aspect ratio that corresponds to your final output.


Tip

  • As suggested above, the most common PARs are square pixel (with a PAR of 1) and D1/DV NTSC (with a PAR of .9). Square pixels correspond to formats displayed on computer monitors or consumer-level video capture cards. D1/DV NTSC corresponds to the nonsquare pixels used by the professional NTSC video formats (D1, or ITU-R 601) and the DV video standard (mini DV, DVCam, and DVCPro).


Resolution

Frame size sets the actual pixel dimensions of the composition; resolution determines the fraction of the pixels that are displayed in the Composition window.

By lowering resolution, you reduce not only image quality but also the amount of memory needed to render frames. Rendering speeds increase in proportion to image quality sacrificed. Typically, you work and preview your composition at a lower resolution and then render the final output at full resolution (Figure 4.17 and Figure 4.18).

Figure 4.17. Typically, you work and preview a composition at a lower resolution (in this case quarter resolution)…


Figure 4.18. … then switch to Full resolution when you want to see the image at output quality, or to render the final version.


To set a composition's resolution:
1.
In the Composition Settings dialog box, choose a setting from the Resolution pull-down menu (Figure 4.19):

Full— If you choose this option, After Effects will render and display every pixel of the composition, resulting in the highest image quality and the longest rendering time.

Half— If you choose this option, After Effects will render every other pixel, or one-quarter of the pixels of the full-resolution image in one-quarter of the time.

Third— With this option checked, After Effects renders every third pixel, or one-ninth of the pixels in the full-resolution image in one-ninth of the time.

Quarter— With this option checked, After Effects renders every fourth pixel, or one-sixteenth of the pixels in the full-resolution image in one-sixteenth of the time.

Custom— Checking this option causes After Effects to render whatever fraction of pixels you specify.

Figure 4.19. Choose a resolution from the pull-down menu.


2.
If you choose Custom from the pull-down menu, enter values to determine the horizontal and vertical resolution of the image (Figure 4.20).

Figure 4.20. If you choose Custom from the pull-down menu, enter values to determine the resolution manually. Rendering every fifth horizontal and vertical pixel would equal 1/25th the resolution and rendering time.


Tips

  • You can also change the resolution at any time by using the Resolution pull-down menu of the Composition window (Figure 4.21). See “The Composition Window,” later in this chapter.

    Figure 4.21. You can also change the resolution using the pull-down menu at the bottom of the Composition window.

  • You can control the quality setting of individual layers, separate from the composition as a whole. See Chapter 5 for more details.


Frame Rate

The frame rate is the number of frames per second, or fps, used by a composition. Usually, the frame rate you choose matches the frame rate of your output format.

Individual footage items have their own frame rates, which you can interpret. (See “Setting the Frame Rate” in Chapter 2). Ideally, the footage frame rate and the composition frame rate match. If not, After Effects makes the frame rate of the footage item conform to that of the composition.

For example, if both the composition frame rate and footage frame rate are 30 fps, the footage in a layer advances a frame whenever the composition advances a frame. However, if the footage frame rate were 10 fps and the composition frame rate were 30 fps, After Effects would distribute one second of footage (10 frames) over one second of the composition (30 frames) by displaying each frame of footage three times. In other words, the composition must advance three frames to display a new frame of the footage layer (Figure 4.22).

Figure 4.22. The frame rate of a footage item is conformed to the frame rate of the composition. In this case, frames of a 10-fps animation are repeated to play in a 30-fps composition to avoid an apparent change in speed.


To set the frame rate of the composition:
  • In the Frame Rate section of the Composition Settings dialog box, enter a frame rate (Figure 4.23).

    Figure 4.23. Enter the appropriate frame rate for the composition.


    Usually, you'll choose a frame rate that matches the frame rate of the output format:

    • NTSC video: 29.97 fps

    • PAL video: 25 fps

    • Film: 24 fps

    • Computer presentation (often via CD-ROM or Web): 15 fps or 10 fps.

    Lower frame rates help reduce file size and conform to data-rate limitations.

Tips

  • Film that has been transferred to video often uses video frame rates and has undergone the process of 3:2 pulldown. For more about 3:2 pulldown, see Chapter 2.

  • Use the Interpret Footage command to set the proper frame rate for a footage item; set the composition's frame rate according to your output requirements. If you're interested in changing the speed of a layer, see Chapter 6.


Setting a Composition's Start-Frame Number

When you began your project, you set its time display—that is, the method used to count your project's frames. As you may recall from Chapter 2, you can set the time display to standard video or film counting schemes (see “Choosing the Time Display,” in Chapter 2).

To set a composition's starting frame number:
1.
In the Composition Settings dialog box, enter the starting frame number of the composition (Figure 4.24).

Figure 4.24. If you want to, enter a starting frame number.


The timebase you set for the project determines whether this number is expressed in timecode, feet and frames, or frame numbers.

2.
Click OK to close the Composition Settings dialog box.

The composition begins at the frame number you specified.

Setting a Composition's Duration

Duration—which sets the length of a composition—is expressed in the time display style you set in the Project Settings dialog box (timecode, frames, or feet and frames). See “Choosing Composition Settings,” in Chapter 4, for more about time display options.

To set the duration of a composition:
  • In the Duration section of the Composi tion Settings dialog box, enter the duration of the composition (Figure 4.25).

    Figure 4.25. Enter the duration for the composition.


To change the settings for an existing composition:
1.
Select a composition in the Project window, or by clicking its tab in the Composition or Timeline window.

2.
Choose Composition > Composition Settings, or press Command-K (Mac) or Ctrl-K (Windows) (Figure 4.26).

Figure 4.26. Choose Composition > Composition Settings.


The Composition Settings dialog box appears.

3.
Enter new settings for the composition (as described in the previous sections).

4.
Click OK to close the Composition Settings dialog box.

Tips

  • You can also access the Composition Settings from the pop-up menu of the Timeline window; however, using the keyboard shortcut—Command-K (Mac) or Ctrl-K (Windows)—is the quickest way (Figure 4.27).

    Figure 4.27. The Timeline window's menu also gains access to the composition settings.

  • When you change a composition's frame size, you should also select an Anchor option in the Advanced tab of the Composition Settings dialog box (see “Setting a Composition's Anchor,” later in this chapter).


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