Animation can be a great way to add a little something special to your social feed, digital advertising, website, and wherever else you use creative to advertise yourself or your business. Adobe After Effects is known as the industry standard for animating projects, but can be a bit (ok, very) overwhelming if it’s your first time using it. Have no fear! Follow these 5 steps and you’ll be making production level animations in no time.

Step #1: Gather Information

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Before you begin animating it is important that you understand a few things about your project.

Who are you designing for? – Do you have a brand guide you need to be following? If it’s a client project, have you talked with them to find out what they’re looking for in their animation? Figure this stuff out before you get too involved in creating your animation to save yourself time – and heartbreak.

What is your goal/message? – What is your (or your clients) target market? What does your animation need to communicate?

Where will the final product be seen? – This will determine things like your composition size, the length of time you have to work with, and how detailed your animation can be. This is an often-overlooked step of the process but will save you lots of time down the road by thinking about these things before you get started.

Once you know the answer to each of these questions, you can confidently begin the creative process knowing the framework of what your final product needs to be.

Step #2: Come Up with the Concept

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Once you have an understanding of the project, your next step is to come up with the concept. At this point you should be putting together the pieces we picked up back in Step #1, like the story you want to tell in your animation, how long you need to tell your story, and if adding audio is going to be necessary to get the full message across. This is also where you get to start adding your own creativity, so let it flow!

Step #3: Storyboard your Concept

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For any animation with more than one scene, or a scene with a lot of moving parts, it is important to sketch these out prior to beginning animation so you can visualize how the story will progress. A story board can be as simple as stick figures and rough shapes but will prove to save you tons of time in working out the details of your animation.

Step #4: Create

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You know the story you want your animation to tell, how long it needs to be, and roughly what you want it to look like. Now we can finally start the fun part! Using a program like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop you will begin creating the artwork for your animation based off your sketches from the storyboard. At this stage in the process, it’s important to think about the layers and how you can best organize them. As you begin the transition into After Effects it’s easy to get lost in all of your layers so staying organized throughout will save you time and most importantly, frustration.

Note: It’s ok to ask for help here! Not all of us have the time (or ability) to illustrate artwork as well as others… animation studios often have entire teams dedicated to the illustration of artwork for their animations, and an entire other team ready to animate. Working with fellow designers or even stock image sites can all be beneficial in helping bring your ideas to life – just don’t forget to give credit where it is due!

Step #5 Animate

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Now the step we’ve all been waiting for – animation! Creating an animation requires a close attention to detail in order to get the desired result but can be the most rewarding step of the process if you’ve stuck with the steps leading up. When working on your animation, it is important to give your objects a natural flow and motion – if you don’t take into account the timing and emotion of the motion, it will come across as clunky and incomplete. After Effects has a near infinite amount of effects and expressions that can be combined to give you exactly the look you’re going for.

As you can see creating an animation can be both time consuming and overwhelming if you aren’t properly prepared, but we’re confident following our 5 steps to making great animations will help you take your animations to the next level.