2017 Intro Build

Joe Clay | Apr 24, 2017

Here's a quick time lapse of creating the newer Workbench intro. It's about 2 hours compressed into just under 3 minutes. This version has music. I riffed on one of my acoustic guitars for about the time allotted and put it on there. So if the music sucks, it's because I suck. :)

I tried to add a few funny moments in there. Hopefully they brighten up your day.

Saving Presets

Joe Clay | Feb 20, 2017

This has been updated.

Saving presets can be a real pain in After Effects. But it doesn't have to be—I think. I could be totally wrong. That's the, uh, beauty of saving presets in After Effects. And it gets even prettier, if you're saving in CC 2017, it might point you to the 2015 user presets folder by default, so keep your eyes open to see all the beauty.

So last week, I needed to save my named groups in a shape layer for the Speed Lines preset so it'd make sense. So I did what I remember usually doing—while probably failing—hitting UU and selecting the keyframes. Then I selected the effects one by one because I remember that working. Well, it turns out, depending upon what you select, things will keep their names or not. Uh, what?

So after an hour of wasting my time testing, and testing even more to write this article. I just discovered that even the way I showed in the Speed Lines tutorial was selecting too much. You barely need to select anything. In fact, you really only seem to need to get specific with what you select in order to exclude things.

So if you want to save all your named shape groups, just select Contents. If you want your expression controls and effects, just select Effects. And if you want to select your transform keys/expressions/whatever, select Transform. And if you want to select the name of the layer, hahahaha.

Client Management - Managing Expectations

Joe Clay | Feb 2, 2017

This is a quick guide about the business side of things. This is by all means not an exhaustive guide about how to deal with every situation, and it might not work in every situation you face. I don't use all of these ideas with every client, because it's obvious that some people already know these things. But not talking about any of these things with your client will likely end negatively for you at some point.

All of the best relationships in business and in life have two things in common, mutual respect and communication. So keep that in mind every time you talk to your clients.


Tell your client what your business hours are. Let them know how you prefer to be contacted and be especially accommodating to clients who are respectful of your time. If someone asks politely to discuss something after your business hours, and you can swing it, do so.


You'll encounter clients who know how to budget for mograph, and you'll encounter those who have no idea what it costs. If someone doesn't have a clue about it, ask them what their budget is. They should at least know what they're looking to spend. If the budget doesn't work, look for ways that it can. Sometimes there's non-monetary value in a project. Is it something you can have fun with? Can you get more creative control? I often will try to get creative control of a project if there's no budget for me to concept and go back and forth with endless revisions. Usually people come to you because they like your style, so you might be able to work out a deal where both of you benefit. I've done this a few times, and it's always been a great experience. So don't always discount a low budget.


If you want an upfront deposit, ask for it. If your client tells you they're net 60, see if you can invoice the bulk of the money—like 75% to 80%—at the start of the project. It's never a bad idea to ask how quickly they pay. A good client will usually be upfront about it if they're non-standard i.e. not net 30.


We've all had a client who had us work through the weekend—losing time away from our families—to deliver on a deadline that was shortened because someone didn't deliver a script or some elements on time. And we've all been really angry when we find out that client didn't even look at the draft until three days later. It's going to happen. But if you probe them about actual deadlines, and perhaps tell them that you'll have to grind the whole weekend, they might actually let you know their deadline was artificial and the timeline is a little more flexible. So if you're put in this situation and you think there might be a little more play in the timeline than they're letting on, lay it on thick. Because if they're going to let you do that, knowing that the deadline is flexible, they're not respecting your time—which is your most precious commodity.

Showing the work, NDAs, etc.

If a client wants to have a work-for-hire gig, or they want you to sign an NDA, don't be afraid to still ask if you can show the work. Sometimes they won't have an issue with you adding snippets to a reel, or even showing a director's cut with relevant branding removed. That usually is enough for me. But if you don't want to work with that, I don't blame you. Tell the client that. Often these issues come about because they want to be able to distribute the work in whatever way they choose and think they need all the ownership rights because some lawyer said they should. I often have issues with that because I frequently reuse pieces of animation, icons, or snippets of code, like expressions, that I've built or that others have built. So they can't really own that and it becomes nebulous. So if I can, I'll offer them rights to distribute and reproduce as they see fit while I maintain copyright so I can show my work and get more work from it. I don't like to take work-for-hire jobs that I can't show, but if you do, charge more for it because you have a blank spot in your work history.

Under-promise, over-deliver

This one is pretty standard, but it works well. I don't take the approach of purposefully saying I can't get something done, but I won't make a guarantee if it's not guaranteed. If you say you're going to do something, you must do it. Keep your word. And if something happens, a render glitch, an emergency, etc., tell your client as soon as you can. That way you're not silently missing a deadline, leading them to wonder about what is going on.

Remember, communication is key. It's fine to be casual, but be firm about what you expect and what your client should expect. If you act respectfully and stand up for yourself, you'll get respect. And if you don't, avoid working with that client now or in the future if you can, and remember all of the red flags they put up. If you have any questions or want to tell some stories, hit up the comments. Have a good day and manage expectations!

Bearded Spice

Joe Clay | Jan 27, 2017

Hi guys, this is just a quick note to tell you about a great piece of free software I came across. I was talking to a friend about podcasts, and there's one he suggested that only had episodes on YouTube—seriously guys, then it's not a podcast.

Anyway, I hate listening to long form content on YouTube while I work because I can't quickly pause something to listen to a VO or something. Or I get up and pause something only to have it open iTunes and play more stuff on top of what was playing.

Anyway, that got me wondering if there was anything out there than can pre-empt media keys on macOS so you can play/pause YouTube. Side note: it feels strange, but satisfyingly easy to write macOS vs Mac OS.

So I came across the strangely named Bearded Spice project on GitHub. Don't go to the .com site, because it's either been hacked or someone set it up with redirects for a bad reason. Anyway, though it's a little buggy, this menubar app throws a little bearded guy up on your menubar that will allow you to switch between sources. It seems to have a bug where if Spotify is open it only plays and pauses that, even if you have YouTube selected, but that's not a huge deal.

It works in Chrome out of the box, but in Safari you need to "Allow Javascript from Apple Events" in the Develop Menu. It has support for a lot of sites, and if you're adventurous with Javascript, you can write your own support and update the Git.

So I don't know about you, but this is pretty awesome as it opens up a world of other content without interrupting my workflow.

Flow Library

Joe Clay | Jan 3, 2017

Library Preview

Hi guys! I've finally gotten around to making my own library for Flow. If you don't have Flow, you're going to want to go buy it. It's definitely one of those scripts that improves the quality of your work and helps you work faster.


Good easing will give your work a lot of life. And since animators can make these libraries available for download, you can start with a solid foundation without even having to adjust your own curves! So in that spirit, I'm sure you guys can put our library to good use!


Joe Clay | Dec 30, 2016

I've just finished uploading a whole lot of changes to the site, after changing a lot of things around. Now, most of the site uses Markdown thankfully so that I can update things quickly. Even better, I can have someone help me update things without them needing to know any sort of coding. Side note, check out Caret if you're using Markdown. It's a pretty awesome little editor.

I wish I had made that change sooner, especially for blog pages. It makes articles easier to work on, without having to have the code in my face. It's been somewhat of a dream of mine to get all my websites running Markdown ever since I discovered it years ago (like in 2004 when John Gruber invented it...) but sometimes I move slow. I've always coded these custom PHP solutions for myself that I'm just used to messing with. Now I've got all of that where it belongs, in the backend, with Markdown running over top of it. And I've made some clever little tweaks to make all of this easier to maintain. Or at least they're tricks I think are clever!

I've also rearranged a couple of the sections. Freebies have been merged with the blog, so that everything is together in the blog section but freebies have their own section as well so new people can just come in and grab everything, and our hopefully faithful followers can stay updated on the blog. I also have scheduled updates for certain things. If I have fresh content in the queue, it'll appear at 11am Eastern Time. Set your watches.

Because of the changes and a lot of the code being new, there might be bugs. So if you see anything strange, let me know. My test server isn't an exact copy of the live server, so certain things might be completely broken on the live server and I might not notice. For example I had to fix a couple of the download links because the live server cares about case, and my local apache setup doesn't. One day I'll fix that.

The best news I have is that this makes the blog a LOT easier to update. So, as projects allow, expect a little more content each week. And don't forget to check out our latest tutorial #51 Flavor Text!


Joe Clay | Dec 28, 2016


So we're a few days from the end of the year and you've got some cash in your pocket. You need to get some sweet write-offs in before January 1st? You want some amazing free tools? Well, here is a sizable list of great plugins and scripts you can get to save you a boatload of time and effort. Most of these should be built into After Effects.

I've put the current price of each plugin or script below as of the time of writing this, so you can figure out if it's worth it to you.

FXConsole FREE

Video Copilot's FXConsole has quickly become one of my most used plugins. I can't believe it's free. It basically allows you to type in the name of a plugin or even a preset and add it to a layer but it does SO much more. I'm not even going to explain more, go grab it now.

Flow $30

If you're like me and aren't really a fan of the After Effects graph editor, you're going to want to pick Flow up. And while you're at it, make sure to grab Andrew Embury's, Ryan Summers', and Google's libraries for Flow. We'll also be posting a free library soon as well. It's taking me a while to build a library of my own because there are so many great ones already available!

Zack Lovatt and Tomas Sinkunas destroyed it with this script. Flow has supplanted my use of Ease and Wizz, which is almost sad because I used the hell out of Ease and Wizz. In fact, its functionality inspired Quiver. But unless I need a true Expo—and I kind of hacked a good solution with Flow—Ease and Wizz sits unused now. And best of all, Flow doesn't need to use expressions to accomplish easing, so if you have to hand off your project, it looks like you took the time to hand-ease everything.

Ray Dynamic Color $29.99

Ray Dynamic Color is an awesome color palette script by Sander van Dijk. I use Ray every day. You can make palettes, pick colors off of it, use it to link colors, and easily change palettes and colors. It's very versatile. It's also great for use in team situations so people can share palettes and colors on projects.

GifGun $29.99

If you're making gifs, get GifGun by Nik Ska. Never waste your time again by roundtripping through Photoshop to make a gif. Without GifGun, it's unlikely that the tutorials on this site would have gif examples. And now it even offers compression options too!

Explode Shape Layers $29.99

Zack Lovatt's excellent Explode Shape Layers script will save you a good amount of time if you work with shape layers on the reg. You can use it to easily turn vector files into shapes and explode and implode groups of shapes to and from different layers. And it can even get rid of those annoying extra boxes that AE somehow adds after converting some vectors.

Color Vibrance FREE

Video Copilot's Color Vibrance plugin has helped me on a few projects where directors were looking for certain colors to pop. You can also use it to subtly unify the colors in a composite. It's actually helped me quite a bit more than expected to save some projects by adding an unexpected dimension to the design.

Saber FREE

Saber, also free from Video Copilot, is quite useful. You can use it to stroke a mask, add in energy effects, etc. It has a great library of different presets too. Andrew Kramer shows off a lot of cool uses in his introduction for Saber, but there are a lot of cool ways you can use it. Check out our Ring of Fire tutorial for example.

Quiver $15

Quiver is a script made by, well, me. So I think it's pretty cool. I had just bought Ease and Wizz, and I thought that the idea of adding expressions using a script would work well for all of those expressions I use that I either have to look up or save somewhere. Why not just store them in simple text files in my documents folder than can be called up at a moment's notice to be added to any property?

Randomizer $5

I also built Randomizer because I got tired of shifting a bunch of layers slightly in time to get randomized motion. Anything that can save me time from randomly sliding layers in my comps is worth a little coding effort. If that's something you hate doing, you might want to grab it. Right now it shifts entire layers randomly, but in the future I'll add a feature to randomly adjust sets of keyframes as well in a free upgrade. Why didn't I do that originally? I didn't think of it until just now...and it's a bit more complicated to move keyframes around.

Scripty FREE

OK, this is the last one of my own scripts that I'll mention. It's a super simple one. If you hate having to flip back and forth between apps so you can see your scripts, or if you need a place to store some text temporarily without leaving After Effects, check out Scripty. Admittedly, I haven't used this one as often as I should because usually I'm still pretty old school and print out scripts on paper. Hey, I grew up writing book reports on typewriters. Yeah, I'm only 32. So?

Stardust $249

I haven't used Trapcode Particular for a hot minute, because I only had it when I was working as an employee and I haven't done much with particles lately. Stardust just burst on the scene as a competitor in the particle generator world, and for the price, especially the introductory price of $249, it's definitely worth giving a shot. Normally I buy my plugins when I have a need, but I couldn't pass that up.

I haven't used Particular in a while, so I could be wrong, but from what I can tell, Stardust allows for a lot more customization in one layer than Particular, although from my small amount of use so far it seems a good bit more buggy. They just released an update that should improve the bugs I experienced, but even without fixes Stardust makes up for those bugs in utility. There's even a Plexus-like particle type.

With Stardust, you can add in all sorts of different generators and different particles in a node-based workflow that allows to you apply all sorts of effectors to different particles. One generator can generate many different particles. Some particles can have turbulence while some are unaffected. There are attractors, 3D object support, and all sorts of things. It seems to be like a Particular/Form/Plexus hybrid that has more customization than any of those three. I'm excited to play with it more when I get a moment because right now, it seems like imagination is the only limit.

Plexus $249.99

While I haven't used Plexus in a bit, it's still a solid plugin, especially if you want to use it with 3D objects. I'll have to play more with Stardust before I can figure out if I can replace Plexus with it completely—like if you need to link actual layers together—but either way, you can't go wrong with Plexus. If you've seen work with a lot of connected lines, there's a good chance it was made with Plexus.

Element 3D $199.95

You've probably seen the excellent Video Copilot plugin Element 3D, but if not it allows you to bring a model into After Effects and then texture, light, animate, and even clone it. In my opinion, it's a little quirky about some things—like anchor points—but once you figure that out it works pretty well. If you're wondering, it's usually just better to make nulls for your object groups and animate those instead.

I had a project where I needed to animate a bunch of 3D devices, and it was so much faster for me to model them and then bring them into AE with Element for simple texturing and animation. It made changing anything a lot easier, and I didn't have to deal with frame sequences.

Paint from Paint and Stick $99.99

I've only used Paint a little bit so far due to time crunches, but I had a great time with it. If you're looking to do some cel/hand animation in After Effects, look no further. I was using it on my iPad Pro + Pencil through Astropad. I had an issue with that completely unsupported setup, and the developers even got back to me to let me know about changes they were going to make. Any plugin with that active of a developer is worth a look. I haven't had a need for the Stick portion of the plugin, but I'm sure it's excellent if you need that functionality.

Joysticks n' Sliders $39.95

If you're doing character animation, get Joysticks n' Sliders now. It's especially perfect for doing heads of characters that you want to look pseudo-3D when they look around. There are plenty of other uses for it as well in a more motion-graphic setup. Basically, you can use on screen controls to switch between keyframes you make—like a character looking up or to the right. It's super powerful.

Rubberhose $45

Rubberhose is another script you need to get if you're animating characters. If you need characters to have stroke arms and legs, this is perfect for you. You can also attach custom feet and hands easily. There are also other uses beyond arms and legs for characters. For example, anything you would have done with the Beam effect with null controls would likely be better done with Rubberhose.

Butcapper FREE

By the same developer as Rubberhose, Adam Plouff, Butcapper is a great little utility script. It's free, and it allows you to easily change stroke types in layers without having to drill down through a million shape layer elements. Anything that can stop you from having to do that is worth it.

Origami $39.99

I'm waiting on a project to use Origami on so I haven't bought it yet. It's another script by Nik Ska, the GifGun developer, so I trust it's well built. It does split up layers for its effect, which will slow things down if you have a ton of layers, but you get a lot of animation for that render hit.

CompCode $100

At the moment, I don't have a need for CompCode just yet. But I definitely see it in my future to package presets. It looks like it will be amazing. If you see branded script panels from me, know that they'll be the direct result of CompCode. And it's made by Tomas Sinkunas, developer of many kickass scripts like Flow, so you know it's rock solid. It's a script that can build scripts. That's some Inception-level coding.

AE Pixel Sorter $39.99

If you need some distorted techy looks, grab AE Pixel Sorter. You've probably seen this effect elsewhere, but this appears to be the first plugin for this effect for After Effects. I bought it, but I haven't had too many opportunities to use it yet because I haven't had to work on something in this style recently. I wish I did so I could use it!

Expressionist $39.99

For the moment, I've been making do with AE's terrible expression editor box, but when I get to making more of my presets that rely heavily on sliders and other controls, I plan on purchasing Expressionist. If you do a lot of work with expressions, you should check it out.

Property Effector $39.99

Property Effector has some really neat functionality. It allows you to build a Cinema 4D style mograph-ish effector relationship among properties on multiple layers. It's kind of easier to see than to explain. So check it out. I haven't bought it yet, but it's another one that's on my list.

So there you go. That's a pretty lengthy list of some very awesome scripts and plugins that will save you some time. All together, if I didn't miss anything, that's $1,283.21. So if you want some write-offs, don't forget software! And if you have any suggestions for stuff I missed or left out—cue the dude who's going to say I left out FT-Toolbar!—put them in the comments below!

Storyboard Templates

Joe Clay | Dec 1, 2016

Hey everyone! I've developed an improved workflow for storyboarding. I used to just draw them on a page I made and scan them in. I didn't do much editing of them in Photoshop unless something was really a pain and needed to be duplicated a billion times.

Storyboard image

Initially, I set up this InDesign document that took those scans and put them in a slightly cleaner template. But that was still tedious. A few months back I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil and I started to use Procreate. I used it to board a project and it was awesome! It's easy to collaborate with someone without having to be near a computer, and I didn't have to redraw things over and over. It made making slightly different frames super easy so making more frames to fit a lengthy script wasn't a big deal. And because of that, I can get a better feel for pacing. Since I can export to PSD from Procreate, I can then export those layers to PNGs. I use a 4K 16:9 preset (3840x2160) in Procreate so I can enlarge if need be.

So then I needed to step up my InDesign game. I made all the text boxes threaded so I can put my script in and it flows the necessary pages. It takes minutes to make my final document now—especially since I now do them completely digitally.

Anyway, you can grab that InDesign document right here. The zip also contains my older templates that I printed to draw on. If you're unfamiliar with InDesign or how I made this document, continue reading to figure out how to use it.

Storyboard examples

Initial Setup

Storyboard examples

Using the Template

  1. First, I like to set my display mode to high performance because nothing I do in Indesign is tough to display.
  2. Open up Type > Text Variables > Define.
  3. Set the _Project Name variable to, uh, the name of your project.
  4. If you want to use the 16 grid setup it's ready to go (it's 2 lines of text per box).
  5. If you want the 9 grid, make a new page and delete the original page.
  6. If you made a new page, hold shift+cmd and click drag through each line of text frames to make them editable.
  7. Paste your script into the first text frame. New pages will flow as needed.
  8. Edit your script. You can add descriptions using the "comment" text style.
  9. Shift+cmd drag over every frame that you want to put an image in (it is fine to cross over the text boxes, or even select frames you don't want to fill.
  10. Now you can hit cmd+d with nothing selected or go to File > Place.
  11. Navigate to your folder of storyboard frames. Select the first frame, and shift+click on the last one. This will load up your cursor with all of the boards.
  12. Now just click in each frame to drop each image where they need to go.
  13. Once you've placed the frames, if you need to duplicate any, hit B. A box will pop up.
  14. Click on the frame you want to duplicate. Then hit B again and your cursor will look like the place cursor again.
  15. Click in the frame you need to place the duplicate.
  16. If any of the frames fit strangely, click to select the content of the frame, and the right click and select Fitting > Fill Frame Proportionally.
  17. Click on frames to select them to resize as needed.
  18. Hit cmd+E to export. I usually just use 'High Quality Print.'

It sounds way more complicated than it is. If you haven't used InDesign before, it can seem odd. But once you've done it a few times, you will be glad you downloaded this file.

I'm not an InDesign master, but if you have any questions, use the contact form to shoot me an email and I'll point you in the right direction.

After Effects Icons

Joe Clay | Jul 21, 2016

Updated 10/19/17 for CC 2018!

Happy Thursday! I saw that the excellent Zack Lovatt had posted some icons for those of us who keep multiple versions of After Effects around for one reason or another. Having multiple versions can be a pain when you're in your file system or looking at icons on your dock. Zack created a set for Windows users but he didn't have a way to make them for Mac, so since I use a Mac I built the larger icons, and asked him for permission to upload his small versions in the Mac set. You can get them here.

Icon example

To change your AE icon:

  1. Find the After Effects app whose icon you want to change
  2. Find the corresponding AE .icns file for that version
  3. Hit Command + i or right click and select 'Get Info'
  4. Drag the .icns file to the icon preview in the top left

You might have to click the icon in your dock, or possibly remove it and replace it to get it to refresh.

If you want to restore the original icon:

  1. Go to the After Effects app whose icon you want to restore
  2. Hit Command + i or right click and select 'Get Info'
  3. In the window that opens, select the icon in the top left and hit Command + x or Edit > Cut to restore the icon

The download includes all of the files required to make the icons, including Zack's original files. There's also an AE project that the rest of the icons were built in if you'd like to make your own. I used Icon Composer 2x by Lemon Mojo to assemble the .icns files. It's awesome, super-easy, and free.


Joe Clay | Apr 12, 2016

Wow. I just came across this amazing short film from Identity Visuals. The animation and style are simple but beautiful. The sound design and the music are absolutely perfect, conveying all the emotion necessary to tell a story without using words. Definitely give this a watch.

And make sure you check out the rest of their work. They've got some great stuff on their Vimeo page.

It's always been one of my goals to make an animated short film. After seeing this, I think Sev and I might need to check that one off the list this year.