Wrap your head around this easy-to-understand guide to rendering and exporting your After Effects projects.
Navigating the After Effects learning curve can be a brutal experience. There are still moments when I sit in front of my computer staring at the monitor confused and defeated to understand why the program intentionally does the opposite of everything I want. Did Andrew Kramer have such days? Probably. Because After Effects shows no mercy.
There are countless reasons why you can stare into After Effects' void, especially for people new to the program. For example – after working on a project for hours, you somehow cross the finish line. It's finally time to render your masterpiece. And then your jaw goes limp. Your eyes hit the void. Because you don't know how to render or export something from After Effects.
Do not be upset. We were there too and now we are here to help.
The settings you have made for your rendering are critical to the quality and final appearance of your project. So you have to do it right. No panic. Don't rethink it. Just take a look at the steps below and rest assured that this process will soon become second nature. Let us do this.
Rendering, exporting and coding:
Rendering and exporting are terms that are often used fluently and interchangeably in the industry. Here is a conversation that would never take place:
Me: "Okay, give me a few minutes to render it."
You: "Well, no. Can you export it instead? "
From a technical point of view, they mean different things. Rendering is often used as a general description of the process of exporting and encoding a video.
The export relates to the actual process of preparing clips and effects and covers the encoding that turns them into a whole new file.
It can be helpful to think of rendering as an overview of the export and coding process. Most motion designers I know call their exports "rendering". You do you. We'll know what you mean.
Are pre-rendering and rendering the same?
Short answer – no. After Effects needs help from pre-rendering to see real-time rendering of a composition. When you are finished working on a specific section that has been created in advance, you can export part of it so that it plays like a video file.
This relieves your computer, otherwise effects would have to be rendered in real time when rendering the rendering. Pre-rendered video files are rendered in draft quality, making the computer easier to use and After Effects performing significantly better.
What is this so-called render queue?
In the render queue, edit the settings for your video and then render it into a single final video file. Think of this window as a waiting room for your compositions. You can set up multiple compositions in the render queue to render with just one click. (There were projects where I had to export more than 60 compositions.)
In the render queue you have to go through three submenus – Render settings, Output module, and Issue to.
In most cases, you should have this under unless you are creating a pre-rendering or proxy Best settings. After Effects uses this setting by default. However, if it is different for any reason, it can easily be changed. Just click the drop-down arrow to the right of Render settings and a small menu appears. If so, just click on Best Settings.
Most of your changes are made in the next two submenus: Output module and Issue to. in the Output moduleYou can choose the format, codec, color depth, channels and audio output settings. Regardless of the rig you're working on, the animation codec and QuickTime format is the best way for 99% of After Effects projects. It has a good balance between quality, file size and rendering time.
On the Channels tab you can export RGB, Alpha or RGB + Alpha. When creating graphics to overlay videos, you want to select RGB + Alpha. When making transitions, choose the alpha channel. If a composition is covered with graphics from corner to corner, choose RGB.
By doing Issue to Simply select the submenu where your individual video file should be exported to on your Mac or PC.
The render queue is intimidating at first because clicking on those little blue words shows so many large windows. Trust us, it is only a matter of time before you fly through these settings and pump out fantastic-looking renderings.
Typical workflow for rendering / exporting After Effects
- composition > Add to the render queue or file > export > Add to the render queue
- Make sure the render settings are set to "Best".
- Go through the output module and change the settings you need for your specific project.
- Navigate to Issue to and select the folder or hard drive where you want to save your video.
Learning and feeling good in the render queue window does not take much time. Most of the time when I export a project, I use the same settings. This is because the animation codec and QuickTime format work perfectly for almost any project. Once you've spent some time in the render queue, you can export multiple compositions at once and export them efficiently.
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