VFX – Pre-Composition

Wow, where to begin. It felt like a very long class today (not in a bad way, there was a lot of content to get through. So much that I may have missed my chance to get a few screen captures along the way and had to rely on using bullet points notes to remember the flow of the lesson. So I apologise upfront for the instruction manual I’m about to post, its mostly for my own benefit in the future. Hopefully I can break it up with pretty gifs and some plain English explanation.

The lesson was mostly about learning how to use pre-compositions and their importance within AE. To achieve this we ran through a trim path exercise similar to what we had done last week but more in depth. A pre-composition is essentially a way to compress all assets/effect on your timeline into a single object, while still retaining the ability to go backwards a composition level and make edits again. Compositions work chronologically, so if any changes are made earlier in the timeline they will cascade down to the most recent composition. The same applies to pre-compositions. This method of working helps to keep files and the timeline a little more organised to help workflow.

We started the exercise with the vector graphic on the left and turning it into a path. The instructions continue below, again apologies for them being in quick note form.


  • Convert to vector layer – right-click on the source name in the timeline bar – “Create Shapes From Vector Layer”
  • Add trim path (like in last lesson) – click the Add button and choose trim path, then key the end going from 0% to 100%


  • Create a second composition, then drag your Comp1 into the timeline of Comp2, we do this so we can get an offset – a leading edge
  • Add a black solid layer, duplicate your Comp1 layer, then make sure the black solid is sandwiched in between the two Comp layers


  • Use track matte on the black solid and set it to Alpha Matte Comp1


  • To get rid of the double lines, go to Effect > Matte > Simple Choker, then set the Choke Matte to negative values (like -2, to get rid of the lines)



  • Treat this as a new composition now – select the three layers, then go to Layer > Pre-Compose (leave the settings as they are) which will create a new composition in your project (called Pre-comp1)
  • Make a new composition, then drag your Pre-comp1 into the timeline of Comp3
  • Go to Effects & Presets panel, and add a glow onto the layer


  • Change the glow radius up to 40 and the intensity up to 2.5
  • To make it more glow-y, add an adjustment layer (Layer > New > Adjustment Layer) and then add a glow effect to that and play with the intensity/radius
  • On the adjustment layer, can also add a Curves colour correction (found in the effects & Presets panel) to play with the colours in the composition


  • Pre-comp the layers and create a new Comp4
  • Bring in the original Matte layer, then add a Gradient Ramp onto it and adjust the colours however you want
  • Forgot to change the project colour settings depth from 8-bit to 16-bit – this helps with any colour banding problems
  • Bring in Comp1 and change it to Add mode, then bring in Pre-comp2 and change it to Add mode
  • Change the opacity of the Matte layer to go from 0% to 100%


Adding A Background

  • Add a new composition, then draw a line with the pen tool (make it a white line, stroke size 3px)
  • Add a Wave Warp effect, then change the height and width (to what looks right), line speed (to -1) and pin it to the right edge
  • Add Layer > Layer Styles > Gradient Overlay, then change the angle to 180 and the offset to 25 on the X


  • Duplicate the layer, using Add mode, until you have three lines and Pre-comp the three shape layers


  • Create a new composition, add the PCSine1 in, duplicate it, then add a Turbulent Displace effect to it
  • Change the amount to about 40, the size to about 20, and the complexity as high as it can go (so 10) – can add a glow to it via an Adjustment Layer and just play with it until you’re happy with how it looks


  • Create a pre-comp3, then a new comp, and add that pre-comp3 to it
  • Change the position of the waves to roughly the centre – duplicate that one
  • Change it to add mode
  • Rotate it about 180 and line up the centre points, then add a couple more going in the other directions
  • Use the optics comp to bend it – add adjustment layer > effect > distort > optics compensation > reverse lens distortion and then play with the FOV to about 90


  • pre-comp all those layers and new comp, then add the pre-comp to that twice
  • to the bottom one, add a blur – effect > blur and sharpen > Gaussian blur and blurriness up
  • while the top one is selected, add a mask shape with the ellipse tool and feather the mask, expand it, play with it to adjust the look
  • add your comp4 to your comp8 as the top layer and then you’re done!

Afterwards I also duplicated the sine waves again and added a further radial blur.


Here is the list of compositions and pre-compositions by the end of this. To think all of that would be squeezed into one composition if we didn’t use that method hurts my head, this is a far better method of organising your assets and keeping the timeline simpler to use as your projects continue to get more and more complex.


It still amazes me what can be achieved in AE, even when you start with nothing aside from a vector image of some text. I do feel like I’m starting to get the hang on the software a little more now, navigation doesn’t seem to be as much of a chore and I’ve a better understanding of where certain tools and options live.



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