Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The secrets of the After Effects (Render Queue)

The render queue in After Effects is like a Blackberry. On the surface, it has a very basic and direct intention. Need to make a call? Dial a number and go. Need to render a composition? Add it to the queue and hit render. But just like a Blackberry, if you dig a little bit deeper the render queue in After Effects has a lot to offer the motion graphics artist. In this post I’m going to give a comprehensive overview on how to become a render queue power user.
(Update: There’s are some great links from Todd Kopriva in the comments, be sure to check them out)

1. Multliple Output Modules for One Render
Select output module, hit cmd+d

Multiple Output Modules
Many people don’t know you can actually have as many output modules as you want, all in the same render. Need an .avi, a quicktime, and an image sequence? You’d be crazy to do three separate renders for that, using multiple output modules you can generate them all from the same render!

2. Stop Render, Reset Render Item to Original State
During render, hold down option, click “Stop”

Hold down alt, click stop
When you stop a render, by default After Effects tries to be smart and help you out by creating a new render item in your queue, based off your original render item but with the “render range” updated to render only the frames that haven’t yet been rendered. It my entire career, I’m not sure if I have ever used that once. But something that is VERY helpful (and should be the default, if you ask me) is if you hold down option (alt on a pc) while you click “Stop”, After Effects will still create a new render item in the queue, however this one will be identical to the original render item. Very nice.

3. Change Default Output Module (OM) or Render Setting (RS) template
hold down cmd when selecting OM or RS from dropdown

Setting Default Render Templates
Using templates for your render queue are a huge timesaver. With templates you can setup specific render settings or output modules that you use often, and have them available in the respective dropdowns inside the render queue. There are system defaults that get used when you add a new item to the render queue, and if you don’t set new defaults, you end up always having to change them every time you add a new item. Have 30 comps you need to render? Well unless you set new defaults, you’ve got to change them all by hand. With this trick, you just hold down cmd when you select a OM or RS from the dropdown, and it will make whichever template you choose the new default. Sweet!
Tip: This technique also works for “Save Frame As…” for saving out stills. Just add a new single frame to the Render Queue (cmd+option+s) and set the new defaults the same way.

4. Duplicate Identical Render Item
Select the render item, hit cmd+shift+d
As with most things in After Effects, a simple cmd+d will duplicate an item in your render queue. The same works with layers, effects, and even footage items in your project window. But render items have more configurable options than some of those other things, and if you have a render queue stacked with render items and you want to duplicate #8 out of 20 items, often times you will have to reset your output directories and sometimes even some of your render options. By using cmd+shift+d, After Effects will duplicate your render item Exactly the way you set it up the first time, which can save you plenty of time in the long run.

5. Drag from Project Window directly to Render Queue
Select your chosen items from project window and drag ‘em over!
This is one of those features that just makes sense. What’s really useful about dragging items to the queue directly from your project window, is using it in conjunction with the “Changing default output modules” from above to reap huge time-saving rewards. For example, if you have 100 quicktime movies that you need to re-render as half-res jpg sequences, you can just create the templates, set them as defaults, and drag all 100 quicktimes to the queue and hit render. Boom! Now go get some coffee.
Tip: If you have multiple items to drag, but they are all going to the same directory, drag only one item first and set it’s output directory. Now you can drag over the remainder of the items together, and they will all set their default output directories to the correct folder.

6. Add Selected Item(s) to Render Queue
Select item(s) in Project Window, hit ctrl+shft+/
For those of you that are too lazy (I prefer the term “selectively efficient”) to even drag items from the project window to the Render Queue, you can actually just use the ctrl+shft+/ hot-key combination to add selected items to the queue instantly.

7. Debug with “Current Render Details”
Twirl down “Current Render Details” to access information about why your render is soooo slowwwww.

Current Render Details are your friend
Render moving slow? Sometimes it’s just because you are such a sick compositor that your sheer “make it look like sex” skillset creates comps that are slow to render as a whole. But, more commonly, there is something specific that is slowing your render down. Maybe a certain layer with 50 masks on it, or some ridiculous glow effect that isn’t even necessary, or something else all together. Current Render Details shows you (in real-time) what after effects is rendering and gives you a feel for how long each effect/layer is taking. By viewing your Current Render Details you can analyze and target layers or effects that are slowing your render down, and pre-render the problem layers to make your renders zip along. I use this all the time - I’ve literally seen this save HOURS over the life of a project. Every second counts when you are hitting deliveries, and there is no point wasting time waiting for renders that don’t have to be slow!

8. Getting the Most Out of “Embed Project Link”
When working in teams, this can be a lifesaver.

Using Embed Project Link in After Effects
People gloss over this setting because it’s not very intuitive. But, I’m willing to bet that you have been in the situation where you’ve got a pre-rendered quicktime movie in your AE project, and you need to change it but have no idea where it came from. Sound familiar? If you work in teams, this can happen often, and is especially problematic if a freelancer has left the project mid-way through and you’ve got to decipher their project.
Fear not. Because After Effects defaults to having Embed Project Link selected, chances are you can find out exactly where the movie came from. Any time a movie is generated from AE with this option selected, metadata is stored in the file about which After Effects project rendered it.
To access this data, select the quicktime movie in the project window and hit cmd+e. If After Effects can find the absolute path to the file, it will automatically open it. If it can’t find it, it will at least give you an error message that tells you what file to look for… useful error messages from Adobe? I know, I couldn’t believe it either:
The embedded project link could not be found!

9. How to use “Import and Replace Usage”
View OM options in the render queue, then use the pic-wip technique to choose which comp to replace.
When you have the Output Module window open, you’ve probably seen Import and Replace Usage under the Post-Render Action menu. The problem is, if you’re looking at it in the Output Module window, it doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Replace what?
To get the most out of import and replace usage, twirl down the details for your output module inside the render queue window.

Using Import and Replace Usage
That little spiral icon is the key to your success. That represents the “pic-whip” in After Effects, which means if you click on that icon and drag it onto any composition, that comp will be linked to whatever option the pic-whip represents. In this case, wherever you drag and drop that icon, the chosen comp will be replaced everywhere in the project by the resulting render. Useful for pre-rendering comps as mentioned above. (Always be sure to keep original, non-prerendered comps somewhere in our project though, for backwards compatibility.)

And there you have it. As I said in the beginning, the rabbit-hole of the render queue goes deeper that it seems from the surface, and if you devote the time and continued effort to put these techniques into your pipeline, you will reap the benefits of efficiency and quality I/O.

A really interesting article by Chris Kelley from the themographblog
Thanks Chris.

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