3 Useful After Effects Expressions

When I first entered the world of After Effects expressions, I must admit… I was intimidated. It was very daunting that not only is there robust animation and design techniques that I need to learn, but then realizing there is a whole other dimension that can take those animations and designs to another level.

Now I’ll admit that I’m no coder. And I think many other motion designers and animators would agree with me that we just want to focus on designing. That’s it. But when you realize how powerful expressions can be when creating in After Effects, it makes you wish you knew more about them but specifically on the results that these pieces of code accomplish.

So this begs the question: if you don’t want to dive deep into code and advanced expressions, what can you learn that will make most the difference in your projects? Well, in this post I’ll be going over 3 of the best expressions that I use daily as a motion designer. And trust me, they won’t scare you. These three are easy to understand and by the end of this article you’ll have some new ideas on how to utilize these techniques.

Parent Pick Whip Tool

Okay most of you are probably like, wait… that’s not an expression!? But it kind of is. When you use the parent pick whip tool, you are essentially telling a layer to follow another layer. Hence the name parent; the layer being pick whipped is the child of the layer it is following. This has many uses as you’ll find out.

One of the most used ways advanced motion designers use the parent pick whip tool is through expression controls. Expression controls are effects that you can add to a layer to essentially control expression values. You might have heard of a few of these such as the “Slider Control” or “Checkbox Control”. By parent pick whipping values or variables to these expression controls, we can create more customized and controlled outcomes.

One way that you can use an expression control and parent pick whip tool together is for making numbers count up or down. By parent pick whipping the source text of a text layer to a slider control. You have complete control over how the text layer changes value over time. I actually cover how to do this in one of my YouTube tutorials. You can watch it below if you’d like to see more on how this works.

As you can see, the parent pick whip tool has many benefits when it comes to expressions. Now let’s cover one expression that can save you some time when designing longer motion design projects.

loopIn & loopOut

What if I told you that you can easily loop a background video to play continuously over and over no matter how long the composition is? Well you can!

By using the loopIn or loopOut expression, you can accomplish a loop effect to any layer in After Effects. How you go about doing this is by adding the expression to the time remapping portion of a layer. This will loop in or out the time remapped keyframes so that it loops. Then you can easily drag the edge of the layer to fit the length of the composition.

To see more on how this works, I’ve made a video that shows you how to specifically do this for a loopOut expression. You can watch it in the video linked below.

The loopIn & loopOut expressions are very useful and can save you a lot of time. For very long animation projects, you can easily apply this expression instead of duplicating layers several times to fill the length of a composition. And you don’t have several background layers in your composition, saving you space in your timeline panel as well.

Now let’s look at one of my favorite expressions. The next one also saves time when it comes to animation but is more utilitarian.


This expression changed how I animate today. Hands down this is one of my favorites and I’ve used it in a lot of projects since learning it.

What the valueAtTime expression accomplishes is repetitive offset animation to several layers in a composition. So say if you need a shape to animate in, but there are 100 shapes that you need to animate in that follow it, you can do this by using this expression.

Alternatively you would have to apply an animation to all 100 shapes. But by using this expression it saves time animating, and the keyframes are all in one single place. So if you need to make changes to how the animation is, you don’t have to redo all 100 shape animations individually.

If you’d like to see this expression in use, I’ve linked a video below explaining how to use it.

Nonetheless you can create some unique and powerful animation sequences using this expression. And best of all, it doesn’t take long to apply the expression. By far this is the best one I’ve ran across.


So there you have it. Those are my top 3 favorite most used After Effects expressions. There are many others out there that I use as well such as “wiggle” or “time”. If you have one that I didn’t cover, feel free to leave a comment below to one that you use most often. I’d love to hear from you!

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Published by johnthevideoguy

I am a Cleveland based video editor and videographer. My mission is to push and share the innovation of video technology through my experiences and the ideas of others.

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