Getting Started With After Effects: What To Learn First?

Adobe After Effects is a very complicated software. And it can be difficult to learn at first. That’s why in this post I’m going to be going over 4 key concepts that I’d start with if you are learning After Effects for the first time.

And if you are COMPLETELY brand new to After Effects, I recommend watching my beginners After Effects tutorial below just to get familiar with how the tools work and the layout of the software.


One of the first things you can learn inside After Effects is how masks work. Masking is an important tool whether you are using After Effects to design motion graphics or compositing visual effects to your footage.

Masks allow you to cut out and combine different elements together. You can also use them to build transitions for layers. Masks can be added to several layer types such as text, footage, images, graphics, and even native elements such as solids. You can even add effects to masks!

All that being said, you can do a lot with masks. If you want to learn how to use masks in After Effects and all the intricate features when using masks, I highly recommend watching my full length tutorial on masking inside After Effects. It’s a long step by step tutorial, but I believe that it breaks down everything you need to know about how to work with masks in After Effects. Check it out below!

Track Mattes

Similar to masks, track mattes in After Effects essentially allow you to put one layer into another layer’s bounds. Kind of like the image below, the video is inside the text’s shape / bounds.

Photo Courtesy: Videomaker

There are two types of track mattes inside After Effects.

  • Alpha Mattes
  • Luma Mattes

Alpha mattes tracks the layers opacity, or in other words a layer’s alpha channel. And a luma matte tracks the layers luminosity, or how bright a layer is from black to white. It can be kind of hard to visualize by just reading about track mattes. If you want to see them used in action, I recommend checking out my video below that goes over how to use both alpha and luma mattes in After Effects 2023.

Track mattes can be used to create some very visually interesting designs. But what I tend to use them most for is to add textures to layers. Say if you have some basic white text. Maybe you go to Texture Labs and grab some cool free textures. Make it into an alpha matte track matte and now you have something more interesting. 😉

The Graph Editor

When you start key-framing different parameters inside After Effects, you may want to start experimenting with how the values change in between the keyframes. This is where the graph editor can help you out. The graph editor allows you to fine tune your keyframes with custom easing capabilities.

By default when you create keyframes inside After Effects, they are linear. Linear meaning that the value changes at a consistent speed between the keyframes. There is another type of keyframe called bezier. Bezier keyframes have a curve to them and the value changes speed in between the keyframes.

Photo Courtesy: Mamoworld

“Ease-In” keyframes eases into a stop. So the end of the keyframe animation is a lot slower. Where as “Ease-Out” keyframes eases out of a keyframe slowly picking up speed as it goes to the next keyframe. “Easy-ease” implies that there is some type of ease on both sides of the keyframe.

The graph editor and learning how to change the speed of the value in between keyframes can be tricky to learn at first. If you want to see the graph editor in action, check out my in depth video below where I cover how to use the tools inside the graph editor to adjust the easing.


Another important concept in After Effects is pre-composing. Pre-composing takes several layers and nests them together in their own composition. You can even pre-compose other compositions.

This can be helpful for several situations. Some include if you are trying to create a template for motion graphics. Other times you might just want more screen real estate in your After Effects timeline. Pre-comping is a good way to organize and consolidate your layers.

There are a few things to keep in mind before you pre-compose layers. And to learn about these important steps, I’d recommend watching my video that covers everything you need to know when it comes to pre-composing layers inside After Effects.

So those are the 4 areas I’d learn first if you’re learning After Effects for the first time. I hope that these have helped you. If you want to take you After Effects skills to the next level, I recommend reading my post on the best plugins to use inside After Effects. Otherwise, thank you so much for reading!

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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