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How to Use Track Matte in After Effects

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Join motion designer Tim Lucke as he walks through his character animation process in Adobe After Effects. He’ll use expression controls, track mattes, and character rigging to bring an animated intro to life!

In this lesson Tim will go through how to use a track matte in After Effects to show you how to apply changes to several layers at once, and then animate those layers. To learn more, you can watch the whole free After Effects course Master Motion Design - Dynamic Character Animation in After Effects.

One of the great new features of the latest version of After Effects is they've totally revamped the entire track matte system and it's much better now. In the past we'd have to add a track matte above each one of our layers and it would be really annoying to manage them all. With the new system, all we have to do is create one master track matte and we can apply that to all our objects and it makes things much simpler. 

A Track Matte can be a still image, a video, a graphic, text, or a shape. For example, you can use a text layer as a Track Matte for a video layer to allow the video to only show through the shapes defined by the text characters. The underlying layer (the fill layer) gets its transparency values from the values of certain channels in the Track Matte layer—either its alpha channel or the luminance of its pixels. - Adobe

How to Use Track Mattes in After Effects

Create a Track Matte Master

Here's how you can add a track matte in After Effects. The track matte is going to be based on its alpha transparency so I'm going to use a shape layer. The colour doesn't matter.

draw a shape layerdraw a shape layerdraw a shape layer

I'm naming this Track Matte Master. Then, what we need to do is select all our relevant layers, so that's everything except the cloud and the light bulb.

highlight layershighlight layershighlight layers

You can see the highlighted layers above, they're all going to use this track matte master.

pick whippick whippick whip

To bring up the track matte settings you have to use the button in the bottom left, second in (it's highlighted blue above) and next to the track matte settings you can see the swirl shape which is a pick whip.

Pick Whip

pick whip grabpick whip grabpick whip grab

You can grab the pick whip under Track Matte next to one of your layers and drag that to the track matte master layer and now all those highlighted layers will use the master track matte. After Effects sees that you're using a layer as a track matte and it will turn off the visibility, but it is still there.

36 Minutes

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Learn how to animate your paintings in Adobe After Effects using these animation techniques! In this free After Effects course, Jonathan Lam will walk you step by step through the process of how to animate a painting in After Effects. Using a painting by professional digital artist Henrik Evensen, you'll learn how to add and connect the different natural elements, such as wind, moving grass, and clouds, from scratch.

    Animate - Value Graph

    To animate the main movement of this character we're going to adjust the position of the body, if we hit P that brings up the position properties. As in this case you're sort of moving up vertically, I prefer to use the value graph rather than the speed graph because it's easier to work with.

    separate dimensionsseparate dimensionsseparate dimensions

    To do this, right-click on the layer - Body in this case - and choose Separate Dimensions


    In the Y position I've set a keyframe to have him pop up super quickly. We don't want it to be straight though so this doesn't look great. We want some overshoot. 

    adjust pop upadjust pop upadjust pop up

    I've taken this final position keyframe, copied it and added it further along. Then pushed up the character, which is going to give it some bounce when he pops up.

    Keyframe Easing

    keyframe easingkeyframe easingkeyframe easing

    Next, I did some keyframe easing so that he doesn't slowly bounce, he's going to bounce up at a constant, fairly quick speed. 

    Add Repeater


    One thing we need to address is the one eye. When it comes to eyes, we know that the two eyes are going to move together. Instead of duplicating this eye and then having to animate it twice, what I like to do - and this only applies to shape layers by the way - is add a repeater.

    add repeateradd repeateradd repeater

    Next to the layer, you can hit Add and then choose Repeater, and that adds two copies of that, we only want one so I can delete that and then use the Transform controls to position the copy in the right place.

    reposition eyereposition eyereposition eye

    Now if I want to animate the pupils, I only have to do that once, and it will apply to both, so it saves a lot of work.


    Our full course video will take you through more examples, but you can just repeat the steps we've outlined above to add more track mattes in After Effects. Hopefully you've learned some new skills from this free After Effects tutorial and be sure to check out the upcoming lessons from this course.

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    About This Page

    This page was written by Marie Gardiner from the transcript of a course by Tim Lucke. Marie is a writer, author, and photographer. It was edited by Gonzalo Angulo. Gonzalo is an editor, writer and illustrator.

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