Read this article on Reddit.

Recently, I was talking to a Dokyu customer who wondered whether they would be able to provide a client with the original icon assets. This is a no-no for most paid templates, so we offered a simple solution.

Rendering With The Alpha Channel

We suggested he render the icons to Apple ProRes4444, which is a high-quality codec for, “storing and exchanging motion graphics and composites”. It also allows us to retain transparency, or the′alpha channel′.

It turns out that the customer is an industry veteran, so immediately saw it as the simple solution.

Since the end of 2018, After Effects, Premiere Pro and Media Encoder on Windows have been bundled with Apple ProRes codecs. Apple users, ironically, aren′t so lucky.

If ProRes isn′t an option on your machine, the cheapest way to get them is to purchase either Apple Motion or Compressor. Apple Motion is about $/£50. Alternatively, you can use Quicktime > Animation which also retains the alpha channel, though may produce larger files.

Just as in the case-study above, you can prerender to alpha in order to allow clients to easily change anything from colour to position to rotation and scale properties. If you include text, you can provide this as a separate layer that can have its own properties applied to it in the editor.

A Missed Opportunity

This got me thinking. Surely there must be a lot of new After Effects users wrestling with performance and limited hard drive space as they work on progressively larger projects? Not everyone can afford a powerful workstation with a dedicated media cache drive.

So let′s take a quick look at the benefits of rendering sections of your project as you go.

Make After Effects Run 400% Faster

As you′ve probably guessed now, increasing the performance involves using prerendered sequences that are produced as your project becomes more complex. This alone gives you a big bump in performance. You can turn off completed compositions taking up resources, and sync up with the rendered file(s).

But there′s actually more we can do if you′re a speed geek without limitless pockets.

Proxies and H.264

The performance benefit of going from unrendered to ProRes4444 alpha is far greater than going from ProRes4444 to Proxy H.264, so the following is reserved for those who find AE slow-down unbelievably frustrating.

Unlike renders we deliver to clients, we′re able to produce sequences in proxy format for our own use. Proxy is the industry term for replacing a sequence with a smaller file size version. It′s common practice today for those working in 4K with raw footage.

By way of example, the Dokyu Documentary scenes use proxies to speed up editing. And automatically revert to full quality when added to the render queue. The user doesn′t need to do anything! Here′s how you can do it.

Draft mode

Render settings in After Effects.

You can select′Draft′ settings in the After Effects render queue and the resolution will be halved, although you can also select quarter resolution to boost performance even more. Documentary scene proxies are 480 x 270, a quarter of 1920 x 1080 and plenty good enough for editing and preview.

H.264 & Media Encoder

Selecting a format in Media Encoder.

Files rendered out of After Effects are meant to be non-lossy, so various codecs that allow you to edit further in an editor without quality loss, or deliver to a client. As a result, files are generally very big, which doesn′t exactly help our performance mission.

A good habit to get into lies with bringing these AE ′non-lossy′ proxies straight into Media Encoder to produce a web-ready H.264 file, compressed and ideal as a proxy.

If you decide to go the full 9 yards with your performance optimisation, well done! By producing proxies as you work through  each successive composition, you′ll likely find it actually changes the way you work. You can start to take on more complex projects as your computer doesn′t grind to a halt to become a door stop.

If you know which elements of a scene or video are going to be the most complex, get them out of the way first! Prerender, and continue uninterrupted.

If you feel overwhelmed, create storyboard placeholders that serve as still images which appear for approximately the duration they will in the finished version. This is what the big animation studios do, and for good reason!

The Incredibles 2, Storyboard side-by-side.

This is where a stylus/pen can come in useful. If you do it often enough, it may be worth saving up for a Wacom tablet, or even a recent iPad/Surface tablet. You′ll see in the video above that static rough drawings of the scene play for the anticipated period of time, before moving to another drawing.

We′re not typically working on projects of this complexity, but by seeing how the pros work we discover a method of building momentum early on when it′s so easy to become disheartened and unmotivated.

With the 480 x 270 H.264 (.mp4) proxy sequence in hand, there′s only one more thing to do. Import it to your After Effects project panel and assign the render to the composition in question. H.264 will have turned your alpha channel to black, so you can apply a′linear key′ effect to the black in order to get that alpha back.

Setting proxy.

To summarise, here are the benefits of replacing compositions with renders:

  • MEDIA CACHE: We take the weight off our media cache drive so it doesn′t fill up as fast; forcing us to reset the source and be dragged back to pre RAM-preview state. As it′s important to use a fast drive like an SSD or NVME for file access, it′s likely your media cache isn’t as big as you′d like.
  • UI SPEED: We take the weight off our CPU and RAM and can iterate and create faster.

Hope that helped and I might see you in the next one.

Psst, if this all seems like too much work, or you would like to avoid starting projects with that dreaded′Comp 1′, try out the Dokyu demo below and consider purchasing for a headstart in motion design…

Kickstart Video Brands Online

Dokyu Motion is our flagship product. It packs over 1,000,000 diverse elements into After Effects to become the single most powerful plugin available for motion designers today.