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Tutorial: Using Shape Layers to Create Animated Lower-Thirds in Adobe After Effects CC

In this tutorial we'll look at using shape layers to create, customize, and animate lower-third graphics with Adobe After Effects CC 2015.

In this tutorial we’ll look at using shape layers to build lower-third graphics with Adobe After Effects CC 2015. I’m going to demonstrate how you can create custom lower-third graphics with some simple techniques.

Create a New Comp

Let's start with getting After Effects open and creating a new composition. Select and adjust your composition settings, so that they match your video project. Once you're done, press OK.

Draw and Position a Rectangle

Next, we'll navigate to the toolbar and hover over the Rectangle tool. You might have another shape visible to you if you've used this tool in past projects. To change this tool back to the Rectangle tool, just select the drop-down arrow and choose rectangle (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. Make sure you have the Rectangle tool selected.

With the shape tool active, you can now go to your composition window and, by clicking and dragging, you can start to draw a rectangle. Moving your mouse left and right or up and down gives you complete control of how you want this rectangle to look. If you're looking to keep your rectangle or any shape you draw proportioned, then you can undo the shape by pressing Command+C (Mac OS) or Control+C (Windows). Now, before drawing the shape, hold down Shift when clicking and dragging.

In this example, I'm just going to draw the custom rectangle shown in Figure 2 (below).

Figure 2. The custom rectangle we’ll use in this example.

Once you have your shape drawn, select the selection tool to reposition your shape. In this example I'll move the rectangle to the bottom part of my Composition window, as this is the area where my final lower-third will live.

Choose a Fill Color

You can now begin to further customize the shape. Open up the contents for the Shape Layer by selecting the triangle next to the corresponding layer name in the Timeline panel (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. Opening the contents for the Shape Layer.

Select the Contents drop-down, then Rectangle. Here you can adjust a number of things, including the color of our shape which can be found under Fill (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4. Adjusting the contents of the rectangle

Open the Fill options and select the color. This will open up the Color dialog box. Here you can pick whatever color you'd like. Use the eyedropper tool to pick an exact color from a logo or a color palette. For this example, I'll select a darker gray color and then press OK.

Add a Stroke

Next, let’s add a stroke around the shape. Collapse the Fill option and open up the Stroke drop-down. Here you can choose a color for your stroke, but I'll skip past that and adjust the width. Here, I'll enter a value of 25. Now, as you can see in Figure 5 (below), the shape has an outer stroke applied to it.

Figure 5. The rectangle with a Fill color selected and Stroke added.

You can continue adjusting options here and really fine-tune your look.

Add a Line

I'll stop there and quickly add a line to the shape. This will help separate a person's name from their title, which is commonly used in lower-third graphics. To add a line, begin by navigating to Layer in the menu, and then choose New > Solid (Figure 6, below).

Figure 6. To add a line, begin by choosing Layer > New > Solid.

The Solid Settings dialog box opens (Figure 7, below). For this example, I’ll select a white color as that is the color I want for my line.

Figure 7. The Solid Settings dialog box

Now, press OK and adjust the scale of this new white solid. With the White Solid layer selected in the timeline, press the S key to open the Scale properties. Now, deselect the Constrain Proportions option (Figure 8, below) and adjust the scale values individually until they fit within the rectangle shape. This might take some fine-tuning, depending on how you drew your shape.

Figure 8. Deselect the Constrain Proportions option.

Finally, I’ll adjust the opacity of the layer by selecting it and then pressing the T key to open the Opacity properties. I'll change this value from 100 to 20%. This makes the line a little more subtle, but still offers some separation between the name and the title.

Now, we have a lower-third, shown in Figure 9 (below), that we can add text to either in After Effects or other editing programs such as Premiere Pro CC.

Figure 9. The shape is ready for us to add text.

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