After Effects Tutorial: Understanding The Workspaces & Panels

By Timothy Brauning on January 20, 2022

Adobe After Effects CC is a powerful tool that allows you to create stunning animations and videos. You will often face many different workspaces and panels when using After Effects. It can be difficult for new users to know what each panel does, so we've broken them down for you.

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Table of Contents


What is the Difference Between a Workspace and a Panel?

A workspace is a set of panels that are arranged in a specific way so that you can work on them more easily. For example, you might have a workspace with all the panels open for editing a video, or for working on the motion of a particular object.

A panel is an individual window that contains specific information and tools for working on a particular task. For example, the timeline panel contains all the controls you need to edit the timing and motion of your video footage. The video preview panel lets you watch your footage as you're editing it. And so on.

Adobe After Effects workspaces and panels

What is an Adobe After Effects Workspace?

An Adobe After Effects workspace comprises multiple panels that allow you to work on your project or active composition. The workspaces can be customized to fit the needs of each user, but by default, there are 14 different workspaces.

What is an Adobe After Effects Workspace

Basics of the Adobe After Effects Workspace

The organization & position of each panel is known by their name together as a workspace.

Adobe includes preset workspaces which can be easily used. They also provide several different panels depending on the selected workspace. Workspaces are grouped by the tasks a user may have in mind.

Whenever you start After Effects, the first workspace that will come up is the default workspace.

Available After Effects Workspaces:

Default Workspace

The Default workspace is the basic After Effects workspace that contains all of the panels needed to complete a project. When you first open a New Project, this will the be workspace that opens automatically.

Learn Workspace

The Learn after effects workspace contains panels that allow users to learn about After Effects by experimenting with different tools and features. If you are beginning your After Effects journey, it might be helpful to start in the learn workspace to try out different tools and features.

Adobe After Effects Learn Workspace

Standard Workspace

The Standard After Effects workspace is similar to the default workspace except that it does not contain a few of the panels such as Favorites, History, and Project-level preferences.

Adobe After Effects Standard Workspace

Small Screen

The Small Screen After Effects workspace is designed for users working on projects with limited screen real estate. This workspace contains essential panels needed to complete a project.

Basics of the Adobe After Effects Workspace

Libraries Workspace

The Libraries After Effects workspace is designed for users who manage and work with assets. This workspace contains the Library panel, which allows you to access your project files, assets, and libraries from different places around the internet, such as Adobe Stock.

Adobe After Effects Workspace and Panels

All Panels Workspace

The All Panels After Effects workspace is designed for users who want access to all the panels in one place. This After Effects workspace contains every panel included with After Effects CC.

Adobe After Effects workspace details

Animation Workspace

The Animation After Effects workspace is designed for users who are creating animations. This After Effects workspace contains the Timeline panel, which allows you to create and edit animations, and the Composition panel, which allows you to preview your animation.

adobe after effects reset workspace

Essential Graphics Workspace

The Essential Graphics After Effects workspace is designed for users working with graphics. This After Effects workspace contains the Composition panel, which allows you to preview your composition in different views and access all of the panels that contain essential features such as color management and pixel aspect ratio.

Adobe After Effects

Color Workspace

The Color After Effects workspace is designed for users working with color. This After Effects workspace contains the Color panel, which allows you to adjust the colors of your composition, and the Lumetri Panel, which allows you to make further color adjustments.

Adobe After Effects panel explanation

Effects Workspace

This After Effects effects workspace contains the Effect Controls panel, which allows you to adjust the properties of an effect, and the Timeline panel, which allows you to create and edit animations.

Adobe After Effects

Minimal Workspace

The Minimal After Effects workspace is designed for users working with a limited amount of screen real estate, much like the small screen workspace. This After Effects workspace contains only the essential panels needed to complete a project and hides all other panels until you need them. 

This workspace is great for you if you need to focus more on the composition and timeline panels and do not want or need the distractions of other panels.

Adobe After Effects workspace tutorial

Paint Workspace

The Paint workspace is designed for users who are working with brushes and more stylized graphics. This After Effects workspace contains the Brush panel, which allows you to customize your brushes, and the Timeline panel, which allows you to create and edit animations. 

Text Workspace

The Text workspace will be used frequently as you will likely add titles or descriptions to many parts of your video. This After Effects workspace contains the Type tool, which will allow you to add text to your composition, and the Timeline panel, which allows you to create and edit your text animations.

Adobe After Effects tutorial

Motion Tracking Workspace

The Motion Tracking workspace is designed for users working with motion tracking. This After Effects workspace contains the Tracker panel, which allows you to track and mask moving objects in your footage. 

 

How To Make A Custom Workspace

After Effects allows you to build a custom workspace any way you wish, based on the type of project you are working with.

Simply Drag and drop to drag panels to different sections where you wish to place them. You can adjust different sections' widths using the borders.

To create a custom workstation, you can select the Window menu > Workspace > Save as New Workspace... give it a name and click OK, and now you have created your own custom workspace.

Adobe After Effects workspace

You can find your new workspace in both the Window > Workspace dropdown from the menu, and directly in the After Effects dropdown

Adobe After Effects

What are After Effects Panels?

There are a variety of panels in After Effects that allow you to access different features of the software. Each panel is designed for a specific task, such as animating or working with color.

after effects what are panels

Where can I find the After Effects CC Panels?

After Effects panels can be found in different windows and workspaces within the software. The Animation workspace, for example, contains the Timeline panel and the Composition panel, among a few others.

They are also located in the Window menu dropdown under workspaces.

Adobe After Effects Window menu dropdown

Composition Panel

One of After Effects' most essential panels are the Composition panel. It's the preview screen and primary animation stage you use while developing an After Effects project.

You may even create your animated films in this area, and it includes tools that let you modify how your composition previews. You may want to make, display, or conceal rules.

Perhaps you need to isolate the alpha channel of your composition so that you can identify which areas are transparent and which are opaque. All of this may be done in the Composition panel.

Adobe After Effects Composition Panel

Effect Controls Panel

The Effect Controls panel is not included in the default workspace, but it becomes visible whenever you add an effect to a layer in your composition. It may also be accessed from the Window menu.

The Effect Controls panel allows you to adjust the properties of an effect. This is where you will add effects such as glows or styles and make adjustments like color and blend modes after adding them.

Adobe After Effects

Layer Panel

The Layer panel allows you to view and search through your layers. This is where you will find all of the assets in your composition, including layers, masks, shapes, audio files, and more.

Adobe After Effects Layer Panel

Project Panel

The After Effects Project panel is where you will store and organize all of your video, audio, graphics, and any other file you will use for your project.

The Project Panel is almost always located in the top left of your screen.

Keeping the project panel organized is very important, be sure to use bins for the different file types as this will make your project creation process go much more smoothly.

Adobe After Effects Project Panel

Timeline Panel

The Timeline panel is one of the primary panels used in animation creation. Each composition has its individual Timeline panel where you can animate layer and effect properties.

This is almost always located in the bottom middle of Adobe After Effects.

Adobe After Effects

Effects & Presets Panel

After Effects includes hundreds of animation presets that you can apply to your layers and modify to suit your needs, including many text animation presets. You can browse and apply animation presets in After Effects using the Effects & Presets panel.

Adobe After Effects Presets Panel

Brush Panel

The Brush panel allows users to customize their brushes in the Paint workspace. You can import brushes and create your custom brush presets in the Brush panel.

Color Panel

The Color panel is used to adjust the color properties of layers and effects. This can be done by adjusting the hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, and more.

You can also use this panel to create a custom color palette for your project.

Character Panel

The Character panel is used to animate text within after effects. You can import your fonts or use one of the included typefaces that come with after effect, then adjust its properties using this panel.

Align Panel

The Align panel is used to align the contents of layers in after effects. You can distribute and arrange your layers manually, or you can use one of After Effects' built-in presets with a single click.

Info Panel

The Info panel displays information about the contents of a layer, including its size and any transformations. It also includes tools to use when working with masks, such as feathering or opacity.

Audio Panel

The Audio panel is used to add and adjust audio properties for your project. You can control your audio tracks' volume, panning, and pitch from this panel.

Transform Panel

The Transform panel displays the position, rotation, scale, and anchor point of a layer or effect. This information can be helpful when adjusting the positioning and size of your animation by implementing keyframes.

Content-Aware Fill Panel

The Content-Aware Fill in After Effects allows you to remove unwanted portions or objects from video footage while also filling in the space of the removal automatically. It compares frames overtime to fill in missing pixels by pulling them from other frames in the video.

Lumetri Scopes Panel

The Lumetri Scopes panel contains four built-in video scopes: Vectorscopes, Histogram, Parade, and Waveform. These scopes allow you to evaluate and color-correct your videos.

Mask Interpolation Panel

Mask Interpolation allows for the creation of mask path keyframes with a lot of precision and smooth, lifelike animation. Smart Mask Interpolation creates intermediate keyframes based on the settings you provide after you pick the mask path keyframes to interpolate.

Media Browser

The Media Browser is a window where you may look at, preview, and import a variety of media types. To choose a folder with media files and preview the contents, use the folder navigator.

Metadata Panel

In After Effects, the Metadata panel only displays static metadata. The Project and Files metadata are displayed at the top of the panel, while project and file information is shown at the bottom.

Motion Sketch Panel

Adobe After Effects includes a panel called Motion Sketch that allows you to record keyframes for the movement of any layer in real-time with your mouse. This is why it's known as "Motion Sketch"; you're actually sketching the motion of an object in your scene.

Paint Panel

The Paint option, on the other hand, allows you to alter the opacity, flow, color, diameter, blend mode, channels, and duration of your animation.

Paragraph Panel

The Paragraph panel contains options for controlling aspects of a paragraph text box, such as the alignment, indentation, and leading (line spacing). Each line in the point text is a separate paragraph. 

Preview Panel

When you preview a composition in After Effects, the program allocates RAM to play video and audio at real-time speed in the Timeline, Layer, or Footage panel. The amount of frames that can be stored for real-time playback is determined by the amount of RAM available on your device and the settings in the Preview window.

Smoother Panel

The Smoother panel smoothens keyframe changes automatically, resulting in more gradual changes in an animation.

Tools Panel

The Tools panel may be shown as a toolbar over the top of the application window or as a standard, dockable panel.

Tracker Panel

The 3D camera tracker feature in Adobe After Effects is one of the most useful tools at your disposal. After you turn on this function, After Effects will analyze your video and create a three-dimensional space. It will generate an enormous number of track points after that, which you may then pick and use for text, solid, null, or whatever you want to place in the video.

Wiggler Tool

In After Effects, the Wiggler Tool allows you to insert wiggled keyframes between two selected keyframes. Select two Keyframes within the layer property that you want to wiggle and modify the Frequency, Magnitude, Noise type, and dimensions as desired before hitting "apply."

Flowchart Panel

The Flowchart panel is a content-managing tool that may be used to arrange your material in the form of objects. The Flowchart panel, which displays an organizational chart or a graphical representation of the connection between compositions and footage items in your After Effects project, is useful for organizing your work.

Footage Panel

A sequence of controls for examining video is located in an After Effects Footage panel. You can magnify or shrink your view of the picture, playback, and cue motion footage. You may also examine the RGB and alpha channels separately.

How do I Resize a Panel?

To resize a panel, you can drag the panel's border to make it larger or smaller. You can also use the arrow keys on your keyboard to resize the panel.

Primary Ae Panels

The primary Ae panels are the ones that you will use most often.

The Default and Standard workspaces contain most of the primary and essential panels, while other workspaces such as Color and Effects contain additional panels that can be helpful for specific tasks.

Conclusion

This article has discussed the different After Effects workspaces and panels and what they do. We recommend that you experiment with each of these panels to see which ones work best for you and your workflow.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us for help.

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