Refik’s Recommended AE Settings

These are some quick notes from Refik’s initial dive into After Effects (AE). They specifically focus on recommend project/composition settings, as this advice is hardest to find on the internet. For more tutorials, see the Courses & Tutorials page.

Composition Settings

In general, work at 4K resolution (3840×2160) or higher. You can always render out at lower resolutions, but this will help future proof your work. Change your frame rate to 30 frames per second. You can also set the duration of your composition here.


Auto Save will save your life. After Effects will sometimes crash unexpectedly, especially as you start working with heavier projects, plugins, etc. By default, After Effects saves every 20 minutes. You might want to set that to every 5 minutes! Also get into the habit of hitting save frequently — the keyboard shortcuts are COMMAND+S and CTRL+S on Mac and Windows, respectively.
If your experiencing slow downs, try to adjust your Zoom Quality settings in Preview. By default it’s set to More Accurate, but you can use Preview to increase performance (at the cost of preview image quality).
Your machine will have a specific amount of RAM, or temporary memory available to After Effects. Put simply, the more RAM, the better After Effects will perform. By default, it tries to take as much as possible and leave the rest of your programs with a minimum amount (in my case 6 GB). This can be adjusted if necessary.
Similarly, there’s a certain amount of hard drive space that After Effects will temporarily use. Make sure to monitor this, and occasionally you may need to Clean Database & Cache to free up space during or after a project.
You may want to import still images into your project, especially if you’re rendering out image sequences from PhotoShop or 3D software like Cinema 4D. You can change the import settings so that each image is imported as one frame by using the setting above.
If you’re working with Audio, you may need to check and see if the right audio outputs are working for your computer. This can be checked in Audio Hardware and Audio Output Mapping (below).

Editor Settings

Rulers will help you divide up your project into compositional areas. Hit COMMAND+R (Mac) or CTRL+R (Windows) to enable rulers, or use the menu: View > Show Rulers. You can click and drag from a Ruler to add Guides (seen above).
While you’re working you can select the preview resolution using the following drop down menu. This can help you balance between playback quality and system performance.
While you’re working you can select the preview resolution using the following drop down menu. This can help you balance between playback quality and system performance.
You can collapse and expand the various Layer Properties by selecting the buttons in the lower left corner of the window. This is easy to miss and will give you more options of ways to work with your layers. If you need space, you can always collapse them again.
To open the graph editor, click the little icon shown above. You’ll then see the graph editor appear (as below). This will let you edit key frames with curves to create much more natural movements.
To import an After Effects layer, drag it into your composition or use the File > Import > File… menu. Once you’ve done that, right click the layer and click Create > Create Shapes from Vector Layer. This will let you edit the individual points with the pen tool (see below).
You can also add effects to a shape layer by right clicking and looking at the Effect menu.

Important Shortcuts!

To split layers at the playhead, select the layers and press COMMAND+SHIFT+D (Mac) or CONTROL+SHIFT+D (Windows).

To show all key frames on a given layer or a set of layers, highlight those layers and press U.


We recommend you use Adobe Media Encoder (AME) for all rendering and encoding.

Go to File > Export > Add to Adobe Media Encoder Queue.
To change your encoding settings, click on the first set of blue text (circled above).
You’ll want to set it to H.264 with a Bitrate Encoding of CBR and a Target Bitrate of 30 mbps for 1080HD and 50 mbps for 4KUHD. I’ve made AME presets; see the Submission Guidelines for more details.
Make sure to name your file properly!! See the assignment Submission Guidelines for more info.