Threshold Concepts in Motion Graphics: Keyframing (AE1b)

Motion graphics and animation are strewn with threshold concepts without which students cannot progress in the medium: the understanding of persistance of vision, how the brain and the eye work to together to form the illusion of movement, or the realisation of animated movement over time and how to make objects slow down and speed up and basic software related concepts. One area I wanted to look at was the notion of the keyframe in Adobe After Effects. After Effects scares many at first in fact if you gave someone the software even an editor they probably wouldn’t be able to figure out what to do with it without instruction. After Effects allows so much to be done, animation, mattes, masking and bluescreen, rotoscoping, layers, motion tracking, film compositing (layering shot footage and effects to produce a new shot) and we could go on. So when sitting students down infront of the software for the first time they must quickly gain a simple grasp of how they can control this facility within about half an hour or they tend to get a bit bewildered at its scope. Here’s a couple of things After Effects does..


a simple film using shapes, colour and metaphor

compositing – the basics of how this works


In After Effects there is a core principle that when mastered suddenly unlocks much of the package and gives the student the facility to then feel comfortable in discovering more and to have some control over how they might bring some of these features into their work and this the keyframe  – here’s the icons concerned..

Now without going through this in full detail a keyframe is a snapshot in time recorded by the software. Eg. so a ball on a line starts at the beginning (mark a keyframe there) and travels in time to the end of the line (add a keyframe there). The computer can then work out how to animate between these two keyframes (called ‘tweening’ short for inbetweening or interpolation if your’e being strict) and produce to you a moving ball along a line and all you had to do was to say where it started and ended. A keyframe can describe and control all sort of things, positions of objects on the screen, how much of an effect to add (0-100% keyframe that), how visible something is over time (0-100% keyframe that),  This basic concept underpins not only every feature in the package but also unlocks many other software applications to the student and leads them to an understanding of how a whole industry is making things move and animate in film and tv.

This is a Transformative moment, perhaps not so Troublesome but hard to explain clearly the first time in the context of the software, It’s certainly Irreversible as the knowledge cannot be undone and explains so much, is Integrative because it links to surrounding areas, is Bounded to a certain area of activity, Discursive because they extend the discourse into further possibilities, Reconstitutive because this can extend and improve a students practice in many areas they are dealing with or about to deal with and Liminality is achieved because something seemingly tough has been breached and gives the student a more advanced method of control.