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Illustrator Objects to After Effects Layers

Lifting objects to individual layers By Dave Nagel
You've created several dozen objects in Adobe Illustrator, and now you want to animate them in After Effects. Problem: No matter what you try, the objects don't come into After Effects as individual layers, but as one single layer. The preventative solution would have been to create each of your objects on its own separate layer in Illustrator. But, since it's too late for that now, what can you do short of manually moving each of your objects into a new layer? I'll tell you.

Illustrator 10 and CS include a feature that was actually designed to help you export animations directly from the program. But it's also suitable for saving yourself a ton of manual labor when you need to bring objects and groups into their own layers. The feature is called "Release to Layers." This feature essentially takes any objects you select and moves them into their own sublayers. SOunds nice and simple. Unfortunately, After Effects at present doesn't understand what to do with Illustrator sublayers, so it will still treat your entire document as having only one layer. But there is a workaround.

In Illustrator
1. To begin, if you have any objects that are made up of more than one path, you're going to need to group them. Otherwise, each individual element of the object will be sent to its own layer, which can cause you problems with your animation. So select the elements that make up the object, and hit Command-G (Mac) or Control-G (Windows) to group them.

2. Now go to Illustrator's Layers palette and select the main layer there. If your document contains multiple layers, select any and all layers that contain elements that you want to use to create new layers.

3. Click on the flyaway menu in the upper-right corner of the Layers palette. From there, choose "Release to Layers (Sequence)" from the list of available options.

4. Now all of your objects and groups are on their own sublayers. However, as I mentioned before, this isn't enough for After Effects. If you were to import this right now, After Effects will still treat this document as a single-layer file.

So what you need to do is to select all of the individual sublayers at once. (Click on the topmost sublayer and then Shift-click on the last sublayer to select them all quickly.) Then drag this group of sublayers up tot he top of the stacking order in the Layers palette.

Voila! Each object is now on its own proper layer.

Save your document, and you're ready to go.

In After Effects
5. Now all you have to do is import the file into After Effects. To import it with layers in tact, choose File > Import > File. Select your document, and choose to import it either as a "Composition" or as a "Composition?Cropped Layers." (The benefit of Cropped layers is that each of the layers will match the size of the individual object on the layer, which can make the objects easier to handle.)

6. Now just double-click the imported composition to open it up, or drag the composition into an existing composition to add it in as a subcomp. (In the second case, in order to access individual layers and make changes, you'll need to double-click the subcomp.)

That's it. If you have any further questions, be sure to visit me in our Adobe Illustrator forum by clicking here. You can access our Adobe After Effects forum by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:adobe illustrator, layers, release to layers, after effects


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