How to Prepare and Import Illustrator Files into After Effects for Animation


Here are two ways to quickly prepare your Illustrator files and import them into After Effects for animation. Let’s take a look.

Shape layers in After Effects are powerful tools for making compositions, but designers unfamiliar with the software may find them difficult to use. For those more familiar with Illustrator, you’re in luck! Importing Illustrator files into After Effects has become easier with each new release. However, there’s still some prep work that must be done to your Illustrator file before it can be imported into After Effects. Here’s what you need to do.


Why Illustrator to After Effects?

If you’re looking to animate an image or vector, Illustrator will allow you to break that image up into individual parts so that once you open up After Effects, you’re able to move them around, add expressions, or do whatever you want to those individual objects. So, for this particular example, you can have the lens changing in size or rotating while the rest of the camera sits still.

If you’re unfamiliar with Adobe Illustrator, we made an in-depth beginner’s guide to getting started, and what to look for when working in Illustrator.


The Importance of Importing Files this Way

As you’ll see in the steps below, there’s a particular way to do this, so the obvious question is: Why? When you’re working with Illustrator files, there are often several layers for one image. When you bring your image into After Effects as is, all these layers are individual “groups” and often the layout is overwhelming and hard to keep organized. So, this process just keeps everything a little more cohesive as you start working in After Effects. For a step-by-step look at how to do this, we recently published a tutorial on how to do this exact thing.

Step 1

For today’s example, I’m going to start off with this Shutterstock image. You can chose any of the cameras from this image, but I’m using the one pictured below, as there are several individual pieces to the image I can work with in After Effects.

Choose your image. Image via karnoff.

Step 2

Create a new Illustrator document that’s 1920px by 1080px. This will be the size of our composition in After Effects. Copy and paste the camera into the new document and resize to your liking.

Resizing Image
Resize your image.

Step 3

If we went ahead and brought this into After Effects right now, the camera would act like a single object, leaving you unable to animate individual objects within the image. The resulting animation would be extremely boring. Therefore, our main goal before bringing it into After Effects is to separate each shape into its own layer. This can be done two different ways.

Option 1:

Open Layers/Create Layers
Open the Layers panel to begin creating new layers.

Open up the Layers panel. If it’s not already on your sidebar, go to Window > Layers.

To create a new layer, click the icon that looks like a folded piece of paper at the bottom of the Layers panel. Create a lot of layers so you don’t have to keep going back to that button.

Ungrouping Layers
Ungroup animation layers.

Next, ungroup everything and select a single shape. In the Layers panel, notice that a little square has appeared on the far-right side of the layer.

Move Shape
Move shape to separate layer animation.

To bring the selected shape into a new layer, click on that square and drag it into one of the new layers. Once it’s been moved, rename it so you’ll be able to tell which shape is in that layer.

Do this for each shape. After a shape is moved to its own layer, it’s helpful to hide it. This way, you’ll be able to see which ones still need to be moved to their own layers.

Option 2:

Release to Layers
Select Release to Layers (Sequence).

Open up the Layers panel. Select the camera layer. Next, click the icon at the top-right of the panel and select the Release to Layers (Sequence) option.

After Effects Vector Files
Vector files in After Effects.

This will put each individual shape into its own layer. After, select all the layers and drag them outside of the layer they’re all in. That empty layer can then be deleted.

Go through all the layers and rename them so you know which shape the layer contains. It may take a while, but you’ll have a much better understanding of what things are once you’re working in After Effects.

Save .ai File
Don’t forget to rename each layer.

That’s pretty much it. Simple, right? We’re now ready to bring the Illustrator file into After Effects.

Step 4

Retain Layer Sizes in AE
Select Composition – Retain Layer Sizes.

Open After Effects and go to File > Import > File. Select your Illustrator file and, at the bottom where it says Import As, make sure to select Composition – Retain Layer Sizes.

Finished Product
Voilà! Your finished product.

Open up the newly created composition, and you’re ready to animate!


For another great Illustrator tutorial, check out this article:

Looking for more ways to up your video editing game? Check these out:

Cover image via karnoff.



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