Here’s a few easy ways to make After Effects masks

One way to really spice up your video is to create animations using masks in After Effects. In this article, we will cover a couple easy ways to make After Effects masks.

With masks, you have a lot of creative power over your videos. You can mask out any object you want from your video. You can even add in graphics and words behind subjects in your scene. There are a few easy ways to make After Effects masks. You can use Track mattes, Merge paths, or the traditional masking function. Additionally, you can get very precise masking with the pen tool.

Let’s go through each masking technique step by step.

Track mattes

Masking in After Effects
Use Track Mattes to get started. Image courtesy: TheHowToMac.
  • Step 1: Make sure Track Mattes is in the timeline. If it isn’t on your timeline, you can access it by toggling switches and modes. There you will be able to select Track Mattes
  • Step 2: Select the bottom layer and then select Alpha Matte. The resulting effect will use the top layer to mask the layer below. The top layer will mask the content that isn’t intersecting with it. On the flip-side, you can use Alpha Inverted Matte, which will use the layer above to punch out any of the content that is below it
After Effect masking
After selecting Alpha Matte, the top layer mask mask the layer below. Image courtesy: TheHowToMac.

Merge paths

  • Step 1: Make a shape with the selection tool. Make sure it’s on your first layer
  • Step 2: Go to Select Merge Paths
Merge Paths in After Effects
Here’s where Merge Paths is located. Image courtesy: TheHowToMac.
  • Step 3: In the Marge Path modes, select interest. This will create a mask where two objects intersect. You can also choose to select intersect, which will create a mask where the objects don’t intersect

Traditional masking function

  • Step 1: Go to Layer > Layer Mask> New Mask
  • Step 2: From there you can double click the mask and resize it to your liking

Masking with the pen tool

  • Step 1: Have your video in After Effects’ timeline.
  • Step 2: Create an adjustment layer above your video on the timeline. You can do this by going to Layer > New > Adjustment Layer. Before you start masking, be sure to name the adjustment layer as “Mask.” This will keep your original video safe in the long run if things go wrong.
  • Step 3: One the first frame of your timeline, click on the Adjustment Layer.
  • Step 4: Select the pen icon. You can find it at the top left corner of the screen. After it is selected, you can use the pen tool to outline the object you’re looking to mask. This is a very important stage and shouldn’t be rushed. Take your time and get the lines as close to the path you’re following as you can. It may be one of the easy ways to make After Effects masks, but it’s an important step.
  • Step 5: After starting the drawing on the Adjustment Layer, the Mask will appear in the layer’s drop-down menu. Go to Properties and click the stopwatch near the Mask Path. The keyframe symbol will appear on the timeline.
  • Step 6: Move the playhead 4-6 forward on your timeline. Your object will move as you do so. You have to move the mask to have it outline you object. While you are adjusting your path, make sure you see another keyframe on the timeline. Then move the nodes around to outline the shape again.
  • Step 7: Repeat step 6. Keep at it until you finish.
  • Step 8: Drag the animation you want behind your object into the timeline. Put it between your video and Mask layer.
  • Step 9: Toggle on the Track Matte function on the timeline. You can display your Track Matte options by clicking the icon at the bottom left corner. It will look like a circle and a square overlapping. After clicking, you will see a TrkMat column. In the drop-down menu, select None > Alpha Inverted Matte “Mask.”

These easy ways to make After Effects masks will have you masking like a pro in no time. Each one has its benefits depending on what you need it for, so test out which works for you. If you want more instruction, check out this “Masking: Absolute Basics” tutorial.

Image courtesy: Vimeo

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's managing editor.

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