Best practices and guidelines for motion designers

Overview

XMPie uMerge Video is a video personalization plugin which enables the creation of dynamic After Effects projects that can be deployed and automatically rendered on a cloud service.

This article aims to help designers and animators prepare and organize their After Effects project for deployment and rendering on the cloud.

General considerations

As a rule, an After Effects project intended for deployment using uMerge Video must be optimized for the fastest rendering possible. As the project will be later rendered multiple times on a cloud-based server, the fastest and most efficient rendering possible per video instance is most wise and economical.

In order to make sure your dynamic After Effects project is ready for optimal deployment, follow these general guidelines. Additional advice regarding specific effects and situations follows below.

1.     Pre-render all layers, except for layers using uMerge Video dynamic data (Composition menu > Pre-render).
Make sure to select the “Import & Replace Usage” in the Output Module Settings window.

   It is imperative that you pre-render any layers or precomps that employ 3rd party plugins and effects before deploying to the server. This will ensure that the render on the server will not fail because of a missing effect or that slow plugins won’t hinder the render’s progress.

   Where possible, it is recommended to group all background and/or foreground layers in separate precomps and then pre-render.

Note: Do not use After Effects’ built-in composition proxy feature. Instead, render precomps and replace their usage with the complete rendered video file as instructed above. Make sure you preserve the alpha channel and blending modes where required.

2.     Trim the length of all layers that employ uMerge Video’s dynamic data to the minimum time required. Make sure that each layer starts (IN point) exactly when it becomes visible and ends (OUT Point) when it stops being visible. This step is crucial for the operation and efficiency of the cloud-based rendering.

3.     Reduce resolution of large visual assets. It is extremely recommended that all visual assets (still images, graphics and videos) are resized to the minimum resolution required (usually HD 1920x1080 pixels or lower) as larger visual elements significantly slow down the rendering process.

4.     Do not use {{ or }} (double curly brackets) for names of layers or any other element in the project. This will interfere with the proper operation of the uMerge Video plugin. If you must use double curly brackets for any reason, please contact XMPie support for assistance.

5.     When creating the CSV data source, it is recommended to add an ID column that will have a unique ID for each record. When deploying a project for rendering on the cloud server, you should append this unique ID to the video file name. This will ensure each video has a unique file name and can be easily referenced.

Specific effects and situations

Parallel layers

In the case where you have parallel layers in the project (layers that appear together on the screen), make sure that there are at least 3 frames of such parallel visibility in the timeline.

Layers that have 2 frames or less of parallel visibility may result in an error and fail to upload to the cloud. To easily fix the error, simply make sure that layers’ IN\OUT points have at least 3 frames of visibility if parallel to other layers.  Layers that are NOT coinciding with other layers (do not appear simultaneously on the screen) do not need any changes.

Blur effects

Blur effects are notorious for their slow rendering speed; thus it is recommended to use as few of these effects as possible. When required, it is advisable to use the Fast Box Blur effect as this effect has the fastest rendering potential.

Bake expressions

It is extremely recommended to replace any active expressions on a layer with fixed values and/or keyframes (a.k.a. “Bake the expression”). This can be easily achieved by selecting the parameter on the timeline that has an expression applied to it, and then selecting Animation > Keyframe Assistant > Convert expression to keyframes.

Important! Do not bake the expressions that are on the dynamic layers that use data from the uMerge Video plugin, as this will disable the automatic replacement of data after deployment to the cloud. Do this step only for layers that do not use uMerge Video’s dynamic data.

Custom fonts

Before deployment to the cloud, copy all fonts used by the project as mentioned to the following folder:

     Windows - C:\Program Files\Common Files\Adobe\Fonts\XMPUMerge Video

     Mac - /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts/XMPUMerge Video

This will make sure that the server will have all required fonts when rendering the deployed project. It is recommended that all used fonts in the project are copied to this folder as there is no guarantee that the cloud server will have any of the required fonts already installed.

Comments column in the composition timeline

The uMerge Video After Effects plugin makes use of the After Effects Timeline Comments Column to store crucial variables and information. For the plugin to work properly, do not change the content of the Comments Column for any dynamic layers that use data from the uMerge Video plugin.

Reduce project operation

Before deployment, it is not necessary to reduce the project and remove any unused assets, as the deployed project is already reduced automatically by the uMerge Video plugin before uploading to the cloud. If you still wish to perform the Reduce Project operation before deployment, make sure to select both your main composition and the "//XMPieComp" composition from the project panel before running File > Dependencies > Reduce Project.

Dynamic text size and the Copy Fitting option

Make sure that any text layers containing dynamic data are capable of having different lengths of characters. This is to ensure that different sizes and lengths of text are not cut off by track mattes or positioning.

The “Copy Fitting” option of the uMerge Video plugin enables automatic resizing of text layers depending on their content’s length. To properly activate the Copy Fitting option, follow these simple steps:

1.     Select the relevant dynamic text layer in the composition’s timeline.

2.     Place the Timeline indicator at the specific time when the layer’s “In” animations has completed, i.e. after all animations that bring the layer into full visibility and readability are done. This step is crucial as the uMerge Video plugin calculates the correct size of the dynamic data using the size of the layer at this specific point in time and place.

3.     Click the Edit Tag button in the uMerge Video panel (the pencil icon). In the Tag Text Layer panel that opens, enable the Copy Fitting checkbox at the bottom of the panel and click save. This will make sure that no text will be cut out or hidden.

Size and Length of dynamic images, video and audio files

Make sure that all relevant dynamic images and video files are of the same size and aspect ratio to maintain proportions and avoid layer visibility issues such as clipping. In addition, make sure that all dynamic video and audio files are of the same length and compression type. This will prevent any out-of-sync issues caused by inconsistent footage durations and formats.