I sometimes use a stopwatch. If I have a good idea how long a move should last, I'll make it in my mind a couple-three times with a stopwatch in hand. I'll then have a great starting point, and it just becomes a matter of tweaking a little bit using RAM Previews.
Timing to an audio track is good, too.
Sometimes you just know through experience: a 10-frame fade to black is an old standard at 29.97, and lengthen it for a more artsy-fartsy feel.
But is there a one-size-fits-all, never-fail way to get it right the first time every time, no previewing necessary? I doubt it.
Editing is always about pacing. I try and find a rhythm then throw in markers. There's a visual rhythm in footage also, whether it's the blink of an eye or a foot landing on pavement. VFX tend to be very fast compared to just 2 years ago. I know of no way to do this mathematically because every shot is different. It's kind of like conducting an orchestra. You have to feel the movement. Mechanically, I often add markers while listening to audio. Sometimes I'll just visualize and add markers. Sometimes I read the script into an audio track and add markers. Sometimes I'll take a script recording into PPro, analyze the audio, create text markers from the audio and then bring that into AE. This works very well for Dynamic Text Animation and saves a boat load of time.
After a while you can just look at a time line and see the pacing.
I may have misunderstood Craig's question, but I thought that he was asking about the mechanics of moving ahead a precise amount along the timeline.
If I understood correctly, then the section "Move the current-time imdicator(CTI)" on this page should help, especially the part about entering - or + and a number to move a certain number of frames:
Todd is more onto the question but still leaves it hanging a bit for me.
I cant see how one marks an audio track or a video clip (with cues in RT) that one can read in AEFX. ( apart from creating visual markers on a clip in another application)
Cant see how a stopwatch would work in the same sitation either because one then has to translate the time to the task at hand. eg mark it for references
I cant see how one can "visually" pace things in a complex AEFX comp that has no chance of running realtime. ( Unlike Premiere or another NLE)
I am constantly counting frames or calculating distance between points. Frame by frame or with the calculator.
If I wanted to hit audio points..I guess one has to "mark up a guide" video with visual clues.
Just though there was another or a better way than I was doing. Nt seen it so far but thanx.
If you want to make marks for animating to audio, you can mark the audio layer. Highlight it and scrub. When you find the proper point, hit the asterisk key on the numeric keypad. It leaves a marker on the audio track.
If you want, you can annotate the maker by double-clicking on it.
You can play back audio in real time in After Effects by pressing the . button on your numeric keypad. Then you can either put markers in the composition by hitting * on your numeric keypad with no layer selected or, as Dave suggested, do it with a layer selected and it'll place layer markers.
You can also show the audio waveform by pressing LL, which alows you to animate precisely to the beat.
If you're timing animation to audio, you can automate large parts of this work, as described here:
Thanx for all your tips guys.
All are helpful and of course it'sinteresting to see how other handle things.
Something I need to do most often ( like now) ...is to bring in timings (cues) from Premiere where it is easy to establish them. I export a burnt in timecode (effect) clip to do this with and just work off the visual TCs in the temporary track.
I like using... well, I don't know the Premiere Pro term for them... colored solids.
Cut them the way you want... export the timeline for use in AE... there are your timings.
The cool thing about Premiere is that you don't need to "export the timeline for use in AE" at all. Just import the Premiere project straight into AE. (There are two ways to do it and, in this case, you don't want the Dynamic Link way.)
I do use a PPROJ import on occasion but generally I am working on a single "exercise" in AEFX that I prefer to do as a DI workflow. I avoid DL mainly to keep things simple and efficient.
Exporing a temp guide element / clip from Premiere tends to be most useful for general timings and Todds tip in post 3 does the rest.