4 Replies Latest reply on Jun 10, 2016 4:28 AM by Rick Gerard

    Preserve Layer Order when Importing Photoshop file in After Effects


      It sure would be nice to be able to preserve my carefully constructed layer order from photoshop when I import my file in After Effects. Currently AE reorganizes layers alphabetically, undoing careful organization. Is there a efficient work around (not third party software on manually renaming)? This feature could be very helpful if it does not exist. Suggest check box in AE import settings... "Preserve Photoshop Layer Order" or a prompt while importing.

        • 1. Re: Preserve Layer Order when Importing Photoshop file in After Effects
          Rick Gerard Adobe Community Professional & MVP

          I think you are probably missing the proper workflow. Are you new to AE?


          Import as a comp, open the created comp, there you go, everything in order and just the way you positioned it.


          Import as a comp and then try and reconstruct the file from the imported layers - a pain in the neck, not necessary, and not useful in any of the probably 10,000 Photoshop as a comp projects that I have done in the last 15 or so years.


          All assets are sorted by either date, label color (which you can set) or any of the other columns available in the full Project Panel. That makes perfect sense to anyone working in post production especially when a bunch of assets from a bunch of different locations are used. Note the selected comp:

          Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 6.15.21 PM.png

          Notice the timeline:

          Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 6.16.58 PM.png

          A perfect match to the PSD file..

          Just a quick example from a project I'm just starting to work on. I haven't started labeling the PSD layers and this isn't going to be a video but you get the idea.

          • 2. Re: Preserve Layer Order when Importing Photoshop file in After Effects
            digidosean Level 1

            First let me say thank you Rick for your response and taking the time to address my questions, especially so quickly.


            To sum up my assessment, bringing my PS file in as a comp seems unnecessarily complex, not difficult but cumbersome to use.


            To address your skill level question first, I have worked in AE for about 10 years but it has never been my main production tool. I would consider myself very well versed in Premiere and Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Flash. I am very used to various “professional” production workflows. I teach all the software I listed to college students and have worked as a studio manager for an ad agency in the past.


            So to your point about bringing it in as a comp...


            Okay, but why would I want to have a massive comp file—in my case one I will have to tear apart to make into many small comps? Maybe its my editing background but the comp is like the work space in my mind. I want a separate space (palette) for my assets and I don’t want to work from what I conceptually consider an existing timeline.  To me the point of having an organized layered photoshop file is so I can choose which elements to combine in my comp. What is the point of having an import function that changes my layer order thus complicating my workflow, or forces me to work from a massive comp which it was never intended to be?


            In regard to your label color asset management - yes that does make sense but certainly you don’t consider it a complete solution do you? Takes time to color code, which would be unnecessary if it just came the way it was created.


            I don’t doubt after so many projects using Photoshop as a comp that you are comfortable with that work flow, but because that has worked for you is not a good reason in my mind why the software should not provide the user with a basic level of control at the simplest level (ie to import layers the way I created it as a regular import, not a comp). The fact that I am versed in Adobe product and still have to figure this out speaks to the fact it is an obvious problem — one that requires a pro like yourself to tell me (the novice) the standard professional work-around.


            Lastly is the AE default of alphabetical re-ordering layers helpful to anyone? Can't imagine who. Maybe I’m wrong.


            To summarize, I shouldn’t have to do the same job twice or even once-and-a-half, when moving between adobe products — it would be a simple enough fix for the software engineers.


            Thanks for taking the time.



            • 3. Re: Preserve Layer Order when Importing Photoshop file in After Effects
              Andrew Yoole MVP & Adobe Community Professional

              I think you're misunderstanding the purpose of the Project window.   When you import a PSD as comp in AE, it creates a comp that is identical in almost every way to your PSD, including layer order.  The timeline in After Effects is the parallel to the Layers pane in Photoshop.


              But an After Effects project doesn't contain any actual content like a PSD.  It refers to external documents for all its photo and video resources.  For that reason it has a Project window where each layer can be viewed at the source.  The logical way to present this is in a sorted order, because typically you'll need some way to search for the thing you need within it.  If you're looking for PS layer called "Title" in a PSD that has 200 layers, it'll be a lot easier to find it in an alphabetical list than a layer-ordered list.  The Project window is really a whole, additional tool that isn't at your disposal in Photoshop, so you shouldn't be comparing it to the Photoshop layer pane.


              In your case, because you want to retain layer order, just treat the imported PSD comp as your master source and don't edit it.  Create a new comp to work in, and copy and paste the layers from your master PSD comp into your new comp as you need them.

              • 4. Re: Preserve Layer Order when Importing Photoshop file in After Effects
                Rick Gerard Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                When I start creating a graphic for animation or compositing the first thing I think about is how that graphic is to be used in production. This influences the size of the canvas and the layer structure. Let's say that I wanted to create a video explaining how to use a new product and the product has 10 new features that would be best explained through the use of product photos and diagrams with callouts. Let's say I have 4 paragraphs of copy that will last about 45 seconds. Here is the workflow:

                1. Sketch out a storyboard (usually use paper and pencil or Mischief - no designer should be without that app)
                2. The storyboards give me direction for each shot in my animation - AE is for creating shots not editing
                3. Each separate illustration contains only the assets that I need to cover a single thought, sentence or in some cases phrase so sometimes an illustration has the materials for a short sequence
                4. When arranging the artwork in Photoshop or Illustrator I put the assets in their hero or resting position
                5. The layer structure and naming always gives me a head start on the animation by arranging and naming layers in a way that makes them easy to animate in AE

                In the example above may come up with 10 separate illustrations to cover 30 seconds of animation. I would imp;out each as a composition and open each composition in AE. Then I would start a new composition and import the audio track to that comp. I add markers with names to the audio track to help locate the cuts. Each of my illustration comps would be imported into the master comp and the in and out points of each comp would be trimmed to match the audio track so I could preview a slideshow of the project. Many times I'll send this to the client for review so they can visualize the edited project.


                The audio track is then copied and pasted into the comp for shot 1, Shot 1 comp is opened and the length of comp 1 is adjusted to cover the time between markers on the audio track plus a few frames so I can make transitions and fine tune the edit. Any layers that I need to pre-compose are easily identified because they are properly labeled so they are selected and the pre-comp is made. The pre-comp is animated, the main comp is animated. About 90% of the animations I apply to the layers are completed using some of the hundreds of animation presets I have developed over the years. Most of the animation presets are expression driven and based on the in and out point of a layer. This one, for example, brings a layer in from the left, it bounces to a stop, and then just before the out point it drops off the bottom of the screen. When Shot 1 comp is animated it is then using the AME to a suitable distribution format if the scene needs client approval or a suitable production format if the scene is going directly to the editor, and I move on to the next scene.


                When all of the scenes (shots) are rendered I move to Premiere Pro to edit and polish the final product. Using this workflow I can be extremely productive. Last week I created 10 illustrations for 10 shots to cover about a minute and twenty seconds of narration and recorded a scratch audio track in about 3 hours, imported those 10 comps into AE and had an animated storyboard to the client before noon. They approved the project right after lunch and by 4 that afternoon the first proof was off to the client for approval. I sent it out the next morning for approval and got a request for a half dozen changes including new audio. The changes effected 4 of the shots so the 4 separate comps were edited and the second cut was ready for review in about an hour and a half. If the entire project had been one comp with 100+ layers the second cut would probably have take me the rest of the day. The review copy was in their inbox at 8 AM the next morning, they requested a copy change in one of the call outs and a color change in one of the diagrams so the PSD's for those shots were Copied and archived, the originals edited, then the edited comps were re-rendered, the final edit rendered for delivery and archiving and I was done with the project and on to another in under an hour. That's how you efficiently work with Illustrator and PSD files in AE. Years ago I would have tried to do the entire project in a single comp and would have wasted a ton of time trying to manage the change orders from the client.


                I hope this helps. Think about creating a bunch of animation presets or purchasing some of those tools like this one from my friend Stu Maschwitz. The project that I described only had about 2 keyframes in the entire thing. I only moved few layers into their hero position by hand. 90% of the design work was done in the original illustration so all I had to do was apply the appropriate animation preset, change a couple of slider settings and set the in and out point of the layers.