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Honestly, I think AE is a bit overkill for a project like this.
For really easy, dynamic slideshows, I'd like to suggest Boinx FotoMagico.
It'll help automate placement, ease-in/out, audio timing, and transition. You have full control over scale, position and rotation in a way that's far more intuitive than AE for this type of project. And it costs only as much as an AE plug-in.
But, if you do choose to use AE, I think your own suggestion is the way I'd do it.
Create your first slide comp, do the text and slide animation. Once it's all correct, duplicate the comp and edit text and slide. Repeat for all your slides.
Then place all the slide comps into a master comp, sequence them in order and render.
Navarro thanks for the link. I've used apps like that in the past, but, like I said, this is just me getting my feat wet. I haven't used AE in years (mostly worked in Final Cut suite when doing video, though even then, not often as I'm a print-guy) so it's just a way to get back into it. Plus, I've been going through the 2 levels of lynda.com video tutorials, and spent the weekend reading AECS3 Classroom in a Book and AECS3 Professional Studio Techniques, so it's all making sense pretty quick. But, none of these really get into good practices for different projects, so thus my posting.
Andrew thanks as well! I basically took how I put together how I tackled a "kinda-the-same" project in other software (again, FCP Suite) and figured it's transition into this app as well.
And I have to admit I like the FCP apps, but AE...I just love it already! Just that extra bit of precision, especially in type (though, I still wish there was a way to center type, horizontally AND vertically at the same time, dead center on the comp).
My personal approach would be just one comp, one text layer, and one black solid layer under the text and on top of the images to control the fading (I got the impression you want to go blank, rather than transition directly from one image to another).
Create a new solid, set it to your BG color, and make it "comp size".
Use the text tool and type your first title.
Select them both and use the align window to center your text horz and vert (actually your centering it to the solid, which happens to be the size of your comp)
Set up opacity fades on your title, and BG solid to reveal the 1st image, and set it up to pan and scan, then fade the BG solid back up.
Now go to where you want to fade up the next title, and open the text properties until you see Source Text, and enable keyframing.
Drag the new created square "hold" keyframe to the begining of time, then select all the text and change it to your 2nd title.
Then copy and paste your fade keyframes, tweak as needed, and repeat...
I prefer this approach as it keeps everything in one comp where you can see it (handy for syncing to your music layer), and you dont have a bunch of duplicate title layers that are essentially the same thing.
As for needing to change just a small part of it, depends on your finally delivery format. If you are giving them one long file, and just need to change a small part in the middle, make the change, then import your last rendered animation (best way to import is to drag the file from an OS browser window to the AE project window).
Bring the old anim into your comp as the top layer, so AE doesnt have think much about constructing each frame, then go to the beginning of the part you have changed, and with this cover layer selected "ctrl shift D" to split the layer. Then move to the end of your fixed portion and with the 2nd half of you cover layer selected, "alt [" which will jump the beginning of the cover to there, so AE only has to deeply contemplate the frames that you have changed. Although with this project it shouldnt take long to render any how.
Well, thats my two cents, or more like a buck thirty five.