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I'm not sure if I follow you. You can easily extend the duration of a footage element by setting the number of loops in the footage interpretation. Beyond that feel free to extend the comps, duplicate the layers in it and then adjust the start point of the nested comps in your main comp. If you're really concerned about having too many pre-comps jsut to create all the variations of fire, you may consider using time-remapping. by creating keyframes for the in- and outpoints as well as possibly other keyframes inbetween to control the playback speed, you should get enough creative freedom in disguising any potential repetetive patterns in the fire. Just make sure to make the pre-comp long enough. This is required in AE7 - since it cannot extend the comp dynamically (unlike CS3), it will need a "canvas" to actually render the remapped frames to, even if the comp only contains a clip at its beginning and te rest is empty.
Thanks for the info.
I should have explained better.
Right now I have 4 looped compositions that I've nested into a master comp timeline.
They each play OK.
My concern is that they all start at the same time.
I'd like to stagger the start times so that they start at different times... for visual and rhytmic effect.
If they are looped, just slide each one down in the comp to start at different times. To fill in the gaps created, duplicate the layer (Command/D) and slide it back to end where the original layer begins.
I tried that and although it does work sort of... it starts up already running.
My loops have a particle effect on a layer... and that actually starts and grows "smoke" so if I just do what you are suggesting it seems like the clip instantly appears and has already been playing from the start even though it wasn't visible... does that make sense?