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I think that one quasi-solution to your issue would be to create reference projects. For example, your 3D scene. Save it as a standalone scene in a directory on your file system that you can import into any other After Effects project that you'd like. The only down side of this is that, unlike a layered PSD that you import into a project, if you go back and edit the original, the imported scene does not update. Having imported project files auto update would be a great feature request though. If you don't request it, I will!
There are a few ways to save and reuse elements.
Creating reference projects and then importing them as needed into your work projects is one approach, as already mentioned.
There are also template projects.
(Here's a tip that really helps when you're using template projects, as well as other reuse scenarios: To replace the source footage item for a layer with another footage item, without affecting changes made to the layer properties, select the layer and then Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) the new footage item onto the layer in the Timeline panel.)
Be sure to look into animation presets. You can save a _lot_ of things in animation presets, not just keyframes. You can save text, mask shapes, complex stacks of effects, expressions... any collection of layer properties and their values.
Scripts. This is one of those things that takes some work to set up, but it may be worth it in some cases: You can create scripts that take some of your layers or other assets as input and build an entire composition around them.
A simpler use of scripts, relevant to your specific case, is to import text into text layers from a text file. There's such a script linked to from the top of this page. There are lots of handy scripts lined to from that page, so browse them all.
Thanks for taking the time to help.
Yeah, that sort of import is pretty much the same as the "save as" scenario in that regard. From the looks of it, I don't know how the Adobe guys could ripple in future changes, as it's essentially a copy and paste operation. Once you've iomported (pasted) the stuff in, you're free to edit and change it any way you like. Wouldn't want to be the programmer trying to figure out how to unwind all the changes you made after the initial import, which is probably why they don't offer that feature.
I was hoping that there was a way of saving compositions / objects out as some sort of reusable binary-ish object. These apps (AE, PrPro, etc.) were clearly written in C++ (I see crash messages with the .cpp filename referenced). From that perspective, what I was hping for would be analagous to creating a Library project in C++. Code it, compile it, and then the project using it simply imports the binary .lib file and references the appropriate objects. Of course, that's meaningless in AE, just trying to illustrate.
Appreciate the ideas, though!
Great stuff. Sounds like the animation presets have a lot more horsepower than I realized. With my programming background I figured it was only a matter of time before I got into scripts, but since I tend to really go down the rabbit hole on that sort of thing I was trying to exercise a little self discipline if there were more UI oriented solutions (which animations may well be).
Given all the resources you just mentioned and the fact that I'm starting to get comfortable enough in AE to reach for more, I think it's time I dig in and take it to the next level. If I drop out of sight, at least you guys will know which rabbit hole to find me in.
Thanks for all the references, man. Time for a nice, hot, steaming cup of RTFM!
Hey Todd - I just noticed that all your links point to the CS5 system. Are there any limitations in CS4 that I should know about in this regard?
Thanks, man. You know I appreciate it.