The Render Queue itself is not terribly puzzling, but like many other key portions of the After Effects UI it contains a few features that many users miss, and a few gotchas that loom from time to time.
There are two key sections for each Render Queue item: Render Settings and Output Module. You can click on each to adjust settings, but I find that almost immediately you will want to get into the habit of choosing a preset, or template, from the pull-down menu. And in the altogether likely case that one does not already exist, you choose the selection at the bottom of each menu: Make Template.
Why make a template for each render? Render Settings tends to be standardized across a project, and you likely will use one of just a few output modules throughout the duration of the project. So why waste time thinking about settings each time you render, when that only leads to a higher likelihood of careless errors (which are, if you ask me, the bane of a compositor's existence)?
Placing an Item in the Queue
After Effects is flexible about how you add an item to the Render Queue. You have a choice of two keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+M/Cmd+M and the one I always tend to use, Ctrl+Shift+/ (Cmd+Shift+/). You can also select a number of items in the Project panel and drag them to the Render Queue. If you drag footage without a comp to the Render Queue, After Effects makes a default comp for you to render the footage as is, which can be handy for quick file conversions such as creating a QuickTime output from an image sequence.
The output path you choose for the first of your active Render Queue items becomes the default for the rest of them.
Render Settings: Your Manual Overrides
There's probably one set of parameters from the Render Settings dialog that you will prefer throughout a given project; in many cases it will simply be the default Best.
The Render Settings dialog consists mostly of manual overrides for the settings in your composition itself (Figure 1.39). It contains three sections:
Disciplined artists who never leave an effect that they don't intend to have on and never solo a layer and intend to render it that way may prefer to override the current settings, but most people (myself included) will curse such a decision.
Figure 1.39. The Render Settings dialog has three sections: overrides for the composition settings (top), specific time sampling overrides and settings (center), and two extra options for where and how files are rendered (bottom).
Proxy settings are trickier. An investigation into the ways you can employ them (as well as guide layers) is found in Chapter 4.
Figure 1.40. Storage overflow is insurance against failed planning; if you run out of space on the primary rendering drive, the volumes specified in this Preference dialog can be set to handle the overflow. With ample disk space, you should not need this, but it's preferable to a failed overnight render.
The way to use Render Settings overall is as a checklist of all the things you need to think about to get your output footage to look the way you want. It may work to simply use Best settings and walk away, or you may be reminded of something specific that needs to be custom set.
Output Modules: As Many as You Need
Throughout the course of your After Effects career you will probably create a large number of Output Module templates. The settings themselves are not so tricky if you know what you're after: Once you've chosen a format, and set the appropriate options (under Video Output), you have the additional options of stretching or cropping the output, and adding audio.
Note that Output Module appears after Render Settings, item by item. This is with good reason: As you will see in detail in Chapter 4, the order in the user interface shows the rendering order, and so Render Settings are applied to the render prior to the application of the Output Module settings.
This becomes important, for example, when scaling output: To scale down a clip and retain the highest quality, you will in most cases want to apply the scaling as a Stretch setting in the Output Module rather than a Resolution setting in the Render Settings (unless speeding up the render is more important than quality, in which case the inverse advice applies).
There are several elegant problem-solving tools embedded in the Output Module setup, some of which many users tend to miss. Among the most significant are
Figure 1.41. So many usersand not just beginners, by any meansfail to notice that you can add multiple Output Modules to a single render queue item, via Composition > Add Output Module. This can be an immense timesaver, as several versions of a render can be created in one pass (for example, one at full resolution stills and a Web-compressed version).
Figure 1.42. Oh no, I have to change all those? Fear not, you can select any number of consecutive Output Modules to change them, but don't select the render queue items themselves. Instead, select the first Output Module in the group and Shift-select the last, then change any of the selected ones and they all follow.
Figure 1.43. To custom-number your frame sequence, clear Use Comp Frame Number and enter your own.
Figure 1.44. Post-Render Actions save you steps, if you intend to view your render in After Effects (Import) or replace a pre-comp with the render permanently (Import & Replace Usage) or just temporarily (Set Proxy).
Paying attention to the options available with Output Modules and taking the time to customize and apply presets that you can use again and again are big parts of getting optimum output out of After Effects.
Optimizing Output Settings
Here are some general guidelines for the output settings (Render Settings and Output Modules) that you can use in specific situations:
Whenever rendering to a format that adds compression, be aware that colors and overall gamma (brightness) can shift noticeably in a clip that otherwise shows few, if any, compression artifacts.
Obviously, there is much more to choosing your output settings than is covered here; the intention is to help you get started. In many cases, the settings you need to use will be dictated by your delivery format or by what is needed by the next person after you in the production pipeline.
Study a Shot like an Effects Artist