With a nod to Friedrich Nietzsche, who hypothesized the übermensch (literally the "over-man" a.k.a. superman), let's focus in on the shortcuts that will make you a rapid-fire animator. This section is not only about the überkey, which is among the most useful shortcuts in all of After Effects, but also about taking control of keyframe data in general.
The überkey is available in two delicious flavors: U and UU. In the same 02_graphEditor.aep project, highlight the ball layer, and press U. All properties with keyframes (Position and Scale in this case) are revealed. Press U again to toggle, and they are concealed. You could arrive cold at an animation you've never seen and immediately find out what's been animated and where.
To reveal only applied effects on a selected layer, use the E key. Or, if the überkey reveals effects and transforms and you want only the transforms, use Shift+E to toggle off revealed effects.
But wait, there's more. Now highlight the bg layer, which contains no keyframes whatsoever, and press UU (two Us in quick succession). All of the properties that have been set to any value other than their defaultincluding those with keyframes (of which there are none in this case)are revealed.
The utility of the U shortcut is immediately obvious: It's a quick way to get at keyframes to edit them or to find a keyframe that you suspect is hiding somewhere. But UUnow that is a full-on problem-solving tool all to itself. It allows you to quickly investigate what has been edited on a given layer, is helpful when troubleshooting your own layer settings, and is priceless when investigating an unfamiliar project. Highlight all of the layers in your comp, press UU, and you have before you all of the edits that have been made to all of the layer properties.
What's missing from the UU shortcut's reach? Any settings in nested compositions cannot be seen, other than by Alt-clicking (Option-clicking) to open them and UU on their layers as well. Locked layers are not affected by UU, and shy layers remain shy (and thus potentially hidden, although their properties are revealed). Key settings that affect a layer's appearance but are not properties, such as Blending Modes and Motion Blur (discussed later) are not revealed by UU.
Dissecting a Project
If you've been handed an unfamiliar project and need to make sense of it quickly, there are a couple of other tools to help you.
The Flowchart view offers a broad overview of the project's structure; it can be enabled with the right-most button along the bottom of the Composition panel, via Window > Flowchart or using Ctrl+F11/Cmd+F11. You have to see it to believe it: a nodal interface in After Effects (Figure 2.25), the least nodal of any of the major compositing applications.
Figure 2.25. What node-based compositing application is this? Why, the decidedly non-nodal After Effects. You cannot interact with this view the way a Shake user might expect, although you can open (or even delete) compositions (or even footage and layers) from this view.
This view shows how objects (layers, compositions and effects) have been used and how they interrelate. The + button above a composition reveals its components; for the cleanest view, toggle layers and effects off at the lower left.
In the panel menu you can choose your view; Left to Right fits well on a typical monitor. Whether you choose straight or curved connecting lines is up to you, but you can clean up the view by clicking this toggle holding the Alt/Option key.
You can open any comp by double-clicking it in the Flowchart. Turn off the Shy toggle at the top if it's on, highlight all of the layers (Ctrl+A/Cmd+A), and enter UU to reveal all altered properties. Now preview the composition, stopping at any frame where you have questions and investigating which settings and animations apply to that point in time. If you find a nested composition, open it and investigate in the same manner.
It's most effective to start with the top-level compositions (those not contained in other compositions) and work your way backward. I wouldn't call this process speedy with a complex project, but if you approach it in this logical manner, you can escape feeling like you're in that dream where you showed up to work without any pants on.
Keyframe Navigation and Selection
Although no shortcut can hold a candle to the überkey, there are several other useful animation shortcuts:
J and K hit all revealed keyframes, so to navigate in one channel only, you can click the arrows that appear under A/V Features (the Keys column). Or reveal only the keyframes in that channel; J and K will ignore the rest.
Read on; you are not a keyframe Jediyet.
Multi-selection works differently with keyframes in the Layer Bar view than anywhere else in the application. To add or subtract a single frame from a selected group, Shift-click. Ctrl/Cmd-clicking on keyframes converts them to Auto-Bezier mode. This is not the case in the Graph Editor view.
To offset the values of multiple keyframes by the same amount, select them all, make certain that the Current Time Indicator is resting on a frame with one of the selected keyframes, and drag the text value of one of them by your offset amount. If instead, you edit one of these by typing in a new value, all keyframes will be set to that valuenot, in most cases, what you want.
Other tips for working with multiple keyframes include
Ctrl+Alt+A/Cmd+Option+A is useful for deleting a bunch of keyframes while leaving the source layers.