Adobe After Effects is primarily used for creating motion graphics and visual effects. After Effects allows users to animate, alter and composite media in 2D and 3D space with various built-in tools and third party plug-ins, as well as individual attention to variables like parallax and user-adjustable angle of observation.
After Effects and some non-linear editing systems (NLEs) are layer-oriented, meaning that each individual media object (video clip, audio clip, still image, etc.) occupies its own track. In contrast, other NLEs use a system where individual media objects can occupy the same track as long as they do not overlap in time. This track-oriented system is more suited for editing and can keep project files much more concise. The layer-oriented system that After Effects adopts is suited for extensive effects work and keyframing. Although other compositing packages—especially ones that employ tree or node workflows, such as Nuke are better suited to manage large volumes of objects within a composite, After Effects is able to somewhat counter the clutter by selectively hiding layers (using the Shy switch) or by grouping them into pre-compositions.
The main interface consists of several panels (windows in versions prior to After Effects 7.0). Three of the most commonly used panels are the Project panel, the Composition panel, and the Timeline panel. The Project panel acts as a bin to import stills, video, and audio footage items. Footage items in the Project panel are used in the Timeline panel, where layer order and timing can be adjusted. The items visible at the current time marker are displayed in the Composition panel.
After Effects shares many features with other Adobe programs, such as creating circles, squares and free form shapes that are defined by bezier curves. Like Photoshop and Illustrator, After Effects can import and manipulate many image formats, and filters and adjustments can be added.
After Effects integrates with other Adobe software titles such as Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Encore, Flash, and third-party 3D programs like Cinema 4D and Autodesk 3ds Max.