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After Effects: Animate Text On A Path Basics

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When the Path Text plugin was first introduced for After Effects 3.1 in 1997, it was a miracle of sophisticated text animation. You could draw any kind of shape and easily animate text along the path with just a couple of keyframes. However, it's now the New Millennium, and with the introduction of the powerful new text engine in After Effects, the poor old Path Text plugin has become obsolete (although it's still in the Effects menu for old projects that may need it).  

In this article, let's explore the basics of animating text on a path with After Effects' current text tools.

Step 1 - Create a Text Project

Begin by creating a new composition of whatever size and length you like, then grabbing the Horizontal Type Tool (Command-T) and clicking and typing in your empty comp to create a new text layer. I'm going to be using our abbreviated macProVideo logo as my source.

using a logo

Step 2 - Draw a Path

Next, with the Text layer selected, draw a path with one of the masking tools in the layer. I'm going to be animating my text along a circular path, so I'm going to use the Ellipse Tool (Q) to draw a circular mask. To do that, hold down Shift (to constrain the ellipse to a circle) and Option (to draw the circle from its center out, rather than from its edge), and drag in the Text layer to create the circle.

create a circle

Because this is a closed path, it masks the text layer itself, which we don't want; we only want to follow the mask's shape. So, roll down the twirly arrow for the Text layer, then roll down the Masks arrow, then the arrow for Mask 1, and change the Mode pop-up menu from Add to None.

change the Mode to None

If you drew an open path with the Pen tool, you won't need to do this; it's only necessary for closed paths.

Step 3 - Apply the Text to the Path

Next, roll up the twirly for Masks, then roll down the one for Text, followed by the twirly for Path Options. Click the Path pop-up menu and choose the mask you just drew (probably called Mask 1) as the Path. When you do, you'll see some additional options appear under Path Options.

Additional options under Path Options

You'll see your text automatically conform to your path in the Comp window.

The comp window

Step 4 - Adjust the Text Settings

That's pretty cool, but not what I want. For my animation, I'd like the text to rotate around the outer edge of the circle, not the inside, to have a more open spacing, and to start on the left side of the circle and rotate around to the right while spreading out slightly as it moves. We can fix all that with the Path Options.

So, set Reverse Path to On, which will move the text to the outside of the circle. Then set Force Alignment to On, which will distribute the characters equally along the path. Next, adjust the First Margin and Last Margin values so the text is correctly positioned towards the left side of the circle and the characters are more closely spaced together. Here are my settings for my particular text:

Text settings

Here's what it looks like in the comp. This will be our starting position.

Starting position in the comp

Step 5 - Animate the Text Along the Path

Our last step is to animate the text itself. Because I want to have the text spread out a bit as it rotates, I need to animate the First Margin and Last Margin independently. If I just needed to animate the text without it spreading out, I would have left Force Alignment set to Off, and just animated the First Margin property. Setting Force Alignment to On lets me animate the First and Last Margins separately. 

So, enable keyframes for First and Last Margins at the beginning of the Timeline, move ahead to the end of the Timeline, and set another two keyframes by adjusting the First and Last Margin values to taste. Finally, select all four of those keyframes and apply Easy Ease (Animation > Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease) to smoothly ramp the motion up and down. Here's my final animation:

And those are the basics of creating text-on-a-path in After Effects. As always, I encourage you to experiment with what you've learned here, and above all, have fun!

Check out our After Effects: Core After Effects CS5 course!

Richard Lainhart

Richard Lainhart | Articles by this author

Richard Lainhart is an award-winning composer, filmmaker, and author. His compositions have been performed in the US, Europe Asia, and Australia, and recordings of his music have appeared on the Periodic Music, Vacant Lot, XI Records, Airglow Music, Tobira Records, Infrequency, VICMOD, and ExOvo labels. His animations and short films have been shown in festivals in the US, Europe, and Asia, and online at ResFest, The New Venue, The Bitscreen, and Streaming Cinema 2.0. He has authored over a dozen technical manuals for music and video hardware and software, served as Contributing Editor for Interactivity and 3D Design Magazines, and contributed to books on digital media production published by IDG, Peachpit Press, McGraw Hill, and Miller Freeman Books. Previously an Adobe Certified Expert in After Effects and Premiere, a demo artist for Adobe Systems, and co-founder of the official New York City After Effects User Group, he was, from 2000-2009, Technical Director for Total Training Productions, an innovative digital media training company based in New York and California.


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