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Initially posted on graphicdesign.stackexchange.com:

I'm looking for a way to integrate animations into our existing product. The animations would essentially be 30 second commercials containing some variable data (names, dates, numbers). The system needs to automatically render the animation when the user pushes a button. These are non-technical users, so it needs to be all very black-box.

It looks to me like we could use After Effects for this, but I am not a designer so I'm looking for confirmation and suggestions from the experts. This is how I see it working:

  • We have a designer create an AE project for each desired animation.
  • The AE project is set up to pull the variable data from a file at render time.
  • When our user pushes the button, the system generates the data file and puts it into a folder known to the AE project.
  • The system then kicks off the render using aerender.exe.
  • When rendering is complete, the system shows the animation.

Does this sound like a reasonable way to proceed? Any alternative suggestions?

One area I'm concerned about is the data merge part. Can an AE project be set up to automatically do that at the time of rendering (i.e. initiated by aerender.exe)?

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After Effects can be automated using the Adobe extendscript scripting language, and can be run from the command line, meaning that it can be integrated into other processes.

Extendscript is JavaScript and it works across Adobe's product line (to varying degrees, you can use it to script Photoshop for instance). If you have a JavaScript developer available then this would be a relatively straightforward task.

There are also third party frameworks such as Dataclay that make the process easier for non-technical users to avoid scripting, but they are relatively pricey, though they might work out cheaper than hiring a developer and rolling your own.

  • Thanks @stib. As it happens, I am the developer in this situation, so a scripting language is exactly what I want. Sound perfect. – Chris Olsen May 4 '16 at 13:31
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    Pro tip: to make it easier navigating After Effects' arcane object model, go download the Redefinery tools, in particular rd_GimmePropPath which shows you the path to any particular element in the app. redefinery.com/ae/view.php?item=rd_GimmePropPath – stib May 6 '16 at 2:07
  • I did end up using extendscript for this and it worked perfectly. The script both injects the variable data into the AE project, and kicks off the render. Also, by configuring AE as render-only we don't need an AE license for the rendering server. It runs completely unattended. – Chris Olsen Feb 1 '17 at 17:40
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I wrote an automation script for after effects that allows data and assets to populate a template

I have worked with companies over the years extending this so that it runs on a server, takes assets and data through a web browser, and renders the modified template.

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I work with DataClay have built out several automated AE Comps allowing for thousands of personalized videos to be rendered based on data.

I would highly recommend dataclay.com

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