What is Parenting in After Effects?

No parenting in After Effects isn't like in school when they'd give you an egg and tell you it was your baby and not to break it, it's a way of combining animated elements to react and respond to each other. It's a really handy tool that I end up using on pretty much every project I touch. So what is parenting exactly?

Parenting in After Effects is telling one layer to match another layer's animations and values.

Say we have a big square and a little square, the big square will be our parent and the little square our child. Once we've parented the little square to the big square we can move around the big square and the little square will match it's movements. If we move the parent up and down, the child will do the same movements.

However, a benefit is we can still animate the child independently of the parent. We can have the child animating a spin as the parent moves across the screen. It's like the tires on a car, the tires are spinning but they're attached to the car, so where the car goes the tires go. Parenting in After Effects is the same idea.

We can go one step further than that if we choose to and pick which attributes we want parented. Say we just want the scale of our two squares to be parented together, we can parent the scale of the small square, the child, to the scale of the big square, the parent.

Now if we animate the big square getting larger, the small square will match those changes. However since we didn't parent any other attributes they can still move independently of each other on screen.

Parenting can also be used with After Effects expressions. If we have an expression on one attribute we can parent another attribute to that to respond to that expressions.

So say we have a wiggle expression on something's scale, we can parent another object's opacity to that and the opacity will change in relationship to the value in the expression.

So how do you parent something together in After Effects? Well there are two ways.

If we want to parent a whole object to another whole object so that all of it's attributes match up we can use the drop down Parent menu in our timeline. There it'll show you all available layers you can parent to.

If we want to parent just one attribute or parent a layer to a specific attribute we can use what's called the Pick Whip, the little spiral line next to the parent drop down menu in the timeline. We can click and drag the line from what we want to parent to whatever we'd like to parent to.

One area where parenting comes in very handy is when animating puppets in After Effects. Using parenting allows us to connect all the limbs and have them react to each other while still being able to animate them independently.

If you raise your arm right now your hand goes with it. If that was in After Effects, we'd say your hand was parented to your arm. Now raise your arm and wave, your hand goes with your arm but it still can move independently.

The hand would have a back and forth motion animated onto it and the arm would have the raising motion animated onto it.

Why does it help to break things up like that? Well by dividing and simplifying keyframes it allows us to change and tweak things much easier. Say we have a character walking across the screen and everything is parented together and we want to change the way his feet animate. Because we were parenting, the feet only have the feet animation on them, we don't have to worry about the rest of the leg. Or say we want to change the whole leg, we only have to go in and change the thigh if our shin and feet are parented to it. That way if we're changing the leg we only have to change a few keyframes, rather than going in and having to do it in each layer of the character.

So parenting in After Effects is like tying a string between two objects within your project, that allows you to both animate together, and independently of each other easily and with as few keyframes as possible.

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Your Citation
Chew, Johnny. "What is Parenting in After Effects?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-parenting-in-after-effects-4082225. Chew, Johnny. (2016, August 31). What is Parenting in After Effects? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-parenting-in-after-effects-4082225 Chew, Johnny. "What is Parenting in After Effects?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-parenting-in-after-effects-4082225 (accessed November 22, 2017).