[2024] How To Use The Pick Whip In After Effects

To utilize the Pick Whip tool in After Effects, locate it in the timeline panel and use it to parent one layer to another, allowing synchronized animations. For intricate projects, parent multiple layers to a null object, streamlining complex animations and making them cohesive.

November 26, 2023
[2024] How To Use The Pick Whip In After Effects
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Adobe After Effects Pick Whip Tutorial

The Pick Whip tool is an integral part of Adobe After Effects, especially when you're aiming to link layers and properties. To locate this tool, you'll need to look within the timeline panel. Each layer in your timeline has a small spiral icon next to it; this is the Pick Whip. If you're familiar with the timeline panel, it's situated to the left of the layer name.

The Function of the Pick Whip

Imagine you're holding a leash, and you want to attach it to a dog's collar. The Pick Whip functions similarly. It allows you to "parent" one layer to another. When you parent a layer, any changes made to the "parent" layer, such as scale, position, or rotation, will also affect the "child" layer. This is where you can ensure that multiple elements move in harmony.

Example: Let's say you've animated a text layer to move across the screen. Now, you want a shape to follow the exact same path as the text. Instead of manually animating the shape, you can use the Pick Whip to link the shape to the text. This ensures that the shape will mimic the movement of the text.

How to Parent Layers Using the Pick Whip

  1. Select the Child Layer: This is the layer you want to be influenced by another.
  2. Drag the Pick Whip: Click on the spiral icon (Pick Whip) of the child layer.
  3. Link to the Parent Layer: While still holding down the mouse button, drag the Pick Whip to the layer you want as the parent. Release the mouse button.
  4. Observe the Result: Now, any animation or transformation you apply to the parent layer will also affect the child layer.

Advanced Use: Parenting Multiple Layers to a Null Object

When working on intricate projects with several layers, the Pick Whip truly shines. Instead of animating each layer individually, you can streamline the process using a null object.

  1. Create a Null Object: Go to Layer > New > Null Object.
  2. Select All Layers to be Parented: Click on the first layer, hold down the Shift key, and then click on the last layer you want to include.
  3. Use the Pick Whip: Drag the Pick Whip from any of the selected layers to the null object.
  4. Animate Using the Null Object: Any keyframes or animations applied to the null object will now influence all the parented layers.

Note: When rotating layers parented to a null object, they will rotate around the null object's anchor point, not their individual anchor points.

Controlling Individual Properties with the Pick Whip

The Pick Whip isn't limited to just layer parenting; it can also be used to link individual properties between layers.

Example: If you want the opacity of one layer to match another, you can use the Pick Whip next to the opacity property. By linking these properties, adjusting the opacity on one layer will automatically adjust the opacity on the other.

Why Can't I See The Pick Whip In After Effects?

These are the most common reasons why the pick whip may not function correctly in AE. Sorted based on how often each instance occurs.

Expressions and the Pick Whip

Expressions in After Effects allow you to create relationships between layer properties using JavaScript. The Pick Whip tool can be used to quickly generate these expressions. However, if you're trying to use the Pick Whip for an expression and can't see it, it's because you haven't activated expressions for that property.

Steps to Activate Expressions:

  1. In the timeline, find the property you want to apply an expression to. This could be something like position, scale, or opacity.
  2. Next to the property name, you'll see a stopwatch icon. Alt-click (or Option-click on Mac) this icon.
  3. Once you've done this, the property will activate expressions, and you'll see the expressions pick whip appear, ready for use.

Layer Space Transformations and the Pick Whip

When you're working with multiple layers, understanding how they relate to each other in space is crucial. Sometimes, using the Pick Whip might not give the expected results because of how layers are positioned relative to each other.

Understanding the Issue:When you parent one layer to another using the Pick Whip, the child layer's position becomes relative to the parent. This means if you move the parent layer, the child layer will move with it, maintaining the same relative distance.

Solution to Align Layers:

  1. If layers aren't aligning as expected after using the Pick Whip, consider using Layer Space Transformations.
  2. These transformations allow you to lock one layer's position to another, ensuring they move together as you'd expect.

Locating the Parent Column in After Effects

If you're trying to use the Pick Whip tool and can't find it, it's likely because the Parent Column, which houses the Pick Whip, isn't visible.

Steps to Reveal the Parent Column:

  1. Navigate to your project's timeline. This is where you see all your layers stacked vertically.
  2. Right-click on any of the column headers at the top of the timeline.
  3. A dropdown menu will appear. Ensure that the "Parent" option is checked. Once you do this, the Parent Column will become visible, and you'll see the Pick Whip icon next to each layer.