[2024] How to Make a 5-Minute Countdown in After Effects

In After Effects, create a 5-minute countdown by setting up a new composition, adding a text layer, and inputting a specific expression to control the countdown. Adjust the frame rate for a digital feel, reverse the time for a countdown effect, and use a mask to display only the desired time units.

November 26, 2023
[2024] How to Make a 5-Minute Countdown in After Effects
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Adobe After Effects Countdown Tutorial

If you want to set off a bomb in your video, not literally but in terms of impact, creating a dynamic countdown is your fuse. A countdown serves multiple purposes: building anticipation, marking the beginning or end of an event, or simply adding a dramatic touch to your content. But how do you craft a precise, visually appealing countdown without getting lost in the myriad of tools and options? This article offers a streamlined solution to this very challenge. We'll walk you through the process of creating a 5-minute countdown in After Effects, emphasizing the importance of expressions to automate and control the display. By the end, you'll have a countdown that's not just numbers ticking away but a versatile visual element that can enhance the narrative of your project. We'll cover:

  • Setting up the right composition for your countdown.
  • Laying the foundation with a text layer.
  • The magic of expressions to control the countdown.
  • Fine-tuning the appearance for that perfect digital feel.
  • Reversing time to make the countdown tick backwards.
  • Customizing the display to fit your specific needs.

For our 5-minute countdown, the first thing you'll want to do is set up a new composition. Navigate to the top menu and click on Composition > New Composition. A window will pop up, and this is where you'll define the parameters for your project. Since we're aiming for a 5-minute countdown, set the duration to exactly 5 minutes (which translates to 5:00:00 in the duration box). Click 'OK' once you've set this.

The creation of a new composition in After Effects with duration settings.
The creation of a new composition in After Effects with duration settings.

Laying the Groundwork with a Text Layer

Now, onto the canvas of your composition, you'll need a text layer. This is where the numbers of our countdown will appear. Go to the top menu, select Layer > New > Text. A blank text box will appear in the center of your screen. Don't worry about what it says right now; we'll be inputting an expression to control its content.

The addition of an empty text layer in the composition.
The addition of an empty text layer in the composition.

Diving into Expressions

Expressions in After Effects are like the secret sauce. They allow you to automate actions and control various properties. For our countdown, we'll be using an expression to control the content of our text layer.

To input an expression, select your text layer and hit the small arrow next to it. This will expand the layer properties. Dive deeper by clicking on the arrow next to Text, revealing a property named Source Text. Hold down the 'Alt' key (for PC) or 'Option' key (for Mac) and click on the stopwatch icon next to Source Text. This action will open up a space below where you can type in or paste your expression.

For our countdown, type in the following expression: timeToCurrentFormat(((5 * 60) - time) / 60).replace("00:00:", ""). This expression essentially tells After Effects to start counting down from 5 minutes.

The expansion of the text options and insertion of the expression.
The expansion of the text options and insertion of the expression.

Perfecting the Countdown's Look

To give our countdown a digital feel, we'll adjust the frame rate. In the composition settings (found under Composition > Composition Settings), set the frame rate to 60 frames per second. This setting will ensure our countdown updates every second, giving it a real-time feel.

Making Time Move Backwards

Now, here's a neat trick. To make the timer count down, we'll reverse the time. Pre-compose the text layer by selecting it, then go to the top menu and choose Layer > Pre-compose. Name it something like "Countdown Timer" and click 'OK'. With the new composition selected, right-click, navigate to Time, and choose Time Reverse Layer. This action will make the timer count down instead of up.

Tailoring the Countdown to Your Needs

Sometimes, you might want your countdown to display only minutes and seconds, omitting hours. To achieve this, use the rectangle tool (found at the top menu) to draw a mask around the minutes and seconds, effectively hiding the hours.

Creating a Customized Countdown with the Envato Elements Template

1. Importing the Template

First, download the "countdown-VMQJDGB" template from Envato Elements. Once downloaded, open After Effects and import the template by navigating to File > Import > File and selecting the downloaded template.

2. Exploring the Template

Upon importing, you'll find multiple compositions and layers within the template. The main composition is likely where the countdown animation resides. Double-click on it to open and preview the existing animation.

3. Customizing the Countdown Duration

The template will have a default countdown duration. To adjust it, locate the text or number layer responsible for the countdown. If the template uses expressions, you might need to tweak the expression values to set your desired countdown duration.

4. Changing Color

To customize the color scheme, locate the layer or effect responsible for the color. Typically, this can be found in the Effects Control panel when you select a layer. Adjust the color values using the color picker to match your desired aesthetic.

5. Modifying Existing Effects

The template might come with pre-applied effects. To modify or remove them, select the layer with the effect, go to the Effects Control panel, and adjust the effect settings or simply toggle off or delete the effect if you don't want it.

6. Combining with Other Templates and Presets

If you have other templates or presets you'd like to use in conjunction with this countdown:

  • Import the additional templates or presets into your project.
  • Drag and drop the compositions or layers from the other templates into the main countdown composition.
  • Adjust the layer order and timings to ensure a seamless integration of the elements.

7. Finalizing and Rendering

Once you've made all your customizations and are satisfied with the look, go to Composition > Add to Render Queue to prepare your project for rendering. Adjust the render settings and output module as needed, then click 'Render' to finalize your customized countdown video.