ae render bot featured image

How to create an After Effects rendering bot

Table of Contents

We as creatives are very good at creating videos that are nicely designed, engaging and purposeful. Our comfort zone is a blank slate where we get to create. What’s not our comfort zone is creating 100s of variations of the same video we once did.

Whatever the reason is. It could be that the clients need different versions for different markets, different languages or it’s testing different copy, or images. That’s just boring and a waste of time. 

That’s i’m writing this article. It will show you how to create an After Effects render bot which will pump out 100s of different video variations automatically – while you are on a lunch break.

If you ended up on this article, you are probably aware of why you should add this to your toolkit. As a matter of fact, you probably have an ongoing project where the client wants 100s of video variations. Well, an After Effects rendering bot will save your sanity.

Two options for creating an After Effects render bot

Based on how technical you are, there are two options. The first one will involve coding, and you’ll have to know JavaScript. The second one requires 0 programming knowledge, and it’s easy as clicking a few buttons.

The first option includes an awesome, open-source tool called Nexrender. It’s created by Vladyslav Hrytsenko, and it basically gives you everything you need in order to create an After Effects rendering bot. It’s pretty flexible and modular, so you can edit the workflow to your liking and create pretty much anything you want. The only downside is that it requires coding knowledge. So if you are not familiar with JavaScript and Ae Scripting, and your code knowledge ends at loopOut(“pingpong”) (as mine does), you’ll love the second option.

which ae render bot should you use

The second option is Plainly. It’s a Web Based video automation tool for After Effects. It allows you to create one After Effects project, upload it to Plainly and render 100s of video variations automatically. It’s basically an online After Effects rendering bot – and it will save you hours and hours of your time.

Let’s explore each of the options further.

Creating an After Effects render bot with Nexrender

Since i’m not a technical person i can’t go too much into the details of this option. Luckily the documentation is pretty extensive and if you know how to code it won’t be too hard for you to set up Nexrender.

The main thing you need to know is that each render in Nexrender is a .json file with a defined model. It’s called a job. Here’s what it contains:

  1. Path to the After Effects project you want to use
  2. Rendering composition
  3. Layers you want to swap out
  4. References for the assets to be swaped

After it receives the job, Nexrender will take the project you referenced and swap out all of the layers you mentioned in the .json. It’s a pretty simple and effective way of automating After Effects. Once you get the jobs done (no pun intended), you’ll need a way to render these videos in the cloud.

In order to set up your After Effects render bot in the cloud, you will also need to set up a Nexrender server, and also Nexrender workers which will manage and render all of the renders. Once you set up these two, you’ll also need virtual machines to render those videos. For that purpose you have a few options, depending on your budget:

  1. Paperspace
  2. Ionos
  3. Contabo

nexrender network render structure
Credits: Nexrender Github

This is where my Nexrender knowledge ends. As i said above, it’s pretty well documented and i’m sure that you won’t have any trouble creating a video automation workflow if you are somewhat familiar with coding.

On the other side, if you’re just a creative (like myself) and want something with 0 setup you’ll like the option 2.

Using Plainly as an After Effects Render Bot

Plainly is a video automation tool for After Effects. It allows you to upload your After Effects project file to the Plainly Web App, select dynamic layers (the ones that will change every time), and then render out 100s of variations automatically.

It will help you save hours and hours of manual variation creation. Plainly is practically an After Effects render bot in the cloud. I’ll do a quick overview of Plainly, and then i’ll move into an example project so you can see for yourself how easy it is to use Plainly as an After Effects render bot.

Overview of Plainly

There are three steps to creating automated video creation workflows with Plainly.

plainly setup steps

The first step is to create your After Effects template. The project itself doesn’t have to be specially modified in any way. You can use any After Effects project you create. Now, you may be thinking what about text elements or pictures…they are not always the same. 

Well, Plainly supplies After Effects expressions that you can apply to text layers and images inside of AE in order to make sure that text always wraps nicely, and images scale properly.

After you’re done with After Effects, you’ll zip up your project and upload it to Plainly. Which is the start of step two. Creating dynamic layers. In plain English, this just means selecting which layers will change with every render. Types of layers that can be dynamic are: 

  1. Text layers
  2. Image layers
  3. Video layers
  4. Audio layers
  5. Colors
Setting up dynamic layers in Plainly is done in 2 clicks

Step two is done fully inside of Plainly Web App. Plainly will parse all of the layers in the project, and it will give you a way to create dynamic layers just by clicking on them and giving them a name.

With steps one and two done, you can now render videos in a few clicks. The only thing you need to do to render videos is to open your project and supply the values for the dynamic layers. Plainly will take those values you supplied, swap them out, and render a variation of the original video.

Videos are rendered in the cloud, and they’ll appear in the Render tab inside Plainly. From there you can download them and use them as you wish.

What’s also good about Plainly is that it has an API. This means that If you know how to use tools like Zapier and Integromat, you can push the automation even further. 

With the tools above, you can link Plainly to a Google Spreadsheet, dump all of the video variations inside of that spreadsheet and go on a lunch break while Plainly renders out all of the variations. Not only this, you can also set the video delivery to be to your Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, and similar.

I go into all of the details in the video below, so if this is something you want to do i encourage you to check it out.

Example project

To help you better understand how to create a rendering bot for After Effects using Plainly, we created a step-by-step tutorial using an example project.

Closing Words

So as you can see, creating a fully automated After Effects render bot is a piece of cake using Plainly. It takes a few hours to set up, but it saves tons of hours in the future. You can always re-use the same integration or even the same spreadsheet. Once it’s connected, you can use that workflow forever.

You can even push the workflow further, and enable your clients to create as many video variations as they need using a video creation form or adding a bit of AI into the mix.

Getting this workflow under your toolbelt is super useful. With companies cutting costs, being able to provide more versions for less money due to automation is definitely going to be a dealbreaker in some cases. For that reason, feel free to book a 15-min demo and i’ll show you around Plainly.

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person using a video generator