General Specialist


Troubleshooting After Effects (all versions)

Having problems, crashes or installation errors with After Effects 7.0 or After Effects CS3 (8.0) or CS4 (9.0)? Here's a collection of tried and true remedies, but before you start reinstalling and trashing things, make sure you've tried to locate what part of your AE project is causing the problems.

Start by isolating the problem:
  1. What is causing this problem, and when does the problem occur? Every time you import something, every time you render to a specific codec, everytime you apply a certain effect? Can you reproduce the problem by doing something, or is it random?
  2. What did you do just before the problem occured? Can that operation have caused the problem? Can you do the same thing in another way without seeing the error?
  3. Does your rendering/preview fail at the same frame on both previews and renders? Isolate that layer with the solo switch and turn off every effect and then turn them on one-by-one.
  4. Does the error occur in all projects or just one? If in just one, what is special about it?
  5. Does the error occur on other machines with the same version of AE/plugins/drivers? If so, what is unique about this machine?
  6. Does it happen without third-party plugins? Are the third-party plugins compatible with CS3? Do you have a third-party video card such as AJA or Decklink? Have you updated those drivers?
  7. Have you changed anything about the system lately? Installed a new codec, driver, software or hardware? Try to revert your changes and see if the problem disappears.
  8. Do a search with specific keywords from any error messages you get. Enclose terms that have more than one word with quotation marks. Here's a good example:
    "image buffer" "after effects"

Workarounds to common problems:

  1. If you hold down the Shift key while opening an old project you will force AE to close all comp viewers, so if one of the comps are causing problems you will be able to identify which comp it is.
  2. You can also try to import the project instead of opening it.
  3. A third solution is to move all source files into a new folder so that AE can't find them, and then locate each source file separately by choosing "Replace footage -> File..." so that you can isolate which source is causing problems.
  4. If you are getting rendering errors it might be the codec that is hogging RAM. If you enable "Purge every 20 frames during Make Movie" you will probably get around the problem. You can do this in the Secret preferences by holding down the Shift key and then select Preferences... from the menu. In the Preferences dialog box you can then choose the "Secret" option that will give you hidden features (they are hidden since they will cause AE to render more slowly.)
    Don't enable the other checkboxes, just write "20" in the text field. Also, make sure you enable the "Prevent DLL Address Space Fragmentation" under "Memory & Caches" if your on a Windows system.
  5. If you are working with large compositions, images and video files, you may get an error message about creating the image buffer. Here's a tutorial on how to work around that problem.

OK, that didn't work?

Bigger problem-solving tools:
1. If you've had any of Adobe's public beta software installed previously, uninstall them and then use the Adobe CS3Clean Script.
If you're on Mac OS X you can't just throw the program folder into the Trash. I repeat: you can't just throw the program folder into the Trash. Instead, in your Applications/Utilities folder, you'll find an uninstaller called (for example) Premiere Pro Setup that you must use to completely uninstall any CS3 program.

2. Check that your system harddrive and the harddrive where you store your After Effects project and footage aren't full, and then run a disk check to make sure they aren't damaged.

3. Run Adobe Updater to see if there are any updates or patches. You can find a menu item called Updates... in the Help or the After Effects menus.

4. Uninstall QuickTime and then restart your computer.

5. Uninstall any third-party video and audio codecs for QuickTime and Windows Media, such as XviD, DivX, FFDShow, BlackMagic, Aja, Avid, Flip4Mac, etcetera. Restart your computer.

6. Reinstall the latest version of QuickTime (unless it is version 7.2.0 or 7.4, which are notoriously buggy.) Restart your computer.

7. Update your graphics card's drivers. If you're on Windows you can download them from the manufacturer of your graphics card's website, such as If you're on OS X, make sure you're using the latest OS X version by choosing "Software Update..." from your Apple menu. Restart your computer.

8. Remove all non-system fonts (a corrupt font file can cause all kinds of problems.)
On Windows they are found here:
C:\Documents and Settings\XXXYOUR_USER_NAMEXXX\Application Data\Adobe\Fonts

and on OS X the fonts can be in a lot of places.

9. Rebuild After Effects preference file (all you preference settings will be lost, unfortunately) by pressing and holding down Cmd-Opt-Shift / Ctrl-Alt-Shift directly after you've clicked the AE icon.

10. If you are still having problems, close AE and then remove the "OpenGL3D.AEX" plugin from the plugins folder found at
/Applications/Adobe After Effects XXXVersion NumberXXX/Plug-ins/Support Files/Standard/Extensions

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XXXVersion NumberXXX\Support Files\Plug-ins\Standard\Extensions

Other tips & tricks:

How to install CS3 programs
I've written some tips for optimal installation of Adobe's CS3 software.

"License has expired"
If you get the dreaded error "The license has expired" with any of the CS3 applications, you have probably forgot to deactivate a previous Adobe product. A temporary fix is to set back the date on your computer if you just need to get through a deadline, and then reinstall at a later date.

Some users have also reported that installing the "Licensing Service Update" for Acrobat 8 via Adobe Updater (accessible by choosing "Updates..." in the Help menu) will solve a lot of licensing problems.

Finding and installing plug-ins
Most plugins will install into a subfolder of:


C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XXXVersion NumberXXX\Support Files\Plug-ins\Extensions

/Applications/Adobe After Effects XXXVersion NumberXXX/Plug-ins/

However, some plugins will install themselves into a common folder to make themselves available in both Premiere Pro and After Effects, found here:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Common\Plug-ins\XXXVersion NumberXXX\MediaCore\

/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Common/Plug-ins/XXXVersion NumberXXX/MediaCore/

Slow performance on multi-core machines without enough RAM
After Effects CS3 8.0 and 8.0.1 had multiprocessing performance issues with multi-core machines, especially high-end 8-core hardware. This was fixed in the 8.0.2 update.
When all 8 cores try to render a complex or memory intensive composition with Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously, the application can become memory starved if each process has insufficient memory. If you have less than 2 GB of available RAM per CPU core, your hard drive will be used as temporary RAM which is at least 100 times slower than real RAM.

To remedy this, there is a text preference in the preference file to control the maximum number of cores that Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously will use.
Open the text preference file and look in the ["MP"] section for:
"MaxNumberOfProcesses" = "0"

"0" is the default setting, which means that all available CPU cores will be used. Calculate how much RAM you have available for After Effects (don't count the RAM used by your operating system.) If you have 8 cores and 8 GB of free RAM, change the setting to "4" so that 4 CPU cores will be used and so they will each receive 2 GB of RAM.
Save the preference file and restart After Effects.

You can find the preference file Adobe After Effects 8.0 Prefs.txt in the directory (on Windows):
C:\Documents and Settings\XXXYOUR_LOGIN_NAMEXXX\Application Data\Adobe\After Effects\8.0
...or for OS X:
/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/8.0/

Data Execution Prevention (DEP)
On Windows, the Data Execution Prevention (DEP) may cause crashes at startup. You can disable it so that AE can start properly.

Icons not working
On Windows Vista all CS3 applications can refuse to start when you click their icons. This can easily be fixed by updating the Acrobat 8 licensing service.

Image buffer problems
Here's a blog post about how to avoid image buffer problems.

Flickering interface, buttons and menues that flash and don't work
Microsoft's IntelliPoint software is known to cause the GUI in After Effects to flash and flicker. Just uninstall IntelliPoint and everything will start working properly (and you IntelliPoint mouse and keyboard will still work!)

No sound or audio in previews and renders
AE doesn't play sound when you do a Spacebar playback. In fact, this is the most common mistake (I think this is actually AE's fault, all other applications use Spacebar) new users make. Instead of Spacebar, do a RAM Preview with the 0 key on the numerical keypad. You'll get both realtime playback and sound (after rendering of course!)

If you just want the hear the audio, use the period/comma key on the numerical keypad.

You can also scrub the timeline and hear the audio if you hold down the Ctrl or Cmd key, and if you hold down the Alt or Option key, you'll stop the comp viewer from updating so you can scrub faster.

Still not hearing any sound? Do the video files have sound when you play them in something like VLC, QuickTime Player or Windows Media Player? If other programs can't play the audio, you can't blame After Effects...

Do you see a green waveform under the preview in the Project panel? If not, AE can't read the audio track.

Try to apply the "Tone" effect to a layer and do a RAM Preview (numpad-0) and you should hear a tone. If you don't hear anything, make sure your Sound preferences inside AE is set to the correct audio card and output. If you use something like a BlackMagic or AJA card, they tend to route the audio to the card's outputs instead of through your normal audio output.

Check that you have the Sound button enabled in the Time Controls panel to hear the sound when you do a RAM Preview.

Select the layer which is supposed to have sound in the Timeline and hit LL on your keyboard to display a waveform. If no waveform is showing AE can't see the audio in the file.

Finally, when you render, do you have "Sound" enabled in the Output Module in your Render Queue?

A good workaround if AE can't read the audio track is to use QuickTime Player Pro to export just the sound as an separate WAV or AIFF file.

Slow and sluggish performance and GUI with GeForce 8800 GPU's
There's a newly discovered bug that only seems to affect Windows users with nVidia's GeForce 8800 graphics cards. The entire user interface in both After Effects CS3 and Encore DVD CS3 becomes slow and sluggish.
Some people have reported that a workaround is to use the programs logged in to a non-administrator account, but if you have these problems, please file a bug report.

Still having problems?
If you're still having problems, here's Adobe's own trouble-shooting tips for version 7.0:
Troubleshoot system errors or freezes in After Effects (7.0 on Mac OS X)
Troubleshoot system errors or freezes in After Effects (7.0 on Windows XP)

...and for version CS3:
Render fails on a computer with 8 or more processor cores
Troubleshoot OpenGL problems in After Effects CS3
Troubleshoot crashes, system errors, and freezes (After Effects CS3 on Mac OS X)
Troubleshoot installation problems After Effects CS3 (Mac OS X)
Troubleshoot installation problems After Effects CS3 (Windows Vista)
Troubleshoot installation problems After Effects CS3 (Windows XP)
Error "Microsoft Visual C++ Runtime Error..." or crash when you install (Windows XP)
Freeze or crash when you start on a system with Realtek HD Audio (Windows XP)

...and version CS4:
Serial number not working

Remember, you have the entire (and up-to-date) manual available at LiveDocs (it can also be downloaded as a PDF, plus tips and tutorials on the Community Help page.

Create a detailed log and report the bug to the After Effects team
If everything above fails, you can have AE create a log file for each session, but please note that AE will run slower because it has to write every operation into the text file, so make sure you remove/rename the file after you have had a crash!

Place an empty text file called After Effects Log.txt in the directory (on Windows):
C:\Documents and Settings\XXXYOUR_LOGIN_NAMEXXX\Application Data\Adobe\After Effects\8.0

...or for OS X:
/Users/XXXYOUR_LOGIN_NAMEXXX/Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/8.0/

You can look in that log what the last twenty or so operations were and possibly get a clue what went wrong. You can then look at the great list of the often cryptic error codes that Mylenium is regularly updating with helpful tips on what the errors mean.

Make sure you also post a bug report to Adobe.

- Jonas

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What You Need to Know Before Installing any CS3 Applications

  1. Deactivate all previous CS3 versions
    If you've had any pre-release, public beta versions or if you're simply reinstalling, make sure you open each program and choose "Deactivate..." from the Help menu.
    Note to Adobe: Please add an automatic "Deactive" feature to the installer. You'll get sooo many support calls from people that forgot to deactivate.

  2. Backup all your data
    I know, I know; you keep all your files in a vault 400 feet below the bedrock. Great, just checking...

  3. Uninstall Apple Safari 3 beta
    It's known to cause conflicts with the CS3 installers.

  4. Uninstall all CS3 beta versions
    You don't want any of Adobe's beta programs installed together with the officially released versions. Trust me on this. Please use the Adobe CS3Clean Script if you've had any of Adobe's public beta CS3 versions installed on this machine.

    If you're on Mac OS X, here's another catch: you can't just throw the program folder into the Trash. I repeat: you can't just throw the program folder into the Trash. Instead, in your Applications/Utilities folder, you'll find an uninstaller called (for example) Premiere Pro Setup that you must use to completely uninstall any CS3 program.

    UPDATE: If you are having problems running the CS3Clean script on Mac OS X (mine would just flash and close the without doing anything, make sure you are running it in super-admin mode by opening Terminal /Applications/Utilities/ and then paste this command followed by the Return key:
    cd /Volumes/maccs3clean/MacCS3Clean
    ...and then this command followed by the Return key:
    sudo python ./
    Then enter your administrator password to start the cleaning script.
    Thanks to Mattias Werdenskog for the Unix skills required to pull this off!

  5. Defragment your harddrive
    It's 2007, and CS3 applications are huge. The more contiguous space you can provide on your harddrive, the better, so I suggest you defragment before installation, even if you're on OS X.

  6. Be patient, and don't surf while installing
    Make sure you don't need to use your computer for a while. Since the CS3 installers all use/modify the Flash plugin, you can't have any web browsers open during the installation. And even if you can restart your browser while the installer is running in the background, it is not recommended at all. Just grab a coffee instead, OK?
Finally, if you still can't get it to work, Adobe offers free installation support, check for a local phone number.

I've also collected a bunch of steps to follow when troubleshooting After Effects.

Update: If the CS3 installer asks for CD 2 with the name of Adobe ExtendScript Toolkit2, the solution is to download this software, as described here.

- Jonas

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Smooth FCP Playback of HDV and XDCAM Renders from AE

Apparently XDCAM and QuickTime HDV renders from After Effects will cause Final Cut Pro to choke and skip frames on playback.

The current workaround is to render to QuickTime's Animation codec and either let FCP render that clip in the timeline, or open the clip in QuickTime Player Pro and export it from there to an HDV file that you then import into FCP.

- Jonas

Photo by aburt

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Color Management in After Effects CS3

For those of you more bent on the geeky features of the newly released After Effects CS3, there's a new Color Management PDF that describes an entire managed workflow.

- Jonas

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