Zack Lovatt

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November 11, 2014

Workflow: Cloud-Syncing After Effects Addons

Posted In: etc

I have a laptop. And a desktop. My laptop has AE CC2014, CC2012, CS6 on it, and my desktop has all of the above, plus CS5.5. That’s a lot of AE! Now, one thing that comes up very, very quickly with having multiple machines (or even multiple AE installs) is that all of your scripts, presets, plugins and even your workspaces have to be set up from fresh every time!

As a word of warning, this is a fairly technical post, and if you’re not 100% familiar or comfortable with any of the following, you’re better off skipping this post. You can break things very easily if you’re not careful, and I’m not to be held liable. Because that would suck.

The more recent versions of AE help reduce the headache by syncing workspaces and prefs via the cloud, however I want it all in sync, all the time, immediately. Opening CC2014 on my laptop
gives me the exact same toolkit and workspace as opening CS6 on my desktop, or any mix therein. This is how I do it.

This has all been tested extensively by me from CS6=>CC2014 on Windows. The ideas and workflow should be identical to OSX, though the paths are changed. I’ve tried to accommodate this as much as possible.

Update 2015/04/26 – I do not recommend syncing workspaces this way. It breaks the built-in settings sync, and corrupts your workspaces. Use the built-in tool. Everything else is 100% good-to-go.

The idea is that we’re going to create some folder structures in Dropbox and make After Effects look there for our addons, instead of its default directory. This will work with all cloud-sync software, not just Dropbox, but this is how I do it.

So. There are two ways to do this; one, using Symbolic Links, and the other using standard shortcuts/aliases. I did some digging, and while shortcuts do work from After Effect’s POV, if you ever install plugins with an installer, they won’t install into Dropbox properly. So– Symlinks it is.

 

Symlinks

Symbolic links (Symlinks) are the exact same idea as a shortcut or alias, however you can think of it as being one level deeper– that is, instead of just being a link that YOU can use to get to jump to somewhere else in your system, your computer will treat the two folders as if they’re really in the same place. Doing this requires the Terminal/Command Prompt, and these commands:

Windows: mklink /j "Local Folder" "Target (Dropbox) Folder"
OSX: ln -s "Target (Dropbox) Folder" "Local Folder"

For example, this is what your command would be to sync a User Plugins folder over, within the existing Plug-Ins folder.

Windows:
mklink /j "C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XX\Support Files\Plug-ins\User Plugins" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Software Settings\After Effects\User Plugins"
OSX:
ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/User Plugins" "/Applications/Adobe After Effects XX/Plug-ins/User Plugins"

Note that on Windows vs OSX, the target & local folder are reversed. On either platform, the Local Folder needs to not exist (as it’s making a new one), so make sure to delete the preexisting directory before running the command! Last note– make sure there are no “/”s at the end of the command!

If this is too technical and/or code-heavy, there are some GUI options, such as the Link Shell extension on Windows, or Symbolic Linker for OSX.

 

Setup

In Dropbox, make a folder called Software Settings. In here, make another called After Effects. This way, if you sync settings from any other applications via Dropbox, you can have one contained folder for it.

Within the AE folder, create these folders:

 

Presets

Definitely the easiest of the lot. Presets are stored in your Documents folder, so they’re easy to get to.

Windows: ..\Users\[Username]\Documents\Adobe\After Effects XX\User Presets
OSX: /Users/[Username]/Documents/Adobe/After Effects XX/User Presets

If you have an existing Presets version, move all contents into the new Dropbox version at

..\Dropbox\Software Settings\After Effects\User Presets

Delete the existing Presets folder, and create a link to User Presets in the “After Effects XX” folder, in which XX is the installed version you have. Repeat for all installed versions to have them share a single preset library.

Windows:
mklink /j "C:\Users\[Username]\Documents\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XX\Presets" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Software Settings\After Effects\User Presets"
OSX:
ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/User Presets" "/Users/[Username]/Documents/Adobe/After Effects XX/Presets"

Note: Presets are not backwards compatible! Presets created in a newer version of AE will not work in older versions.

 

Scripts (& ScriptUI Panels)

A bit more difficult, you’ll need to go into the Support Files folder for each installed version, into the Scripts folder.

Windows: ..\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XX\Support Files\Scripts
OSX: /Applications/Adobe After Effects XX/Scripts

Again, move the entire contents of this folder over to the corresponding folder on Dropbox. The whole thing. Bam. Then, create a link back into the Support Files folder, and make sure the folder is named only ‘Scripts’ (nothing else, or AE won’t find it!).

Windows:
mklink /j "C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XX\Support Files\Scripts" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Software Settings\After Effects\Scripts"
OSX:
ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/Scripts" "/Applications/Adobe After Effects XX/Scripts"

When installing scripts in the future, you can navigate to either the Dropbox folder or your Support Files folder and install the script normally; it’ll update on all machines, through all versions.

 

Plugins

This is a little more tricky. We can’t move the whole Plugins folder to Dropbox, because each version of AE has their own versions of certain plugins, and we don’t want to get ‘Duplicate plugin’ errors. First step: open the Plugins folder, and copy all non-native (user-installed) plugins over to Dropbox.

Windows: ..\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XX\Support Files\Plug-ins
OSX: /Applications/Adobe After Effects XX/Plug-ins

Then, when the Plugins folder ONLY has the native plugins, create a link from Dropbox into the Plugins folder. Idea is that you should see something like this:

Windows:
mklink /j "C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects XX\Support Files\Plug-ins\User Plugins" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Software Settings\After Effects\User Plugins"
OSX:
ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/User Plugins" "/Applications/Adobe After Effects XX/Plug-ins/User Plugins"

AE has no trouble going into this subdirectory to pull the plugins, and keeping them isolated like this prevents headaches down the line.

Now, sometimes plugins don’t install to this standard file, instead opting for a ‘Common’ directory, here:

Windows: ..\Program Files\Adobe\Common\Plug-ins
OSX: /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Common/Plug-Ins

Luckily, the process is the exact same. Move the entire Plug-ins folder contents over to ‘Common Plugins’ that we created before, then delete the original folder & replace it with a link to our Dropbox-based ‘Common Plugins’.

Windows:
mklink /j "C:\Program Files\Adobe\Common\Plug-ins" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Software Settings\After Effects\Common Plugins"
OSX:
ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/Common Plugins" "/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Common/Plug-Ins"

When installing plugins in the future, you can navigate to either the Dropbox folder or your Support Files folder and install the plugin normally; it should work just fine, updating everywhere. However: if the plugin has a specific installer for different AE versions, install it directly in the Plug-Ins folder, not in the User Plugins folder, else you run the risk of the plugin not working.

 

Workspaces (Experimental!)

This one I’m still working on. It seems that AE saves workspaces a) when they are newly created, and b) when you close AE. If you have AE open on multiple computers and close them, you can end up with conflicting versions of the workspace. Also, I can’t guarantee this will work across all versions of AE, but it’s worked fine for me over CC2014, CC2012 and CS6 over two machines. My workspace is a little crazy, and this helps keep things in check.

Note: You need to do this after you sync scripts. Otherwise, you may not have the proper scriptUI panels installed. This breaks things.

For this, you need to copy two folders over. One of them will be for the ‘clean,’ new workspaces, and the other for ‘modified’ workspaces (in which you’ve changed panel sizes or rearranged items, for example). Much harder to find, these are located here:

Windows: ..\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\After Effects\XX\ModifiedWorkspaces
Windows: ..\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\After Effects\XX\OriginalUserWorkspaces
OSX: /Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/XX/ModifiedWorkspaces
OSX: /Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/XX/OriginalUserWorkspaces

Apart from there being two folders, the workflow is exactly the same. Copy the contents out to the relevant Dropbox folders, delete the originals and replace with links.

Windows:
mklink /j "C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\After Effects\XX\ModifiedWorkspaces" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Resources\Software Settings\After Effects\ModifiedWorkspaces" mklink /j "C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\After Effects\XX\OriginalUserWorkspaces" "C:\Users\[Username]\Dropbox\Resources\Software Settings\After Effects\OriginalUserWorkspaces"
OSX:
ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/ModifiedWorkspaces" "/Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/XX/ModifiedWorkspaces" ln -s "/Users/[Username]/Dropbox/Software Settings/After Effects/OriginaluserWorkspaces" "/Library/Preferences/Adobe/After Effects/XX/OriginaluserWorkspaces"

Update 2015/04/26 – I do not recommend syncing workspaces this way. It breaks the built-in settings sync, and corrupts your workspaces. Use the built-in tool. Everything else is 100% good-to-go.

 

Conclusion

And that’s about it! Using this method, you should now have all of your addons synced via Dropbox, ready to keep centalized for all your AE installs, through all your computers, anywhere in the world. Super easy once you get the hang of it, and absolutely reversible should you need to. Just recreate the original folder, move the files back and you’re good to go.

You can sync almost anything like this, for any software. One thing not detailed above, but I also sync my ft-Toolbar2 settings this way, along with the icons, so I have it everywhere.

Have you found any better way to go about doing this, any alternatives or extra little tips? Let me know! Would love to hear.

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15 Comments

  1. John Peterson • November 24, 2014

    Hi Zack. I am very glad to have come across your blog and would love to be able to set this up. I am less technical than you but I think I'll be able to handle this although I do have a question as I look through your instructions. Where you say:

    "Delete the existing Presets folder, and create a link to User Presets in the “After Effects XX” folder, in which XX is the installed version you have. Repeat for all installed versions to have them share a single preset library"

    Do you mean delete the contents of the existing Presets folder and add the symbolic link to the empty folder pointing to the Presets folder on Dropbox?

    Thanks again for posting this and for your time. Reply


    • zack • November 24, 2014

      Hey John!

      You can't create symbolic links to folders that already exist. So in this case and others, the preferred action is to move over the contents to Dropbox, delete the old folder outright, and then create the symbolic link to replace the folder you've just deleted. Make sense?

      Z Reply


  2. John Peterson • November 25, 2014

    Thanks for the response. I'm trying to use Symbolic Linker and maybe I'm not understanding yet how that works. I've moved the presets to my dropbox folder and deleted the original folder. With Symbolic Linker I can right-click and choose "Make Symbolic Link". Would I do that on the Dropbox Presets folder and then drag the resulting link into my After Effects XX folder and rename it "Presets"? I realize I'm asking to comment on something that is different from your process so I apologize for that.

    One other general question: Wouldn't this setup mean that if you aren't connected to the internet you don't have access to your presets and plugins? Reply


    • conigs • November 25, 2014

      John,

      I don't use that specific plugin, but I have an Automator service which acts similar (creates a symbolic link right next to the original file). Yes, move that file to your AE folder and rename it accordingly. In my case, it's a matter of removing " link" from the end of the file name.

      As for needing to be online… no, you don't. Services like dropbox keep files on your computer as well. So even if you have no internet connection, the files will still be there. However, if you make changes to those files/folders, other computer won't see those changes until you're back online.

      Hope that helps. Reply


  3. John • November 25, 2014

    Definitely helps. Thanks! Reply


  4. Kenzo • March 16, 2015

    Hi, Zack. Useful tips. Just a correction: in mac os, the presets folder is located in: /Users/[Username]/Documents/Adobe/After Effects XX/User Presets. Reply


    • zack • March 16, 2015

      Thanks, Kenzo! Updated. Reply


  5. Rogue Robot • September 3, 2015

    This looks great. How is it with CC2015? Reply


    • zack • September 3, 2015

      Works just fine! No problems reported as of yet. Reply


  6. ali jan • September 18, 2015

    I think the admin of this site is genuinely working hard in favor
    of his web page, since here every material is quality based
    material. Reply


  7. Rogue Robot • October 6, 2015

    Any idea if this would work with font folders on Windows 7? Reply


  8. Rogue Robot • October 8, 2015

    We've synced all our scripts, presests and even plug-ins like Element3d with this - so far it works like a drem, so thank you so much for the info.
    Still wary of trying fonts - anyone had success with this? Reply


    • zack • October 8, 2015

      Hey! As the Fonts folder is a system directory and not a standard folder, I'd be very very surprised if it worked the same way. May just have to use a dedicated font manager, and then sync its library folders. If that's not an option, then I'm not sure! Reply


  9. Mike Abbott • June 8, 2017

    Zack - long time no speak : ) I hope things are good with you.
    I've been meaning to implement this syncing method for quite some time - finally I got round to it - and I wish I'd done so earlier. It's working really well and will make my Ae life so much easier to handle. I've even rediscovered a few presets that I'd built and lost in the depths of my system :) Thanks for all the info and putting this together!

    Good posts never die :) Reply


  10. Tudor Applen • July 30, 2017

    Thanks for this great tip! I'm trying it out. My first attempt though confused me a bit with regard to User Presets (the easy one!) My Documents look to be migrated to iCloud in Sierra OS X 10.12.6. When I go to iCloud Drive -> Documents -> Adobe -> After Effects CC 2017 -> User Presets -> Adobe (which is an alias) where all the preset folders live. I snagged all those and dragged them to the Dropbox folder you suggested making, and they came up Aliases there. I stopped at that point because I'm a bit uncertain what to do now. Any thoughts? Again, THANK YOU! Reply


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