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How to Make a Countdown in After Effects [Easiest & Best]

Countdown timer in after effect
Published 15 May 2021

Last updated on 22 July 2022

Ever wanted to recreate a countdown timer in Adobe After Effects for a rocket launch or simply create a tense moment in a video by showing how the time runs out? How to make a countdown in After Effects is what you need to learn!

In this article, I will show you how to create a countdown together with AE. This process is a simple one and it will cover plugins and expressions. There are a few ways we can create this, so stick around and find out more!

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1. Quick Method: Easily make a Countdown Timer in After Effects

  1. Create a new Text Layer.
  2. Open up text options and Alt + Click (PC) or Option + Click (Mac) on the Source Text’s stopwatch.
  3. Insert the following expression inside the expression area: timeToCurrentFormat().
  4. To make it look like an actual digital countdown timer, you must set your composition frame rate to 60 frames per second.
  5. Precompose everything and reverse the speed of the composition to make it count down. To reverse the speed of the composition, right-click on it, go to Time, and select Time Reverse Layer.

Note: You can adjust the initial value of the countdown timer by simply adjusting the length of the composition inside the composition settings. To access the composition settings, go inside any composition and press Control + K (PC) or Command + K (Mac).

Pro Tip: You might not want to display more than the minutes and seconds digits. Thus, create a mask around the area you want to use so you can easily get rid of unwanted information.

Here is a short video that shows precisely how easy it is to do a countdown timer this way:

2. Using the “Timecode” plugin to create a countdown timer

Instead of using the “timeToCurrentFormat()” expression, you can use the Timecode plugin to create a countdown timer.

Just add the plugin to a New Solid, and it will automatically create a timer layout—go through the same process as before to make it into a countdown timer.

Here is a short video that shows precisely how easy it is to do a countdown timer this way:

How to create a simple Countdown in After Effects

  1. Create a Text Layer.
  2. Open up text options and Alt + Click (PC) or Option + Click (Mac) on the Source Text’s stopwatch.
  3. Insert the following expression inside the expression area: Math.floor(-time)+10. Instead of “10”, you can add whatever number you want. That will be the starting value of the countdown.

Note: When the counter reaches 0, it will start returning negative numbers. To avoid this, simply cut the layer after 0 and insert a freeze-frame if you need it to stay longer on the screen.

Here is a short video that shows precisely how easy it is to do a countdown this way:

This is it! Now you know how to make a simple countdown and a countdown timer in After Effects, and you have three ways to do it. Use this information to add a twist to your videos and complete the viewer’s experience.

Please check my other After Effects tutorials for more cool ideas and techniques.

Another Method

Suggested by Pavel K:

Without time reverse and masks, copy & paste the below to the expressions layer:

timeToCurrentFormat(((5 * 60) – time) / 60).replace(“00:00:”, “”)

Where instead of the number 5, add whatever value you want the countdown to start from.

Video tutorial walkthrough with expressions

About Author

After spending 6 years in the post-production studio, Mihai decided to share his insights on video editing and computers.

2 Comments

  • Pavel K
    12 October 2021 at 11:01 am

    I would suggest a bit more elegant solution, without time reverse and masks…
    Copy paste this to expressions layer

    timeToCurrentFormat(((5 * 60) – time) / 60).replace(“00:00:”, “”)

    Where instead of 5 add whatever value you want the countdown starts

    Reply
  • Yannik
    11 June 2022 at 10:33 am

    I really like Pavels suggestion 🙂

    Instead of .replace() like suggested I ended up using .substring() which gives you the option to easily cut to part of the string instead of working with “complex” regex-expressions.
    https://www.w3schools.com/jsref/jsref_substring.asp

    To get the Minutes and Seconds like: 5:00 -> 4:59 -> …
    timeToCurrentFormat((5*60)-time).substring(4,8)

    Reply

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