Textperiments
This page will be documenting my #textperiments project throughout January (and maybe February) of 2019. I've had this silly obsession with the After Effects text animator for the past 4-5 years, specifically using it to make things that don't *look* like text. They're actually extremely powerful, they're just not very intuitive.

You can follow along on Instagram or Twitter, and if you feel inspired, I'd love for you to join in! If you'd like to learn how to do this yourself, I created an in-depth tutorial on some of these techniques for School of Motion.

I'll also be making the After Effects files available at the end of the project. 

The whole point here is to see what I can make with a single text layer.
Some of these will be super useful, some will be completely impractical.
I'm allowing myself a background layer (and lights/camera for 3d), and will be adding effects to complement/stylize, but trying to keep the text layer the star. 
Day 1: Tapered/Gradient Stroke
Tapered strokes are super handy, and are a fairly common request. Turns out, they've actually been right under your nose all along! No expressions, no 3rd-party plug-ins; just stock After Effects. Adding a gradient and making them follow a path (an animated one, in this case) is also pretty easy!

Another animator named Jay Brown posted his own version of this soon after, excited about how useful this would be for character limbs. (Yep!) This inspired Limber creator Steve Kirby to create a preset based on this technique (plus a quick tutorial). 
Look ma, I'm famous. 
Day 2: Flame
These tapered strokes are useful on their own, but once you start really digging into them, it enables some pretty amazing stuff. A Wiggly Selector, a couple of effects, and voila!
Day 3: Chain
This one goes out to the ever-brilliant Brian Maffitt, from whom I learned many AE skills, this specific idea & the whole concept of using text animators for crazy stuff like this. Enabling per-character 3d opens up a whole world of possibilities, including using all the capabilities of the C4D (and yes, the old Raytrace) renderer.
Day 4: Paint Swirl
And now for something completely different - painting with AE text animators! Seeing what you can pack into a single text layer is a really fun challenge. The effects recipe is fairly similar to the flame, but with one crucial difference... Echo.
Day 5: Arrows
Arrows on a path are one of the most useful everyday things you can do with AE text animators. Using ascii/unicode characters opens up a TON of possibilities, not to mention wingdings and even custom fonts. I'll be exploring that more in upcoming days. 

Make your own w/ Mikey Borup's free* path arrow preset! https://bit.ly/2trPok3
Bonus: Baseball
I consider this one to be cheating - it relies on CC Sphere, requires precomposing, and isn't actually using any text animators - but it does use text as a design element, which I think is an important lesson.

The baseball laces are just >>>>> in *Comic Sans* around a path. After trying a few other routes, I realized this was by far the easiest way to accomplish the look I needed. 

(This was part of something used in an MLB stadium for several months, so I've totally used Comic Sans on an important client project!)
Day 6: Calligraphy
Using several Range Selectors, you can taper in/out repeatedly along a path. This maybe isn't the most practical way to approach a script write-on like this (Particular or Bao Boa would probably be my go-to), but it's totally possible to build it on a text layer!
Day 7: Mandala
This dancing mandala is a fun example of where the constraints of using only a single text layer in AE have led me. I like seeing how much complexity I can stack up. Yay for Expression Selectors (and ASCII/Unicode characters)!

I originally posted a simpler version of this as a snarky Twitter response to the Senior Product Manager for AE.  :D

I noticed sometime more recently that Eran Stern (from whom I've been learning AE skills since like 2003) has a LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) course on how to build something very similar. Did I inspire this tutorial, or coincidence? Who knows!

Day 8: Hose
Ooh... a... hose? Sure, this one may not be as flashy as some of the other entries, but I originally built a version of this for a client video which needed - you guessed it - a bunch of hoses. For getting the ribbing right without having to repeatedly fine-tune a path, it sure was handy!

For the right thing, AE text animators can sometimes be easier to work with than shape layers. Whether a shape layer or a text - if you keep it on a single layer, you can avoid precomping and can easily make it a preset!
Day 9: Chevron Ring
Another experiment using AE text animators with the C4D renderer.
Per-character 3d allows for extrusion, lighting, reflections, etc., which can be pretty cool. To be honest, though, these get VERY heavy, and are not especially practical, unless you're just using a handful of characters.
If you needed, say, a couple of 3d arrows to chase each other along a path, though? This is totally the way I'd approach it. 
Day 10: Waves
I've found AE text animators to be very useful for fun wipe transitions. They're easy to tweak once set up (only a couple keyframes vs tons of layers for something like this), and being on a single layer makes for easy mattes/compositing without having to precompose. As I've mentioned before, being a single layer means it can easily be a preset, too, which can be really handy if you build a few of these you can use regularly.
I also explored this one in 3d, but it felt like there were better ways to show off that capability. I didn't end up putting enough effort into the lighting and materials, but seems like some cool potential here. Still pretty cool for being only one layer, right?
Day 11: 11th Hour
Another transition look, semi-inspired by the graphics package for The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams. As shown in these last few posts,  After Effects text animators are great for wipes, even ones with some depth, thanks to per-character 3d. (Notice the shadows?) As mentioned above, being a single layer means it's easy to layer/composite, and can be an animation preset!
Day 12: Through the Square
I guess this is what it would look like if some insane person tried to animate a Trapper Keeper on one text layer in AE? (Nobody said these would all be useful!)

I wanted to get some more background elements in here, but it ended up being more annoying than I would have liked, based on the way I'd transformed the layer, SO.... moving on.
Day 13: Swimmer
I originally made this thing green and called it a tadpole, but my friend told me to just lean into it. I love the swimmy little tail I was able to get here; a well-used Wiggly selector can do some pretty amazing stuff. As you may have guessed, the technique is pretty similar to the flame from Day 2. 

I technically cheated a little here, using a second text layer to create the particles in the background. They're my [arbitrary] rules; I can break 'em when I feel like it. I believe it's technically possible to have them all on one, but it's more annoying than I wanted to explore. 
Day 14: Volume
Initially built for a client project; a text layer seemed the easiest way. Not accurate, of course, but easy to work with & all on one (text) layer.
Line of periods + Wiggly selector (scale) + Grid, Mirror, Colorama & touch of Deep Glow.
Day 15: Bubble Flow
Particles along a path are one of my favorite uses of AE text animators. You get tons of control over the way they flow, but can introduce enough randomness to make it look natural. Animate the path, parent the points, etc. I've often found this kind of "follow a path" behavior for actual particle generators  to be more hassle than you'd expect.
Day 16: Dot Pattern
My tutorial has launched!
This is one of the examples featured in the tutorial, a fun blending of a Wiggly Selector and a few clever effects. I believe this was the example that actually led me to the "make everything on one layer" idea!