Your view into After Effects compositions is relegated to just that, a view. You can try to select elements in the composition panel, but unless you have organized your scene into higher level elements, you might find that your re able to select very little there. How many times have you clicked and dragged something in the composition view and moved something that you didn’t intend to?
Hindered by Bounding Box
That is because After Effects operates with bounding boxes and not the pixel or negative space information on the layers. Photoshop has a neat little way to get around this same problem. Command or control clicking on a layer will allow you to essentially forego bounding box selection and let you select items that are visible. After Effects has no such trick. In Ae you can right click and navigate to select, and choose the layer you want, but the menu item isn’t quick’y accessible, being the last in the list. It’s no wonder why many users don’t even bother with selecting in the view panel and hunt and peck in the composition panel.
This is why Casey Baker has created a new After Effects tool that hopes to make point and clicking easier so that you can focus on work, rather than finding what you want to select. It’s called Smart Selector. Smart selector can see right through the bounding boxes of layers and let you select what is underneath. If you can see it you can select it.
Smart Selector works with a layer’s RGB information rather than the boxed contents of a layer. This is how it is able to select what you want, and even select things that are several levels deep in your hobbled nest of preComps.
Still More Than 1 Click
The new selection tool for After Effects isn’t as instant as a point and click, it can be a few clicks to select the element that you want. If however, you are needing to continually select elements that are nested down multiple levels, Smart Selector seems to be the easiest way.
Visit the page at aescripts + aeplugins for more information on Smart Selector for After Effects.