Kevin McAuliffe's experience has been that all editors need to know Adobe After Effects at least as well as their NLE. His own experience has been that anything less than intermediate to advanced knowledge makes it impossible to actually get anything done. Even working with the compositing power of Avid Symphony, Kevin is in AE all day, every day. Here's the story of how he got there.
Wow. Hard to believe After Effects (AE) has turned 20. Looking back on my experiences with AE, it's become a tool that I cannot live without in my daily editing duties.
I get tons of e-mails from people asking me questions about "Which NLE should I choose based on theses criteria?" I always say the same thing....."In my opinion, I would recommend INSERT NLE HERE, and make sure you get a copy of After Effects as well." Unless I'm doing a basic title, I'm in AE with just about every project I work on, on a daily basis and for me, it's basically become one and the same with my Avid Symphony NLE.
I have had people ask me before how I got started with AE, well here it is.
Probably about 16 years ago, I was an editor at Edge Productions, a division of MacLaren McCann advertising here in Toronto, Canada, where we did commercial work for General Motors, Coca-Cola, McNeil Consumer Products and a whole bunch of other top companies. I worked with Art Directors and Copywriters every day, and always ran into the same situation. Whenever we needed to do a "visual effect" of some kind, they would always go to a "high end" compositing facility to do the work.
In most cases, this work was being done on a Quantel HAL or Henry system, and it got to the point where when I went with them, I would look at the work these guys were doing, and think "There's gotta be a way that I can do work like this in-house, and we can bill for that money that's going to an outside facility."
I had After Effects 3.5 on my system, but had never really "used" it. I had played around with it, and had learned the masking tool pretty well, but never really had a chance to use it in a "production" situation. Then, a commercial came through (I remember it vividly) for the Pontiac Trans Sport Minivan, and it had Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner in it. At the end of the commercial, the Coyote reached across the screen to pull an element over to reveal the truck's logo and website information. We needed to replace the US creative with Canadian creative and, of course, the AD and CW wanted to go out of house to do this.
As soon as I saw the spot, my first thought was "I can do this in that After Effects program!" They had the session booked for a Friday, and it was Tuesday now, so without saying anything, I got to work trying to do the work in-house, and prove to those outside the four walls of our little "internal" post facility that we can play with the big boys.
Well, two days and countless hours later, I had figured it out, and had replaced that logo and website with the Canadian version. I showed it to my boss and creatives, and needless to say, that was my first, in a LONG line of spots that I have done in After Effects. I always have a good laugh when I tell people that I started using AE in version 3.5, and they say "CS 3.5?". Well, fast forward 16 years, and now, After Effects has not only become a program that sits on my computer, but it's a program that I open when I sit down in the morning, and don't close until I pack it up at the end of the day.
I am now one of the Senior Editors at MIJO (a subsidiary of DG) in Toronto. MIJO provides essential, bilingual and comprehensive services to generate and deliver final broadcast, print and digital media materials to Canada's Advertising, Entertainment, and Broadcast industries. With 8 edit suites, 2 post audio rooms and 5 interactive workstations, we are equipped to handle any video, film or multimedia project that might come our way, from start to finish.
What I should have said earlier is that pretty much our entire editorial staff has AE open from the start of our days right through to the end. Just about every project we work on has some element of AE work done to it. Our clients include the biggest studios in Hollywood: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox just to name a few.
One of the biggest jobs we do is what we refer to as "Tagging." Pretty much every commercial for a Hollywood movie that airs on Canadian television needs to be revised from its original US version, to remove things like the US rating, or to change the spelling of certain words like "theaters" to "theatres". That might not sound like a lot of work, but watch a Hollywood movie TV trailer closely sometime, and you'll see the amount of work that goes into revising some spots.
We are an Avid house, and Symphony is our primary NLE, but its compositing capabilities are not at the level we need them at to do the work that needs to be done to revise these commercials. That's where AE comes into play. As I said, sometimes the work can be simple. Remove a US rating. Other times we are taking English creative, and converting the spots to French -- I just finished a spot for It's a Good Day to Die Hard
But here's the catch. What we have to do is to match, pretty much exactly, what was done by the US post facility that originally created the spots. That's where having an inside out knowledge of AE, and Third Party Plug-ins comes into play. The editorial staff needs to be able to look at something that was done in a commercial, and say "They did that with Boris FX's Lens Blur effect. We can easily rebuild that." Our clients have come to expect that when they give us something to create, or revise, when they look at the final product, they wouldn't know what was changed, and would have thought that the spot came from the US like that. This makes every project we work on very interesting and very different from each other.
"Tagging" is one small element of our jobs. Like I said, we do French Canadian production of US spots, making all the text French, and having it seamlessly integrate into the original spot. We do original spots for DVD and Blu-Ray releases of Hollywood movies. We even do advertising for the studios inside of sports arenas, on their Jumbotrons and Ribbon Boards. All of this work makes its way through After Effects in some way or another.
So, do we use After Effects in our daily work? In a lot of cases, we're in it more than in our NLEs.
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As I mentioned before, and I think it's something important to reiterate: in what we do here at MIJO, half of doing it is knowing how to use AE. The other half is being able to dissect an animation, figure out how it was done, and then (in many cases) rebuild it to suit a client's needs. This has helped me immensely in my AE development, even though after 16 years using I am still learning every day. Every day is a new challenge to wrap my brain around.
ADVICE, STARTING WITH: NEVER WORK FOR FREE
I'm always asked for advice for editors experienced and non-experienced alike, as to what they should do to get started. When I taught at the Toronto Film College, one thing I always told my students was "Never work for free." Unless you're shadowing J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg, the only thing you will get when you're done is an empty stomach, and no place to live, because freebies don't pay the rent or put food in your stomach.
I always hear people say "It will look great on my reel!" To be honest, I've never shown anyone a reel of my work to get a job. Seriously. Anyone who has hired me as said "So and So says you're good. Are you available on this day to edit?" It's all about who you know, but you better make sure that when you get into the edit room, you know what you're doing in your NLE AND AE.
When editors come through for a tour of our facility for possible freelance work, one of the first questions they are asked is "How well do you know After Effects?" If you're not an intermediate to advanced AE user, you will be crushed by the level that is required of you here, and to be honest, at most post facilities in North America. (I can't speak for all my European friends). It has become entrenched in the workflow of most (if not all) post facilities with the ability to do advanced chromakeying, rotoscoping, tracking and now even 3D work right from within the AE interface.
Happy 20th Birthday After Effects. You've come a long way since I started using you, and I can only imagine the things to come.
To learn about all things MIJO, visit www.mijo.com. You can follow Kevin P McAuliffe on Twitter @KPMcAuliffe, friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/kevinpmcauliffe, or check out his tutorials here on the COW at this link.