Creating Our Own Destiny
COW Library : Adobe After Effects : Rick Castañeda : Creating Our Own Destiny
Ten years ago, in the same way that Mr. Miyagi taught the basic skills of karate, my friend Doug Spice began teaching me After Effects. Wax on, wax off. But instead of polishing a car with repetitive circular hand motions, I started with rotoscoping. Moving across our footage frame by frame, redrawing a spline shape over, and over again. The basics.
I was interested in learning After Effects in the first place because, one, I wanted to help finish our greenscreen project, and two, as an editor I always found the titling tools on editing programs to be subpar. Everything always looked so jaggy, and moved around so clunkily. I saw all the amazing titles and designs that Doug created in After Effects, and I wanted that power.
Doug was working fulltime at a camera store at the time, and I was fresh out of college, looking for work. So when I didn't have interviews to go to, during the day I rotoscoped shots in Doug's studio apartment. Doug would come home at six and work on comping more shots while I took a nap, and then when he went to sleep, I would go back to work rotoscoping at night.
After Effects was a huge unexplored forest to me. You could get lost in it. But I started to learn aspects of it really well: keyframes, setting in and out points, and manipulating splines. I recently found out that "splines" were originally developed for shipbuilding, where they would shape wood by bending it in different directions with rope. I can't imagine it was easy to do, and translating it into the digital world made it much less taxing, but no more intuitive. But there's nothing like rote repetition to build mastery.
I began to adventure outside my comfort zone, turning on and off other layers, trying to figure out what they were for. I watched some of the moving layers, and tracked what properties were keyframed, and why. It started to make sense to me. On a later project I borrowed a book on After Effects from the LA Public Library (spending $50 on a book back then would have meant going without lunch for a while) and read it cover to cover.
I was learning that After Effects was unlike any other piece of software I'd ever used. I dove in thinking it was a pool, but found it just went deeper and deeper -- the Marianas Trench of programs. I met a designer once who told me, "I've been working as a pro in After Effects for 3 years, and I still haven't gotten to the bottom of it."
A decade later, we've moved our company out of Doug's apartment, and into a space in downtown LA complete with offices, a waiting area, a telephone system, server racks, an interactive division, and an edit suite. It's almost unimaginable, looking back on our humble beginnings.
Psychic Bunny, rockin' on after ten years with AE. © Colin Young-Wolff 2009
But one thing is the same: we still use After Effects every day -- and we still haven't gotten to the bottom of it. We use it for Visual FX -- comping a few shots together so it looks like a man is surfing on top of a moving car. We use it for motion design, to design title sequences and logo intros. We use it a lot for screen replacement, to replace the image on a computer screen, cell phone, or computer screen. We've also used it for animation. Hell, I even use it to design party invitations because I know it so well.
Another designer we worked with once told me that knowing After Effects made him feel like God. "When they filmed this, there wasn't a butterfly in that shot. I made that butterfly out of thin air," he said. "Before, there was no butterfly, and now there's a butterfly. I created it."
Thanks to Adobe and everyone out there making incredible plugins, tutorials, and assets for After Effects. You're helping us to create our own destinies, turning the dreams inside our heads into realities.
Here's our latest graphics reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2JfkXbn6iA
And here's a video that shows off what our grownup office looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bl7BiHe2eC4