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Darcy Fitzpatrick reviews After Effects 5.5 Magic

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Darcy Fitzpatrick reviews After Effects 5.5 Magic
A Creative COW "Real World" Book Review


Darcy Fitzpatrick reviews After Effects 5.5 Magic

Darcy Fitzpatrick Darcy Fitzpatrick
email: St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

©2003 Darcy Fitzpatrick and CreativeCOW.net. All rights are reserved.

Article Focus:
CreativeCOW leader, Darcy Fitzpatrick takes a thorough look at After Effects 5.5 Magic from New Riders Publishing. Find out whether or not this book should be in your After Effects library.


First of all, it is important to note that Magic is not for beginners (that goes for this book as well as the art of conjuring, spell casting and illusion making). After Effects 5.5 Magic, from New Riders Publishing, is not meant to be a guide to using After Effects, nor is it really meant to be used for training purposes. It is a collection of fairly advanced tutorials that focus on intermediate to advanced features of After Effects 5.5, such as expressions, 3D, parenting, green/blue screening and so on. This book expects you to know your way around in AE, and the expectation that you can follow along without having your hand held remains fairly consistent throughout. While it does start you off somewhat gently, the intensity only gets higher as the book progresses.

As well as being at least an intermediate user of AE, it seems After Effects 5.5 Magic also expects that you have at least an intermediate computer system. Those of you still lumbering in the pre-gigahertz era may want to think twice about taking on some of the tutorials in this book. Some of the projects’ final render times can range from 5 to 9 minutes on some of today’s most modern systems, such as a Dell Precision Workstation 340 with an Intel P4 2.53GHz and 512MB RDRAM or an Apple Power Mac G4 Dual 1.25GHz with 1GB DDR RAM (neither of which I own, but of which I have read the reviews at digitalvideoediting.com, who typically use the tutorials from this book to benchmark and compare system performances). Consider all the previewing and sometimes precomposing you will be doing throughout each tutorial and you can see for yourself that slower systems will give you plenty of spare time to read ahead as you render - which may not be a bad thing if you're keen on seeing where the next few steps in the chapter will take you. Ultimately, the long render times of Magic’s projects doesn't generate any complaints from me since this is really to be expected. If you are an intermediate user of AE and you want to get into some more advanced features and techniques then you should expect that these kinds of projects aren't going to go easy on your system. Perhaps, if your system can't really keep up but your brain can, it may be time for an upgrade, and this book may be just the persuasion you needed to take the leap.

But this book isn't about upgrading your computer, it's about After Effects, so let's take a look at how good After Effects 5.5 Magic actually is at actually showing you what AE can do.

No matter how brilliant the information contained within a book may or may not be, it is meaningless unless that information has a layout we can follow and a presentation we can enjoy: After Effects 5.5 Magic has both. The very first page, the inside of the cover itself, shows you an index of techniques that is broken up into categories with all the relevant chapters and their page numbers, as well as topics covered on the CD. This is a great way to jump straight to the chapters that deal with the function of AE that you are most concerned about at any given time. This is not meant to replace the actual index at the back of the book, which is very thorough. The page layout of the tutorials themselves is very clean and highly visually oriented. Each step in a tutorial is numbered and there is often a full color screen capture to go along with the description. Each new chapter is introduced first with an interesting and often funny quote coupled with an image of an old fashioned, rabbit-eared TV set that finds itself in varying situations, both of which, in some way, pertain to the topic at hand. This is followed by a general introduction which moves on to tell you how the thing you are going to do works and what you need to do to get started. Very clean, very nice.

The writers and editors of this book seem to have had fun making it. That attitude shines through in the presentation of the material, which makes using this book all the more enjoyable and helps the learning juices flow, rather than congeal the way some books can make them do.

As the book promises, the tutorials themselves are advanced, but the how-to of it all is generally very clearly presented, which means that even if you are brand new to AE and don't really have a clue what you are being asked to do, for the most part you will still be able to do it. And the book doesn't expect you to be Brian Maffitt in your understanding of AE either. Sure, Magic wants you to know your way around, but they are still trying to offer you something you probably didn't know before, and they want it to stick after you do it as well. The book has several contributors, two main writers and two tech editors. This adds up to some varying styles of information sharing from chapter to chapter, but for the most part things remain consistent, and the layout, as mentioned above, helps to keep things clean.

A CD is included with After Effects 5.5 Magic that provides the requisite project files and the files necessary to complete each project, but also contains a series of “bonus appendixes” that cover some interesting topics such as The Digital Motion Design Studio, where building your own studio is discussed and detailed, Expressions Explained, a walk-through of expression basics that is great for beginners and intermediates alike, and No Budget? Build a Do-It-Yourself Green Screen, which is pretty self-explanatory and very cool.



4 Cows out of 5

Very good layout and presentation. Appropriate for intermediate to advanced users. Wide range of tutorials and techniques.

Not really suitable as a reference book.

This is a strong book, and a great way for people to further their already considerable abilities in After Effects. However, being a tutorial book makes its at-home shelf life substantially shorter than a typical training book. Once you've done the tutorials a couple of times the book has pretty much served its purpose. It is unlikely that Magic will be the dog-eared, coffee-stained companion that you keep on hand to get you through a tough spot when it arises in your daily AE rigmarole. However, that said, it is unlikely that you will do all the tutorials straight through as some of them are quite situation-specific, and if you've yet to ever encounter such a situation you are likely to bypass certain chapters at first. If, however, such a situation ever arises in your workflow - you suddenly find yourself needing to re-purpose your work for the web to be played back in a Flash player, for instance - you can turn to the chapter on SWF export in After Effects and quickly get some practice in.

So if you're comfortable with keyframes, have delved into duplicating layers and at least heard tell of precomposing, then After Effects 5.5 Magic is the book to look into for combining that knowledge with more advanced techniques into real world situations, and taking what you know to the next level. If you're only going to buy one book on After Effects, I wouldn't suggest that this be it, but if you're looking for another book to add to your collection that can help to boost your abilities in AE, then After Effects 5.5 Magic is well worth the money.




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