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Jim Harvey reviews After Effects & Photoshop by Jeff Foster

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Jim Harvey reviews After Effects & Photoshop by Jeff Foster

A Creative COW Book Review

Jim Harvey reviews: After Effects & Photoshop by Jeff Foster

Jim Harvey Jim Harvey
JHV Digital
New York, USA

©Copyright 2004 Jim Harvey and Creativecow.net. All Rights Reserved
Article Focus:
In this article, CreativeCOW.net contributing editor Jim Harvey reviews After Effects & Photoshop: Animation and Production Effects for DV and Film written by Jeff Foster, and published by Sybex Inc., 384 pages, April 2004, ISBN: 0782143172. "This is a serious book. I’ve reviewed a lot of books of the years and every now and then one comes along that you really have to buckle down and get your head into it. This is one of those books. Jeff Foster has written some 300 odd pages about using Photoshop to produce serious animation for your DV projects in conjunction with After Effects."

After Effects & Photoshop by Jeff FosterNow most people don’t think of Photoshop as an animation tool for DV work. Sure, we all have used PS for certain elements that we can incorporate into our projects, but to make Photoshop take on the bulk of our animation tasks (mattes, rotos, transitions etc.) just doesn’t seem to spring to mind. With this book, all that changes.

The book begins with a refresher course on how to use Photoshop and ImageReady to do some basic animation (tweening and turning layers into frames). Good solid information that most of us either forgot when we got our high end animation programs, or never learned in the first place. The rolling eyeball is both interesting and creepy. We are also taught/reminded that if we want to work with Quicktime as our export model we will be required to make some timing adjustments to make everything turn out smooth.

At first it seems as if the examples are too simple for professionals such as we, but trust me, you need to pay attention here because in just a few chapters, this book gets deep. Leaping from our basic little exercises, we land squarely into the pool of 3D layers being created from our Photoshop work.

This is more than just a "follow along" book. There are some complex factors at work here and Foster takes the time to go into them in sufficient detail that we can understand exactly what is happening and why, even if we have to read it two or three times to get it to gel in our grey matter.


Now that we’re on a roll, the water gets deeper still. We translate from simple and moderate exercise to getting down to the basics of animation theory and practice. This part of the book is a real departure form other works in that we get to have the synthesis of animation brought forward and explained to us in a way that lets that little light bulb go on in our heads as we say "AH HA!" One of the most difficult aspects of animation is the concept of gravity as applied to our animated objects. This is the secret serum that makes our animations believable. Couple gravity with exaggeration, and we can quickly develop animations that aren’t so much animated as they are alive. Chapters 4 and 5 deserve to be read over several times until you are very comfortable with all the concepts presented therein. If you can explain those chapters to your wife or husband, you’ve got it down.


We then take short excursion into the world of Garbage mattes (explained as well as I have ever seen it done) and shown step by step easy ways to get our mattes to do our bidding. It’s one thing to make a basic garbage matte, quite another to put it into motion effectively. Follow the bouncing ball kids and you’ll have your mattes doing the meringue in no time!


Once again, we get deeper into the whole process of pulling all our techniques together into one coherent package to get some stunning results. Foster has just started at this point (while your head may be spinning about here). Just when you think that you’ve learned all there is to know about mattes, he takes us on a journey into the esoteric world of matte painting static and motion mattes. I began by saying that this was a serious book. Here’s the part where it gets really serious. Take yourself through the Rotoscoping section and you’ll learn some very tricky little methods of getting the most from your rotoscope time investment.


The book is designed around Photoshop CS and After Effects 6.0 so some of the instruction may not fully apply to your system if you aren’t up to speed with the latest applications. That’s a minor drawback, however, as there is certainly enough excellent information in this book to systematically lead you through the learning curve enough that you can do a little improvisation with earlier versions of the software.


The section on Keying is particularly good in that Foster takes us into the world of keying plug-ins and shows us side by side comparisons of them while explaining which is best for what. That coupled with the ability to simulate 3D camera motion takes us to the final section of the book, which blows out the stops and gets into the advanced portion of the show (I thought I had been reading the advanced section until I got there!). As with the explanations of gravity and exaggeration, the advanced section delves into scale and speed considerations and adjustments that will make or break a comp.


Color and Light is explored and explained in reference to making the viewer believe your composition as reality rather than a hodgepodge of separate elements. Utilizing the built in functions of Photoshop to create effects such as smoke and noise expands your toolkit of usable effects that can be incorporated into projects to add that final little tweak that will set your work apart.


The book is wrapped up with a small section on titling effects that I felt was a little weak after all the complexities that the rest of the book had provided. Still, there is enough there to perhaps spark your own ideas of incorporation when constructing titles for projects.


This isn’t a book that you’ll breeze through. Some of the sections will get skimmed over, and others will be re-read to squeeze out that last little thought. I’m hesitant to recommend it to a rank beginner, although most people who are involved in this “sport” are savvy enough to work through the book. Some of the concepts are the type that just cries out to be done more than once so that fingers and brain can synchronize, but that’s true of almost everything that we do as designers and editors.


The book is quite well written and the accompanying CD contains enough material to keep you busy for a while (and also give you the opportunity to “cheat” a little on the exercises). I always like to use the pre-made examples to see if I can actually get them to behave as the book claims they will. If I’m successful there, then I can confidently substitute my own footage or compositions and get the desired results for my own work.

In Conclusion

I give After Effects & Photoshop 4 1/2 cows (Half a point off for the weak text section) as it is a good tool to have access to but I believe that you should have a bit of a grounding in both Photoshop as well as After Effects in order to take full advantage of the information. If you’re really new to all of this, I’d start with a simpler text and work my way up to this one.

4 1/2 cows.


©Copyright 2003 / 2004 Jim Harvey | Creative Cow
All Rights Reserved


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