A Creative COW Roadshow Report
In Pasadena, there's a gathering of many of the best and the brightest in the world of After Effects. It's the After Effects West conference which is the first ever power users conference dedicated to AE. It's an amazing gathering and the ideas and techniques being discussed are nothing short of breathtaking. Was it worth going? Well, let's just say: "When's After Effects East?"
This is hardly meant to be a definitive report as it was just not humanly possible to cover the whole event. At best, this is a look at half of it and I have written this more to give you a feel of what it was like. I hope you enjoy it..
Day One: The Pasadena Convention Center is a beautiful place to hold a gathering like After Effects West, the first ever power users conference dedicated to AE. It's in the historic Old Pasadena district and it's about as close to San Francisco as you are going to find in Southern California. It's an artistic town, full of trees and historic old buildings and both Kathlyn and I thought what a perfect setting for the conference.
Walking in the doors to the conference center, it was a "who's who" in the world of After Effects. The place was abuzz with many of the most respected names in the world of After Effects and Lynda Weinman & Company did an amazing job in bringing them all together for this incredible conference. Kudos to the After Effects West team for such a well-planned and smooth-running conference. We're sitting here in our hotel eagerly looking forward to tomorrow's line-up. In all honesty, Kathlyn and I both felt that this was the best and most energized conference we have ever attended. Why? Here's the report from Day One.
David Simons, founder of CoSA (the inventors of After Effects), was up first and gave an incredible walk-through history of After Effects -- assisted by another CoSA legend, Dan Wilks who ran the computer and did color comentary as David spoke. It was very much appreciated by the audience and came complete with pictures and some very funny stories of the early days of AE. It was a fun start to the conference and the audience loved it and it made a great kick-off to things and set a very "up" tone to it.
Next up, Kathlyn and I attended the Richard Lainhart (technical director, Total Training) session "Secrets of Particle Playground" that explored the little used Particle Playground. I have to admit, Particle Playground is one of the areas of After Effects that I have rarely explored and when I've needed particles in AE, I've always turned to DigiEffects' Cyclonist (which has always been easier for me to use). But under Richard's tutilage, it became a crash course in taking the fear out of using this lesser known area of AE. Near the close of his presentation, Richard explored a technique of using Particle Playground in conjunction with Card Wipe that created a 3D text effect that rocked even the creators of After Effects. As we left the room, Dave Simons said that it was an incredible effect and added that he didn't know you could do that with AE. It really was amazing. Thanks, Richard. I can't wait to get home and try Particle Playground on some of the ideas that jumped out at me as you worked.
Next up, Kathlyn and I attended Zax Dow's exploration of the new 3D features in After Effects. I have to say that Zax is one of the best teachers I have ever seen; he's an entertainer on stage who is incredibly comfortable as he takes the audience "Stepping into 3D Space in After Effects." And what a ride it was! Zax gave users a simple way to understand the metaphor of cameras, lights and 3D layers and planes. He offered quick tips for troubleshooting your 3D projects in AE5 and some basic techniques that quickly and easily unlocked the new 3D powers of AE. I heard more than a few leaving the class who remarked that they hadn't tried the new 3D powers of AE5 yet and were going to take their break to try what they'd just learned.
Next up, I popped in to Chris Meyer's class "Sound Primer for After Effects" and it was as good as you might expect it to be. Now, like Chris, I am a longtime musician and have a pretty good grasp of sound for a non-engineer. I consider myself pretty savvy at using AE's limited audio tools to do exactly what I need and I almost didn't attend this session and I am quite glad I did. Chris laid out some of his techniques for working with audio and I have to admit that I am one of the guys that uses "Levels" to fade in and out. But no more. Chris explained why he uses the "Stereo Mixer" plug-in -- complete with a "quick whip" expressions link to tie right and left channels together -- and I won't be using the Levels controls anymore. Thanks, Chris. A great class.
I also attended the class on integrating AE, Illustrator and Photoshop that was chaired by Lisa Berghout and Ed Apodaca. It was filled with good ideas but was very disjointed in its presentation. I liked the class but found myself thinking that it was a rough presentation. Chris Meyer later explained to me that they had to decide that they wanted great artists in the event whether or not they had a history of public speaking behind them. I would agree with as I found their work was brilliant and I really learned some new tricks for working with Illustrator in After Effects. I do not want to sound like I am insulting Lisa and Ed, their technique is quite impressive and I felt it was a good class, even if it did move at a slower pace than many of the others.
The "meet and greet" at the end of Day One found many interacting in a low-key and relaxed atmosphere that was quite in the spirit of this conference. Had many wonderful talks and met many from the Cow who came up and said "Hi." We really enjoyed the opportunity to meet more new friends from the Cow site. It was a great end to an exciting day ... or was it?
If all this weren't enough, it seems that Chris & Trish Meyer and The MGLA bunch had scheduled a meeting following the meet and greet and everyone piled into the main hall to meet with the AE Team who took us through many questions and feature requests from the audience. Some of it was pretty funny and people were having a great time digging out their most cherished feature request -- some were brilliant and others so funny that the whole room would erupt into laughter. But all in all, it was quite clear that the AE Team were taking notes and had grabbed a few more tricks from the audience that you can safely bet will be a part of AE in the future.
So ends my two-cent tour of Day One -- watch for tomorrow's report from Day Two of After Effects West...
Well, as promised, here we are with the report from Day Two.
The day started out with a wonderful panel discussion about the art-form of film titles and included the legendary designer and director, Pablo Ferro who discussed some behind the scenes comments about some of his projects like Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" and his incredible titles for "The Night They Raided Minsky's" and the original "Thomas Crown Affair." He spoke about how hard it was to work within the technology of the time and how restrictive it was mechanically -- he even pointed out that he storyboarded Thomas Crown's titling but never actually saw it until it was finaled. There was no way to test your ideas and his many layer deep and multi-windowed approach made it so expensive a process that it was a one shot "hit or miss" deal. He hit -- hard! It was an amazing piece of work. The panel then discussed many of his commercials -- many were so hilarious they still drew laughter today, thirty years or more after they were created. Pablo then went on to remind the audience that it is the idea that holds the power, not the tools. His insights were well worth hearing. Both Kathlyn and I enjoyed him so much, we know we'll be looking at Amazon for some of his work to add to the Boomer Archives. Thanks Lynda for bringing in a legend like Pablo to get the mind thinking first thing in the day. And thanks Pablo for sharing your time and vision; it was truly an honor to hear you and to explore your work and the anecdotes you shared with such wit and charm.
Next up, both Kathlyn and I headed off to watch the irrepressible Matt Silverman take attendees on an exploration of rotoscoping techniques using Commotion and After Effects. While the course mainly focused on the use of Commotion -- does that really surprise anyone who knows Matt or his reputation? -- and he shared many tricks he uses in his own work. Matt shared technical ideas regarding the use and limitations of bezier mattes and why in many instances B-Splines are a better option (because they don't use bezier handles and are easier to control). But he snuck in a little bonus at the end when he told users present about how he has parlayed his freelance availability into an association with an editorial firm in San Francisco from whom he gleans much of his work. They concentrate on what they do well -- concepts, working with and satisfying clients, etc. -- and Matt gets to do what he loves, great design and graphics.
Following this class we headed to the Expo floor for a meeting we had scheduled with Bob Currier of Synthetic Aperture who was showing a new AE plug-in that has been the talk of the show -- "Color Finesse" -- a new color correction plug-in that brings Da Vinci level color correction powers to AE. Matt Silverman and many other leaders within the After Effects community were seen at the Synthetic Aperture booth checking out Color Finesse. This one is going to be a real winner and is going to remove one of the last obstacles that keeps After Effects from the legitimacy to stand against even systems hundreds of times its cost. I am going to do an in-depth report on this one when I get back to Cambria -- when I do, I know you'll see why so many were very excited with this new tool.
After lunch, we attended the "Animating with Vector Paint" with Lynda Weinman's husband, Bruce Heavin. Bruce was a solid presenter who had good command of his subject and was having fun with the subject and the audience. It was clear that Bruce had rehearsed his topic and had a clear idea of where he was taking his audience to. It was a great class for me, as I have used the Vector Paint plug-in very little. Kathlyn on the other hand, has spent a great amount of time in Vector Paint and said that she liked the class and learned a trick or two but knew nearly all that was contained in the class. But many expert users I know personally were raising their hands and asking questions, so I'd give this class high marks as many present seemed to be gaining good insight from it. Bruce ended this class by showing how animating the Wiggler to extreme setting when applied to Vector Paint, can result in some great wild three dimensional art. This trick got the attention of even the jaded experts in the audience. Good presentation, Bruce -- even if your Wacom gave up the ghost onstage.
Next up was "Expressions: Beyond the Pick Whip." This course was one of the most well-attended and was standing room only for J.J. Gifford's exploration of this new addition to AE5. He began by explaining when to use Expressions and when it was best to use Motion Math. Then he explored the basic functions and built some easy expressions using the "Pick Whip" and then how to create Expressions from scratch. This class was one of the most sobering and many who left following the conclusion of the class were glad they had the syllabus materials which had eight pages of JJ's notes and Expression formulas.
Following this, the line-up was through for the day and it was time to go to dinner at a Thai restaurant at the invite of the After Effects team. There were about 20 of us present at the table and it was quite funny when two couples present at the table across the room noticed all the Adobe shirts, etc. One of the men came over and asked if all of us worked for Adobe. He addressed the question to me and it ended up that he was a photographer in Pasadena who used Photoshop and After Effects and didn't even know that After Effects West was in town. He admitted that he never went to any trade shows nor did he go online to see what was up but he said he'd not do that anymore. I was hoping Lynda would walk in as I'd have sold him a "Boomer Special One Day Pass to AE West" -- and it comes with a free Cow shirt even! He enjoyed it when I introduced him to some of the After Effects and Premiere teams that were present. He left muttering something about a "...small world" and went back to his friends.
Yep. It's a small world indeed and the Net just helps make it smaller and smaller.
Next up: The Day Three Report -- the last day...
See you tomorrow...
Well, sorry for the delay in getting to my Day Three report but after the end of the day came a five hour drive home and then a day or two of intense work playing catch-up and now here we are...better late than never!
First up on Wednesday morning was a course on "Building Plug-Ins with the After Effects API" which was taught by Bruce Bullis from Adobe. Now I have no desire to ever write a plug-in but both Kathlyn and I attended the course because we wanted to learn the basics of what goes into these plug-ins. Like Jean Hauptman who regularly espouses the brilliance of the various plug-in developers, both Kathlyn and I have had a huge respect for them as well. Now we have even more! After seeing what goes into the process and all these people have to do to bring us these tools, we are more impressed than ever. It's a lot of work and Bruce Bullis did a marvelous job of explaining the process, so well in fact that Kathlyn and I followed a fair amount of it and we are not even coders. The room was filled with only a small group but what a group it was! I recognized Brian Maffitt of Atomic Power, Louise Shekter of Visual Infinity (makers of "Grain Surgery"), Bob Currier of Synthetic Aperture ("Color Finesse") and Perry Kivolowitz of Profound Effects ("Elastic Gasket") were all in attendance -- and those were just the ones I recognized. I am sure there were others and I had the distinct feeling that somewhere in the room someone's brain was cooking up some awesome new idea that would once again change the AE compositor's landscape forever. Don't you just love these people!
Next up was a class that Kathlyn and I had really been looking forward to and it was as good as we hoped it would be. It was "Visual Effects Tips & Tricks Using AE" -- hosted by Sherry Hitch (Foundation Imaging), Todd Caziri (Pixel Magic) and Ted Rae (VFX Supervisor., DP). The panel explored aspects of cameras, lights, sets, computers, software and how each plays an important part in the production process. They explored the process as a whole and looked at examples of how the component parts work in bringing the viewing illusion to life. It was one of those classes where you wished you were a human tape recorder so that you could play it all back verbatim. Both Kathlyn and I came away from this class full of new ideas and so did those around us -- the comments were thick coming out the door following this one.
The course we next attended was Lloyd Alvarez's class on "No Limits: Experimenting with Mixed Media in AE" -- one of the most raved about classes at After Effects West. In this class, Lloyd threw out the computer -- at least for a while! -- and started his explorations with everything from torn paper in a scanner to using a still camera and models to mimic video action sequences. It was amazing! Lloyed is a great artist and his ideas about using a DV camera to shoot out of focus stuff like a newspaper front page that he turned into an animated background that became what looked like highly diffused shafts of light. You'd never have guessed it was what it was. Then he showed how he used a piece of Mylar® taken from a cover on one of the books in his studio, to videotape the reflection of a grungy type face that then was distorted in an undulating elastic mirror type of effect. He took this into After Effects and clened it up and it became a perfect film title for a movie he was working with. It was really quite impressive to see how Lloyd thinks "outside the box" and it made more than a few leave the class saying things like "I spend just too damned much time on my computer..."
The last class we attended was Alex Lindsay's "Thinking In Layers: Finishing 3D Work In AE." As I said earlier, I have never been much for 3D. I joke that I was traumatized at an early age by a gang of 3D programs and I have yet to recover from the experience -- but the truth is not far from that! So, this show I was forcing myself to attend the 3D classes to see what I could gain from them. In two words: Alot! Wait, that's one word. Sorry. But when it comes to 3D, the AE West Conference had two great teachers and the first, Zax Dow, had already slowed my nerves to a crawl -- Alex Lindsay put them to rest once and for all. He was an incredible teacher and a lot of fun to watch as well. By the time he finished taking you through his class -- even I thought I could make stuff! And I can make ... well, stuff. Let's just say that the good stuff will have to come later. Alex showed how AE can be used to control layers from your 3D program -- such as light layers, etc. -- that can be animated and finessed in AE to avoid having to do the "render it again and again experiments" in the originating 3D program. As someone who comes from a publishing background -- and who has always thought that "if God wanted everyone to do 3D, then there wouldn't be paper and pencils, would there???" -- I made great progress in my battle to crawl from the page and enter the world of 3D objects and light. Thanks, Alex -- it was indeed a very fun class.
There was still another class schedule that followed but both Kathlyn and I went upstairs to join Alex Lindsay in his Q&A session upstairs -- I was convinced that I was going to crawl from the 2D plane of paper and pencil yet and so I listened. It was worth the price of admission alone to sit in a room and listen to one of Lucasfilms most gifted 3D gurus explore techniques and ideas and take the time to answer questions without looking down on anyone or making you feel like an idiot for asking. Alex is a great public speaker and if you ever get a chance to hear him, then by all means do so. When we finally had to pour ourselves out of the room -- pushing our wheelbarrows filled with ideas and techniques -- we were all in a daze. The conference was over and everyone was beaming ear to ear and yet there was a bittersweet sadness as we knew that there were no more classes...
So we all piled into the main hall and sang "Kumbuyah" -- wait, no that's another story...
At the close of the first ever After Effects West Conference, the audience in the main hall cheered Lynda.com and the volunteers and speakers who had made it all happen. They cheered Chris & Trish for all the work they put into making it happen. They cheered for the After Effects Team and the great people that are a part of it. And lastly they cheered each other for the great group that made up the conference. Then Lynda Weinman -- who had thrown the party -- gave away gifts to many who waited to the end. Thousands of dollars worth of stuff was given away and it was a perfect capper to a great show.
When the crowd left, we were still there -- probably more in a daze and smiling stupidly because of it, but who cared? -- we were there for the first After Effects users conference and I don't even smoke but I wanted to reach for a cigarette or something....
We had a great chat with Brian Maffitt and Steve Kilisky following the show for a while -- even they seemed to be in some kind of afterglow and were grinning like little kids at Christmas (or the holiday or lack thereof of your choice). Up came Greg Mulvey who came by to chat while we were talking to Alex Lindsay -- and it went on like this for about half an hour with one person after another...
As we were finally leaving to go to the car out in the garage of the Pasadena Convention Center, we walked out the door with Trish and Chris Meyer who were also in a post-AE euphoria. It was the perfect cap to the perfect event.
It couldn't have been written any better and I can't write it in a way that does it justice. I missed at least half the show and didn't get a chance to see any of the Film Festivals, etc., -- because of dinner invites and other things like that -- and yet, I hope that this humble attempt at capturing the magic of After Effects West has given you at least a small feeling of what it was like.
©2001 by Ron Lindeboom. All rights are reserved.