|Back in the year 2000 when Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects was issued, the demand of such a piece of work in the industry was pretty high. Trish and Chris Meyer were already big names in the Motion Graphics World and a book written by them meant something serious. When I first bought it and started to read it, I realize it wasnt just another book on a wonderful piece of software, but the ultimate tour in the After Effects World. Briefly: THE Book. The book everybody wanted to have; the right book that came to fill a gap in the right place at the right time.
And so it is nowadays. After more then two years and two upgrades of the program, this book is still a valuable resource. The reason why? Its really simple: because they are dealing with concepts, first of all, and then with how to. It is not a book on how to copy that sweet effect or how to make a nice title sequence as seen on TV. On the contrary, it is a step-by-step guide on the features that After Effects offers to the creative user; it helps the content creator to understand the concept behind every menu item, making him/her think instead of just going through the motions of how to. Please note I avoided saying the name manual and used the term guide instead. And it is true: reading this book I felt like a scholar taken by hand and guided through the wonderful world of Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects.
The level of the targeted reader is beginner to intermediate. The book is linearly structured in 9 parts. It smoothly goes from Getting Started through Layers, Modes, Masking, Effects, Plug-ins, Audio Issues and last, but not least, Format Issues and Rendering.
The book is very well organized, with crossed references, so-called Connects, pointing the reader to the chapter where related information is to be found. From this point of view, the book is easy to read and very useful as a reference guide of After Effects. One just looks for an item and finds out not only what you're looking for but related information on how to improve ones idea.
The abundance of colorful screenshots is also a very good idea, the Meyers are basing their explanation method on visual communication rather then purely textual. The text is very visually organized, too, with capsules by the edge of the page, going along with the main text. The result is amazing: a first time reader reads the text and gets it all; a second time reader reads the synopis in the capsule and remembers the whole thing. In every chapter big and colorful icons calls the readers attention to tips, cross-references, facts, etc.
The first part, Getting started, Animation introduces the reader to the world of animation with After Effects: how AE works, importing files, interpreting footage, organizing projects, alpha channel in depth, introduction to the compositions, how to navigate into complicated and complex projects. A whole chapter of this section is dedicated to probably what is the most important issue in an animation program: keyframing. The approach of the authors is a very interesting and welcome: the relationship that exists between time and space in After Effects (and, practically, in almost any other animation software). Statistically, Mr. Beziers name is mentioned every five lines in this chapter, giving to its curves the importance they deserve. Transformation issues are the subject of this section, too, explaining Anchor Point and its use, motion control and keyframe assistant to complete with the first part.
The second section: The Layer Essentials takes the reader one step closer to compositing, explaining how layering works in After Effects, timeline interfaces features, time effects, blending etc.
The third section, Transfer Modes, Masks and Mates complements the previous section and is, from the artistic point of view this is the bred and butter of After Effects. I shall quote the authors on this one: we devoted the previous chapters to stacking multiple objects and moving them around in interesting ways. The next level of motion graphics mastery is combining multiple images together to create an utterly new image. And Transfer modes are one of the strongest, most tasteful tools for doing so. Every transfer mode present in the version 4 of After Effects is explained in details and the examples on the CD-ROM are very suggestive, helping the reader understand these important issues. Even if it is a more intuitive concept (can somebody tell us that never played with paper, scissors and paper-glue in the kindergarten?) masking it is carefully explained. One of the most important features of After Effects comes next: Tracking Mates. This chapter is to be read in front of the computer, with the CD-ROM inside, opening the projects and following the tutorials step-by-step. The authors use graphs and schematics in order to simplify the mechanism of understanding this important issue. The examples on CD-ROM are very explanatory and well organized.
Part 4: The next logical step is to see how to manage a project that is already growing complex. Building Hierarchies is the section where we can find such information as nesting compositions, precompositing, grouping, editing clips, trimming, collapsing, with pros and cons, tips, how to and what not to etc.
Part 5: The next part I dare say is the eye candy section of the book. Its like all you wanted to know about effects and you were afraid to ask. Applying effects, how to change parameters in order to animate effects, interface issues, the famous Adjustment Layer, lots of effects that comes with the Standard and Production Bundle versions of After Effects 4. Lots of real-life examples are available on the CD-ROM. A large chapter of this section is dedicated to a very special and interesting issue: chroma keying.
Part 6: Being a post-production environment, After Effects needed to integrate with lots of other software in order to complement the motion graphics generation process. This entire section is dedicated to this seamless integration of After Effects with two other major Adobe packages: Illustrator and PhotoShop.
Part 7 deals with audio issues, nothing fancy, just the regular stuff.
Part 8 is particularly important dealing with time effects (velocity control, time displacement, echo etc.) and motion control effects (Motion Stabilizer, Motion Tracking and Motion Math). Lots of useful motion math scripts are also available.
Part 9: The last section of the book deals with the video file formats, rendering issues and video systems available. The language used for this section may scare a bit the non-technical reader, but believe it or not, it is very light technical written baring in mind the subject. Once again, there are many graphs and drawings that help the reader understand the concepts described in the section.
On the CD-ROM, besides the examples, there are 22 Tutorials, ranging from Easy level to Strenuous. They can be step-by-step tutorials up to case-studies of real-life projects. The CD-ROM is rather a must to run-through then only a complimentary item. At the end of the book there is a short description of each and every tutorial with references to the corresponding sections and chapters. For those who dont have yet some of the plug-ins discussed in some of the tutorials, there are trial version of these plug-ins too. Overall, the CD-ROM and the book are an excellent tool for learning motion graphics with After Effects.
Since this book is two years old, there are some new features present in After Effects 5.1 that are not covered in this edition. Contacting the Meyers, they have answered our questions: this year we should expect a major update from their publisher. Actually there will be two volumes, bearing in mind the complexity of the project: The Essentials, aimed to the beginners and students, scheduled for the end of this summer and Advanced Techniques, by the end of this year. We are looking forward to owning these volumes as well, as soon as they become available.
---Manuel Minut is an active participant in the Adobe After Effects forum at CreativeCOW and a leader in the Macromedia Director forum.