How Did They Do All This?
COW Library : Adobe After Effects : John Cuevas : How Did They Do All This?
Back in 2000, I was working as a junior editor for a small production firm in Orlando. I was still in the phase of my career where "what I didn't know" was a mountain compared to "what I did know". Each day presented me with the opportunity to learn something new -- skills and techniques I still use today like Avid editing, operating various cameras, Photoshop and the Sony BVE 9100 Linear Editing System (well I might not be using those skills anymore). I would work (more like play -- seriously, how cool is video? We get paid for this!) until all hours of the night.
Around this time, I saw a commercial for the Orlando Sentinel that just blew me away. It featured layers of text that flew and hopped around the screen, picture-in-pictures that combined and blended together, glows, motion blur, and text that went in front of some video and behind others. I'd never seen a commercial like that before. The video and text treatments looked like they had come from the opening credits of a movie, not a local spot.
Being so new to video, I was still under the impression that the more effects something had in it, the better it was, and so that commercial was all kinds of awesome.
When the commercial aired again, I recorded a copy to VHS. I had to break this down and figure out how they did it. Our company had an Avid and everyone knew they were the best (yes, I was very young), so I should be able to do this, no problem. When I wasn't working, I watched that commercial one frame at a time. I applied blurs, but couldn't match the ones in the commercial that moved with the text. I could simulate some of the text glows in Photoshop, but in the commercial, the glows moved. And the rotoscoping, the text, and video together -- I didn't have a clue how to do that on an Avid.
One day as I watched my VHS again, our senior editor walked in and said "pretty cool commercial." At this point, I knew I was in over my head trying to figure this out, so I asked "how did they do all of this?"
He replied, "After Effects".
And I looked him dead in the eye and said "Yeah, I get that they did the effects after, but how do they do it?" After laughing hysterically, he cleared up my confusion. And that was my introduction to After Effects.
It all started with the "Hot Peppers" tutorial.
Turns out we actually had a 4.0 version in our office and I tore into it. I started out with the "Hot Peppers" tutorial and I was hooked. I haven't stopped since. We upgraded to 5.0 when it came out and I picked up my first book on AE: "Creating Motion Graphics." Every night I read chapter after chapter about glows, Particle Playground (I still don't really know how to use that, but I've got Particular figured out), motion tracking, and path text!!!! What couldn't you do?
Around this time, I stumbled onto the COW and after reading some posts, looking at the tutorials and seeing others' work, I realized I was light years away from mastering this program. And truth be told, that's probably still the case, but half the fun of motion design is thinking it and then figuring out how you can make it happen.
Since that time, I moved from Orlando to Michigan (yes, I am insane -- though that probably goes without saying. I do work in video production after all) to work for a full service production company, Cynthia Kay and Company media production, and was recently promoted to Senior Editor. Our work is mostly corporate communication and marketing, but we've done work in nearly every area of the video spectrum.
When I first joined the company, AE was used, but not much. We might have built in time for a logo animation, and perhaps to build a few backgrounds. That's changed quite a bit in the last 9 years for a number of reasons. One is probably my influence, but another is that editors today are learning it along with the NLEs and it's just part of their workflow. The last two editors we hired were versed in AE at school (and they keep pushing to learn more and more).
Combine that with the current speed of computers and the fact that adding AE components to projects isn't a day-long event anymore, but might only require building a few hours into the schedule.
Today there are entire projects that are designed and developed entirely in AE. 3D ray-tracing and 3D camera trackers have changed the game and we are now tapping into a whole new world of motion animation and concepts for our clients that a few years ago weren't even conceivable for the budget.
I come to the COW nearly daily. In the beginning it was to absorb as much as I could from some incredibly talented and extremely generous people who were willing to donate their time to a newbie like myself. After a while I felt that I could start answering a few questions too, and give back to the community in whatever way I can.
Along with the inspiration of seeing some incredible work, one thing I've discovered about taking a more active role in the AE forums is the more questions I answer, the more I learn about the program. I guess that's what I love most about this program: each day I learn something new -- better ways to approach the work, new techniques, workflows and ideas for enhancing video.