Lon Clark looks at After Effects in Production
Lon Clark looks at After Effects in Production

A Creative COW "Real World" Book Review

Lon Clark looks at "After Effects in Production" by Trish & Chris Meyer
Lon Clark
Lon Clark,
San Francisco, California USA

©2002 Lon Clark and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Like many Adobe After Effects users, Trish & Chris Meyer’s book “Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects” has long been Lon Clark's Holy Grail of AE information. (Besides Creative Cow, of course!) The pages of my copy are dog-eared and coffee stained from countless sessions of late-night referencing, and I regard it as an indispensable book in my collection. The Meyer’s second AE book, published by CMP Books (the publishers of DV Magazine) is “After Effects in Production: A companion for Creating Motion Graphics,” and as excellent as CMG is, “After Effects in Production” is the perfect sequel.

coverTHE BASICS: After Effects in Production was written for those who have a working knowledge of After Effects. (If you don't, I recommend starting with CMG.) The 334-page book is printed in full color throughout, with hundreds of easy-to-follow project screenshots and gorgeous movie clip images. It is split into two sections:
  • Part One (the bulk of the book) contains twelve step-by-step tutorials designed by Trish & Chris and other motion graphics industry professionals, which cover many of the hard-to-grasp features of AE 5.
  • Part Two contains industry Case Studies, analyzing six stunning AE projects from some of the heavy-hitters in the industry, including Belief, ATTIK, and of course, Trish & Chris’s production company, CyberMotion. A companion CD with tutorial files (and much more) is included with the book.

There are differences between Creating Motion Graphics and After Effects in Production, besides the fact that the new book delves far deeper into the AE’s advanced features. While CMG is more of a handy reference book of AE information, After Effects in Production is essentially a linear step-by-step tutorial book. To get the most out of it you need to spend some time and follow through the tutorials. But whether you are relatively new to AE or are a seasoned pro, it will be time very well spent.

THE TUTORIALS: Each of the twelve tutorials focuses on two or three of the more prominent and important features of AE 5. The book starts out simply, covering some of the basic AE functions, such as importing PhotoShop and Illustrator files as comps. The tutorials progress quickly on to more advanced techniques. These are not “paint-by-numbers” tutorials, meaning that you are not simply following steps to complete a project. What sets the tutorials apart from many other books is that the Meyers have constructed them in such a way that you actually learn what you are doing as you are doing it, and more importantly, learn why you are doing it. What a concept! They provide you with what you need to find the answers yourself: As they point out, “There are even occasions when we purposely lead you down the most common blind alleys, just to make sure you know how to find your way back out.” While too often linear tutorials can leave the user having completed a project with no real grasp of what they have done, Trish & Chris have clearly made a point to make sure that you are actually learning something new from each step. In addition, the tutorials progressively incorporate techniques that are covered in earlier tutorials, allowing you to build on what you learn.

Some of the concepts that are covered in depth (but by no means all) are: Time Remapping, Parenting, using the Vector Paint Effect, Motion Tracking, 3:2 Pulldown, using AE’s 3D features, Using Premiere files with AE, Multipass rendering, Lights & Shadows, Transfer Modes, Nesting comps, Comp Proxies, Advanced rendering techniques, Expressions, Music Synchronization, Exporting to SWF. Yes, that seems like a lot, but the amazing thing is that while these major features are all covered clearly and comprehensively, the list goes on! While each tutorial focuses on specific features, none are limited to those features alone. Each page brings a different concept to the plate, adding it into the mix, so that you can discover how different combinations of techniques can provide completely different results. In addition to the clearly written steps and explanations, there are easy-to-follow screenshots, keyboard shortcuts (for both Mac & PC users), tips and tricks, and suggestions for additional uses of the techniques, which inevitably lead to new ideas for creative ways to apply what you are learning. I've taken in-depth AE workshops that do not come close to what is offered in these tutorials.

  • Tutorial One, ATOMIC CAFÉ: Importing Adobe PS & AI files as comps, using the Sequencing Layers Keyframe Assistant, Time Remapping, using Transfer modes, Nesting Comps, Precomps, Animating Scale & Opacity, using The Wiggler, Motion Blur, Using “Pyro” movies, Using the Radio Waves Effect, Animating to Sound.
  • Tutorial Two, ROBO TV: Importing PS as Comp, Anchor Point and Rotation, Parenting, Importing Premiere as Comp, Relinking missing footage, Trimming Comp to work area, Slip Edits, Overlay Edits, Vignetting a background, Mask Feather and Mask Expansion, Importing AI as Comp, Motion Blur and Shutter Angle, Typing On using the Path Text Effect, Boris Mosaic, Fractal Noise effect, Boris Tint-Tone Effect.
  • Tutorial Three, HOT BUT COOL: Spotting music, Vector Paint Effect, Anchor Points, “Slam down” text animation, Continuous Rasterization, Hold keyframes, Masking in the Comp window, 3D rotation, Adjustment layers, transfer modes, Using the Tinderbox T_Lensblur effect.
  • Tutorial Four, AUTOTRACKER: Removing 3:2 pulldown, Managing 16-235 luminance ranges, Motion Tracking, Nesting Comps, Adjustment layers, Adding pulldown during rendering, The Wiggler, Stroke, Mosaic, Transform, Basic Text, Posterize Time effects.
  • Tutorial Five, 3D MECHANIC: Multipass rendering from a 3D program, Combining the diffuse, specular and reflective properties of a surface, Alpha edge issues, Transfer modes, Track mattes, Faking light wrap and edge feather, Comp snapshots, Adjustment layers, Conforming Frame rates, Nesting comps, Displacement map effect, Compound Blur effect, FE Vector Blur effect.
  • Tutorial Six, PICADILLY CIRCUS: Creating and animating solids, Importing AI files as Comp, Using Null objects for Expressions and Parents, Setting up a master color with Expressions, Parenting, creating 3D layers, 3D material options, Light options, Animating a light, Saving a Comp as a Proxy.
  • Tutorial seven, UNDERGROUND MOVEMENT: Using Comp Proxies, Masking, Importing Sequences, Footage Frame rates, Looping in Time and Space, Continuous Rasterization, Timing to music, Adjustment Layers, the Offset effect.
  • Tutorial Eight: POSTCARDS IN SPACE: 3D coordinates, Alternate Comp views, Moving objects in 3D, Layer rendering order, camera Angle of View and Zoom, Continuous Rasterization, track camera tools, Moving & animating cameras, Switching between multiple cameras, Creating a viewer Comp, orientation versus rotation, layer intersections, Precomposing, Collapse Transformations, Combining 2D & 3D layers, Lights.
  • Tutorial Nine, THE PLANETS: Auto-Orient Camera along Path, Expressing the Light Position, Auto-Orient Light along Path, Multiple view windows, Pixel Aspect Ratio correction, Auto-Orient layers toward camera, Creating a 3D layer, Adding camera roll, depth-of-Field & Focus Distance, field rendering, Adding Output Modules, rendering a separate fill & matte, rendering with straight alpha.
  • Tutorial ten, COSMOPOLIS: Separating interlaced footage, combining fill and matte movies, Nesting compositions, Choosing title fonts, Importing AI files as Comp, Applying effects and Effect Favorites, Using the Gradient Wipe effect, Using the Displacement Map effect, Block dissolve effect, Adjustment Layers, Knoll Light Factory EZ effect, Velocity controls for effects, Using Modes to enhance footage, Snapshots for comparing effects, Field rendering for D1 and DV.
  • Tutorial eleven: JUST AN EXPRESSION: Expressions, Effect Favorites, Swedish Plug-ins, 3D animation, Orientation, Bevel Alpha Effect, Texturize effect, Tint and Fill effects, Transfer modes, Path Text effect, Set Matte effect.
  • Tutorial twelve, FLAMINGO 4: Importing AI files as Comp, Anchor Points, Parenting, Spotting music, path Text on a curve, Keyframe interpolation, Masking a solid shape, Exporting as SWF.

THE CASE STUDIES: The six production studios that are included in the case studies section are The Dieks Group, Belief, ATTIK, Curious Pictures, Fido and CyberMotion. If you are not familiar with the names, you have undoubtedly seen their work, on television or on the move screen. In each separate case study, the entire process of producing a spot is analyzed, from concept through completion. The case studies are each broken into four sections: “EXPLORING THE SPOT,” in which major elements of the final animation (which are included on the CD) are examined, “ARTISTIC OVERVIEW,” which looks at the concepts and reasoning behind the animation, “EXECUTION,” where the techniques of actually creating the animations are dissected and explained, and “POSTSCRIPT,” which gives an overall summary of the project. The case studies give an excellent look at the processes behind the animations, both conceptual and technical. They go far beyond the After Effects work and explore shooting techniques, color pallet choices, puppetry, green screening, sound, and much more. It's refreshing to read an After Effects book that looks at techniques like shooting glitter and rhinestones to achieve a sparkle effect rather than using an AE plug in. (Of course, they used transfer modes with the footage in the final composite – there's no worry about rendering AE obsolete!). At the very least, the case studies will leave you inspired by the best.

Trish and Chris said that they set out not only to teach with this book, but also to inspire, and they have succeeded. In my opinion, After Effects in Production is a must-have for any After Effects user.

I give it 4.5 cows.

THE CD: All of the tutorial source files are included on the CD, as well as the final movie clips and finished project files, so that you can pick up at any place in the steps, or compare them to your own project. Each finished project has clearly labeled timeline layers so that they are easy to understand and follow. In addition, a number of the tutorials in the book are continued as “bonus tutorials” on PDF files on the CD, taking them even further. Don’t miss them! Plus there are free plug-ins from BorisFX, Media 100, Pinnacle, the Foundry, and Trapcode, and for those without a copy, there is a try-out version of Adobe AE 5 standard. One of my favorite goodies on the CD is the “Hidden Gems” PDF, which is a compiled list of shortcuts and user tips for increased productivity.

I typically do not like linear tutorial books. I prefer books that I can flip through and reference, like CMG. But After Effects in Production is an exception. Yes, it definitely requires that you sit down and methodically follow the tutorials, and if you don't, you likely are not going to get all that you can out of it. But if you do, whether you are still grappling with the basic concepts of AE or whether you are a veteran user, you will undoubtedly learn a lot, not only about After Effects techniques, but also about the creative process.

--Lon Clark

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