An Old Dog, Learning New Tricks
CreativeCOW presents An Old Dog, Learning New Tricks -- Adobe After Effects Feature All rights reserved.

It may surprise some to know that I didn't actually start using After Effects until CS3 -- and I was past 40, proving that you can teach new tricks to old dogs!!

My background up to that point had been writing, recording and production for radio using what was then 'Cool Edit' and later became Adobe Audition. I started to transfer from just sound to moving picture by using Premiere Pro, which I quickly fell in love with.

But then, I realised that there was another piece of software that was even more powerful than Premiere Pro and - to be honest - was a complete mystery to me because I needed to 'Cross the Rubicon' of understanding the difference between editing and compositing!

AE Ray Tracer
AE Ray Tracer

To be honest, what started me learning and using After Effects was pure curiosity. It quickly became apparent that there were some very powerful tools to help take my video work to a whole new level especially with things like Chroma keying with Keylight and animated motion graphics - which started to push my use of After Effects.

I didn't fall in love with After Effects quite as fast as I did with Premiere Pro mainly because I started by (for quite a long time) sitting in front of the UI shouting at both it and myself for not knowing which tool to use and where the blinking tool was in the first place!! It didn't take long to realise that knowledge is king with AE. The more you know the tools, the more you can do, and that time invested in learning its powerful features quickly pays back.

When you get over the whole 'knowing the tools' issue and you just get to using the software, creative opportunities seem to find you, be they your own projects or a special need that arises with another project others are working on. What it has meant for me, bearing in mind that I now mainly teach rather than do a great deal of production, is that I'm allowed to be more of a creative problem-solver, although usually more as a consultant than the final editor, allowing others to run with alternative solutions.

AE Global performance cache
AE CS6's Global Performance Cache

How did I get into making tutorials? The short answer is by chance.

The longer answer starts with my own learning process. Like most people, once I started with After Effects I went out of my way to watch as many tutorials as I could and get my hands on any books that looked like they'd be helpful. Some of those books were indeed helpful but others were beyond me and ended up thrown to the back of the bookshelf to gather dust.

I quickly learnt that I'm a visual learner in that I tend to learn best from video tutorials rather than books. I also learnt that once I had a handle on something I would happily spend time playing with it and getting to grips with what it can do in general and also in my own work. I also found myself asking the question, "What's the best way to teach this to others?"

I quickly found out that there are two basic types of video tutorials available for After Effects. The first is the type I found most helpful, what could be called the 'show & tell' type of tutorials. They simply explain the tools and show you how to use them. These are by far the most valuable to me and, unfortunately, also the most rare.

The second is what I call the "whizz-bang" type of tutorial, where an expert rushes through a complex technique and you sit there in awe as you watch but can't really follow along. Or, you can follow, but only to re-create what they've done without really seeing how the techniques can translate into your own projects.

The real power for learning After Effects is in being able to translate techniques you've learnt to solve your own problems, so while these 'whizz-bang' tutorials make good eye-candy and can give some help, I quickly found that I didn't have enough time to spend watching to many of these.

Again, rather through chance, as I started to progress in my use of After Effects I was encouraged to become an After Effects Adobe Certified Instructor (ACI) to go alongside my Premiere Pro qualification. I worked hard to get that, and I achieved it towards the end of the CS3 cycle.

Andrew has produced hundreds of tutorials for Creative COW for After Effects, Premiere Pro and Adobe Encore.
At that time I felt that the "Classroom In A Book" didn't reflect how I wanted to learn After Effects, so I opted to create my own classroom training course, which has been the basis of the way I teach After Effects ever since: teaching my students how to use the tools, which they can apply to any projects they have to deal with.

My next problem was that, as a fairly new trainer based in the North of the UK rather than near London (where most of the work is), I didn't actually have a great deal of training work. So, while working on projects, I also started to look for other products that I could teach to try and get more training work. This led me to contact a UK reseller (who shall remain nameless) of Techsmith's excellent Camtasia Studio to ask, if I were to buy the product and learn how to use it, could they use me as a trainer? Up until the point that I actually parted with my money they were very encouraging. Once I had parted with my money, though, they didn't want to hear from me!

Initially I was pretty angry, but then I realised that I had everything I needed to start to produce my own video tutorials. I had Camtasia Studio to do all my screen captures, I had all the latest Adobe products to teach, and I had my own courseware, which I was constantly refining in class with my students as they asked questions, and I learned more myself.

At first it didn't occur to me to post any tutorials on the COW, because I simply didn't think I would be able to produce anything of that quality, or that my work would be of any value. I guess you quickly forget just how far you've come on your own journey as you learn a product.

So to start with, I produced some tutorials and put them up on YouTube. When I later got in contact with the COW to ask if they thought my tutorials would be of any help, they asked for the tutorials to be exclusive to the COW. So I took them down from YouTube, and was simply amazed at how many more views I got than I had gotten on YouTube! This in turn encouraged me to put up more tutorials, and I am pleased to say that they are continuing to be viewed, making me want to produce even more!

Lastly, since starting on Creative COW I have at times felt a little like a fraud, especially as I now spend most of my time training rather than in production. This has made me wonder how credible I am. I talked to another COW leader about how I felt, considering him to be far wiser and more experienced than me. His response was really helpful: "We're all fakes! We all only know what we know, and there will always be people who know far more than we do. But that shouldn't stop you sharing what you do know, and helping others to grow in their knowledge."

And so to Adobe for all their products and especially After Effects, Creative COW and you -- thank you!