Inspiring Me to Enable Myself
COW Library : Adobe After Effects : Kylee Peña : Inspiring Me to Enable Myself
The first time I used After Effects, I hated it.
And the second time. And the 18th time. In fact, trying to learn After Effects was one of the most awful experiences of my life.
My history with After Effects goes back to around 2003, when I was 16 or so. This was just a blip. I opened it, looked it at, closed it, and un-installed it.
The real history began my second year of college. After Effects class. I opened it for the first time in several years. Closed it. Looked at my instructor. Sighed.
Opened it again.
First assignment? Draw a square and make it go from right here to over there. No big deal. To most people. I may as well have been in remedial motion graphics, because I couldn't grasp keyframes. F***ing keyframes. Little mocking yellow diamonds. I can still hear them laughing at me.
I understood the concept of key framing, but not the execution. For some reason, it took me days to really understand the idea of setting the keyframe on the timeline where you want the effect or move to begin, and another where you want it to end with the new parameters. Sure, seems simple. Unless you're temporally challenged.
I re-did the first assignment three times before I got a handle on it.
After a number of other simple assignments like that (which took up way too much of my time), the next major hurdle was telling a story.
Take a still shot, animate it in After Effects, add music. Simple?
Telling a story? With keyframes and stuff? But I barely understand how to move this square!
The project was to take a bunch of still photos, animate them in After Effects, add music, and craft an animatic of sorts. The point was to figure out how utilizing different types of movement at different times can tell your story in a storyboardish fashion. A well-placed zoom for emphasis, a wiggle or shake for a hit, that sort of thing. I think that's what it was on paper, anyway. I'm pretty sure the ACTUAL point was to make my life as miserable as possible.
I only re-did that assignment twice before I got it. Progress!
The next major step in my life with After Effects was a 300-level course, and it had a bonus difficulty of having an instructor with an incredibly thick Turkish accent.
Like any good college student of the early 21st century, I was tasked with creating a kinetic typography piece with an audio clip from a movie or TV show. I spent about 18 hours straight on mine, partially because I required a do-over about halfway through when I realized I did it wrong. It became an all-nighter -- keyframe, keyframe, easy ease, motion blur, drop shadow, motion blur, key frame -- but somehow, I got that solid minute of mograph done.
When I rolled up to school an hour before class (because I was afraid I'd fall asleep if I stayed home any longer) I was met by bleary-eyed stares of classmates who had been driven insane by the sight of those little yellow diamonds.
That f***ing mocking rhombus.
I quickly realized that a lot of these assignments were based on the same idea of taking objects and adjusting their scale or position to tell a simple story. With the animatic, it was still frames. With the kinetic typography, it was text. While both of these are very important, they're pretty much AE preschool. And we all know the only reason to learn After Effects is so you can do blood effects and make stuff blow up.
Heck, why even learn? Go find a tutorial and duplicate the effect and skip the learning. (I'm kidding. If you do that, you're the worst.)
In my realization that 1) I wasn't really learning much useful stuff and 2) I needed to learn much useful stuff, I decided to take an independent study session with a professor I trusted.
An independent study, if you aren't familiar, is a 3 credit hour "course" where you make your own course of study that the school doesn't offer, and an instructor babysits you periodically. All for the low, low price of a regular class! I explained to my dear therapist of a professor that I HATED After Effects but I needed to work past the hate and learn how to use it, at least a little. Moving a square from there to there isn't going to cut it in the real world. I need applicable knowledge.
In other words, I needed to jump ahead of everyone and make myself good -- not necessarily great, just better than my peers. He agreed that the stuff the school offered wasn't much, offered condolences for my self-pity, and we agreed upon a plan.
My independent study was based on the idea that I would develop a concept for a promotional piece that was 100% motion graphics. It had to explore areas of After Effects that the curriculum didn't touch. And it had to not completely suck.
Well, two outta three ain't bad.
My concept was a 30 second promo for a local cat shelter. My completely, terribly, and horribly misguided idea? I'd take a green sheet to the shelter, set it up, and record some cats doing amusing things on it and around it. Then composite them into the promo! Like, totally! Great idea!
Shooting cats is harder than is sounds. Wait, let me re-phrase that. No, never mind, I'll let it stand. Also, my green screen session ended with poop everywhere. But I got enough cats to work with.
Keying fast moving cats on a poorly lit green screen that was shot with a MiniDV camera is actually not as fun as I'd hoped. I spent the entire semester trying to come up with a workable promo that used these cats, and everything looked like shit. It looked worse than the ACTUAL POOP I had captured on my green screen.
After weeks of work and dozens of revisions, I had something...vaguely watchable. I learned the meaning of abandoning a project versus finishing a project. I understood the importance of color space.
I only cried a couple dozen times.
And I still hated After Effects. It wasn't MY fault that this was so difficult! It was After Effects! It had a personal vendetta against me! Every time I wanted to just have fun and tell a little story, it was all like "heh heh, we'll just see about that!" It was like opening my mouth to tell the greatest campfire story in the world and someone says "hey wait, before you say anything, try to eat this WHOLE sleeve of saltines while you do it!"
At this point I knew the buttons and the interface and sorta where to go and what to do to make a thing happen that looked cool. But I wasn't happy about it. We parted ways, After Effects and I. It was there if I needed it, and I was there if it needed me (which it never did), and we generally didn't speak for the last part of my senior year except for that awkward encounter at Starbucks that one time.
(You know you've been driven insane when you anthropomorphize software.)
ONE NEW THING
Graduation came and went, and I managed to land a job. All I knew was that the company had a big library of video that needed to be sorted and cut, and they had fallen behind on it. I was hired and jumped in right away. Then I saw that almost all of the footage was green screen and all of it required heavy motion graphics to make promos.
Oh f***. I can hear the diamonds laughing at me. It reverberates in the emptiness of the room. Or my brain.
I spent the first 6 months of this job focused on this library of raw green screen. It was shot on an okay camera, but then transferred to MiniDV so yeah it was kind of horrendous to work with now that you mention it. But luckily I had recently spent an entire semester working with even WORSE footage, so I was mentally prepared. Once I saw that I had a handle on Keylight, I worried that I'd run out of ideas or I wouldn't be able to execute a concept I had.
But I just kept working. I animated a lot of text. I moved a lot of shapes that were a little more complex than squares. I used a lot of simple scale and positioning. Turns out you can actually tell a lot of story in a promo with very simple techniques. Everything came together.
Over time, I got fancier. I resolved to introduce at least one new thing in each video I turned out. Nothing too difficult, but something I hadn't tried before. As a result, each video got progressively a little better. They weren't night and day better but uh, let's just say I can't look at anything from my first week of work nearly four years ago without cringing.
INSPIRING ME TO ENABLE MYSELF
Now I'm a person that can do some stuff in After Effects. I can't do everything. In fact, I can't do a LOT. I'm still z-axis-challenged for the most part. 3D boggles me. But After Effects and I have reached a sort of…understanding. It knows that I appreciate it for being the one tolerable Adobe product. I know it isn't purposely trying to hinder my storytelling, it just requires a different approach than an NLE.
After Effects obviously isn't meant for cutting, but it is meant for well…effects, after. Duh. It's in the name, but people seem to miss that. I have a natural intuition in NLEs that doesn't exist when I open After Effects, and it took me a while to understand that it was normal. Struggle doesn't mean you suck. Well, struggle doesn't necessarily mean you suck.
After Effects is powerful. But for me, it wasn't so much about what it enabled me to do so much as what it inspired me to enable myself to do. If I can make this thing work in After Effects, what can't I do?
My journey with After Effects is a reflection of my journey as a creative. Fear, skepticism, blood, tears, mocking, understanding, confidence. The cycle repeats sometimes, but it expands and contracts too. Some days it's a thing of wonder and beauty, other days it's collapsing in on itself like a dying star. When you start to have more days like the former than the latter, nice things start to happen both on your screen and in your mind. For all the rest, there's coffee.
It's been real, After Effects. You're legal next year, so I expect you to buy me a drink after all you've put me through, dear.
But seriously, whose idea was it to have it BAAAHH at me? That is NOT funny.
"It's been real, After Effects. You're legal next year, so I expect you to buy me a drink after all you've put me through, dear."