I’ve been working as a lead animator in Los Angeles for more than 10 years, currently working as a freelancer. I teach motion design and 3D animation at Art Center College of Design, participated as a group director in PixelCorps (Alex Lindsay’s digital group), and host Digital Media Artists Los Angeles, an Adobe user group. So I guess it’s not hard to believe that I’ve been working with Adobe After Effects for 10 years on commercial, broadcast, and promotional projects.
Adding After Effects to my software arsenal was, at first, a way to achieve some of the creative direction that couldn’t be realized with the software that I was using at the time. Ultimately, After Effects has changed the way I think about animation and compositing completely. Some of my favorite features are really the simple ones. The ability to write Expressions that govern multiple facets of a composition is probably top on my list. When working with multiple layers (sometimes hundreds per comp), it’s important that shared properties can be modified quickly, so new ideas can be evaluated as soon as possible. At times it’s like conducting an orchestra of different properties. You raise your slider here, and a whole new chorus of animation rises up. That’s cool. Not to mention so many solutions that Expressions provide which aren’t readily on the surface of After Effects.
Over the years, After Effects has continued to raise the bar. If there was a better product out there for broadcast/design animation, I’d be using it. The whole industry would be using it. The truth is that every new cycle of product development for After Effects marks another major achievement. Seriously. A recent notable milestone would have to be the addition of a 3D camera, and compositing was a benefit to everyone.
In the past few years, Adobe has made a lot of changes that are really interesting, especially the latest Raytraced render engine and tracking tools. Warp Stabilizer is a really cool feature that I’ve used a few times (and it’s totally saved me and the studio). Warp stabilization a major achievement? Probably not on my list of major achievements, although I’m sure the dev guys who were able to jam all of that code seamlessly into the application would disagree with me. Dev guys, I’m sure the code is sexy for Warp Stabilizer and Puppet Pin. I love you, dev guys.
Sometimes the amazing things are those little “Brian-Johnson-from-the-Breakfast-Club’ nerdtastic moments. The team solves something and the universe is aligned in a comp which ripples through every comp in the team’s projects, you give yourself an “attaboy” punch in the arm, and hit render. It’s a technical amazing that only other After Effects geeks really appreciate.
Another type of Amazing is when an animation works, when it shouldn’t. The director shoots green peacock feathers on greenscreen: you have four hours to composite – don’t let anyone see the mattes. Or, the apartment building in the foreground was painted and given new windowsills before the reshoot – fix it. You fix 26 shots and everyone except a handful of people say, “So what did you do on these shots?” It’s seamless magic. Amazing.
The third, and perhaps my favorite type of amazing, is just about the art – and not really the tool. When a piece of small, subtle, graceful animation really moves me, I guess that’d be amazing too, but I don’t know if I could directly attribute that to After Effects. Sometimes if you spot a plugin’s use – it totally kills it though.
I may have a winner though: perhaps the most fun thing I’ve ever seen done with After Effects – the most amazing – was done by Stu Maschwitz when he rigged little Mini cars to drive left and right, he put a little suspension in them to shift with steering. I may be making some of this up or remembering it incorrectly, because it’s been a while since I saw it. But I watched it every day for a week solid and sent it around to all my After Effects friends. It still makes me smile just thinking about it. It was really cool. I’m going to have to look it up again after this. It kinda embodies all three, right? It had team/practical use as previs, it was really fun/exciting to watch, and it was technically beautiful.
Have I mentioned that I like Expressions?