I like to tell people that seeing Star Wars (the original) in the theater changed the course of my life. But the truth is that while seeing the film introduced me to visual effects – it didn’t actually allow me to create them. It would be a long time before I could, but from that point forward I had an intense curiosity about how special effects were realized.
For the next 2 decades it was like having a huge crush on someone out of my league – while I’d have loved to be able to truly experience creating VFX, I was only going to be able to admire the idea from afar. In fact, though I was majoring in psychology (something that prepared me for Hollywood more than I expected) my first paper in college was a short story about how I was working as the director of VFX. But it was just a fantasy – not something I ever thought I’d actually do.
Flash forward a few years, and after passing on psychology as a career for many reasons, I got an internship at Children’s Television Workshop (now known as Sesame Workshop) where I spent a year interning around some very talented and creative people. Not too long after, I became a technical manager there, and was given access to the same tools the show’s artists were using – one of which was After Effects. From there, I watched and I learned, and I fell in love.
Seeing my passion for it, my wife encouraged me to pursue animation and visual effects as a career with everything I had. And I did. I picked up books by Trish and Chris Meyer, Angie Taylor and more. I spent hours and hours a day messing with every control and effect. Not too long after that I started getting some of my work on the air when the team at Sesame were short an artist and under a tight deadline.
But then, my department at Sesame closed down. Soon after, I was offered a full-time job as a producer at MTV networks, and given that I wanted to be able to pay bills, I took it. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but it kept me close to it. And then, when one of my projects at Noggin couldn’t afford an After Effects animator, I rented a computer bay from Nickelodeon so I could do it all myself. And as I built all of my bumpers, interstitials, and commercials in After Effects, a producer at Nickelodeon kept looking over my shoulder and eventually offered me an animation gig. I took it.
From there I began to hop around from Nickelodeon to MTV to TV Land and more. And that’s actually when I finally felt like I was really learning After Effects. I made a lot of mistakes and had to learn to solve problems in a very limited time. It was intense, and stressful and invigorating all at once. There was always a way to get it done in After Effects, even if it wasn’t always easy.
And as I learned – really learned – by doing, I decided that I was going to do my best to save people from a lot of the pain I was experiencing by teaching them what i was learning on the job. After relying on their forums so many many times, I connected with Ron and Kathlyn Lindeboom at CreativeCow.net, and in mid-2005, I put up my first After Effects tutorial. You can still see it here: http://library.creativecow.net/articles/rabinowitz_aharon/old_tv.php
More tutorials came, and then the Lindebooms asked me if I wanted to do a weekly After Effects Podcast. I thought podcasting was a fad, but I figured what the heck. I had no idea what I was in for. It exploded. Tons of AE users were watching and reaching out to me. I was suddenly a huge part of the After Effects Community, helping to foster people as they stepped into the world of After Effects. CreativeCow gave me a great place to show what I was capable of and to help scores of others in their work, and I am forever grateful for that period where I lived, breathed, ate, drank and dreamed After Effects.
About 5 years ago, with help from Dennis Radeke of Adobe, I started the Adobe After Effects user group – After Effects New York. And with the help of my co-leaders, and generous support from Adobe and Maxon we’ve had over 50 meetings (all free) so far. You can learn more here: http://www.aeny.org.
Today I am the director of Communities at Red Giant, a company that does many things including making plug-ins for After Effects (such as Trapcode Particular and Magic Bullet Looks). As a part of my job, I get to contribute to the design of software that AE users rely on daily, I get to teach users how to use those tools, and I get to help make VFX-filled films like ‘Plot Device’ and ‘Tempo’ to inspire users to tell their own stories. It’s been a long journey to a current destination I am loving the heck out of – and After Effects (and really I mean the awesome Adobe team behind AE and the amazing community of AE users), allowed me to get there.
Happy birthday, After Effects. I owe you a lifetime of beers.
Aharon Rabinowitz, Red Giant Director of Communities