AFTEREFFECTS

News, Information & Workflows from Users & the Adobe Ae Team

Ae & & Steven Messing

biopic1My focus since childhood was a desire to create unique imagery through filmmaking. After studying Film at USC and design at Art Center in Pasadena, I fostered my passion for visual effects. I started my career in small commercial houses and video game studios creating matte paintings for cinematics and marketing campaigns. I quickly latched on to the diverse tool set that Adobe After Effects offered as a compositing and editing tool in breathing life into my work. I would create complex shots using various 3D software packages and composite all of the layers together with After Effects.

After years in the commercial field, I eventually worked my way into films. I had the amazing opportunity to apprentice under legendary matte artist, Chris Evans of Matte World Digital. Under Chris, I trained my eye to see light, color, perspective and learned the tedious skill of layering in all of the subtleties that make a shot believable. Today, I work as a visual effects art director, freelancing for several studios in the Los Angeles area.

I’ve used After Effects on many film projects over the past 10+ years. One of the most intricate shots I composited in After Effects was a time-lapse reconstruction of the Transamerica pyramid for David Fincher’s Zodiac. The shot contained thousands of layers, each with unique animated features –flashing lights, pedestrians, traffic, atmospherics, and moving clouds. The shot was a large vertical pan that cycles through day and night as the building is being constructed through the 1970s. It took three months to complete and we chose to do it in After Effects due to the massive amount of animation and interactive layers. An enormous amount of data needed to be pushed around in economic way and After Effects was the simplest solution to achieve a beautiful result.

After Effects has always given me effective ways to communicate immersive design ideas to a director or client. On Avatar, we created big matte paintings in Photoshop, projected them onto geometry using Cinema 4D, and rendered out stereoscopic passes that were composited in After Effects. This enabled us to show James Cameron realistic set pieces as fully realized shots. The rendered elements were handed over to award winning VFX facilities like ILM and WETA digital, which used them as visual guides for the final shots in the film. There were some test shots that Cameron liked so much that he ended up incorporating them into the film.

In Boardwalk Empire, we recreated the historic boardwalk of Atlantic City during the 1920s. We paid careful attention to researching all of the details in the period architecture and carefully constructed a huge over-scan matte painting projected on a 3D modeled set. This set was rendered in Cinema 4D and composited using After Effects to blend together all of the CG and photographic elements. We continue to use this simple but effective pipeline for much of our current work on Boardwalk Empire today.

For a VFX artist like me, who thinks in layers like a painter, After Effects has been a powerful, efficient tool for a long time. The tools are streamlined and tie in seamlessly with Photoshop. I can easily set something up in 2D or 3D and then flesh it out with movement and animation in After Effects. It gives me a way to take my designs out of the static world with parallax effects, camera motion, transitional lighting, or atmospherics.

Today I am integrating more 3D elements into my work, so the ability to work with a real 3D camera setup in After Effects is important. I can break apart my work in Photoshop or a 3D application, and then bring in layers in 3D depth and move around them in real time in the latest After Effects. It is a critical time in the industry, and tools like After Effects need to push forward harder than ever. I’m glad to be a part of it all and look forward to continued innovation from Adobe that will enable artists to create new realities.

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Great story, Steve. Fun to hear about the Transamerica Pyramid shot from “Zodiac.” I finally saw that film for the first time about two years ago (on Blu-ray), and I distinctly remember the shot you’re talking about. Looked gorgeous in high-def, but I also remember thinking that it was a fantastic way to show the passing of time during that era. Not just any old time-lapse segment. It really stood out to me as an extremely cool moment in the film. I never stopped to think about how it was executed. I figured 3D, obviously, but I never considered AE. Shame on me. Beautiful work. Congratulations.

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