Archive for May, 2006

Lights in the Kitchen

Cool effects in Adobe After Effects are often the result of a recipie of some kind (a little of this effect here, a tad of a blending mode there, and you’ve got something really interesting). The best kinds are the ones you can just set up & go without much keyframing or other manual steps, and when you come up with something new, or learn a recipie from somewhere else, you can save your concoction as a Preset to be used again and again and again . . .

Here’s a simple way to add realistic light rays to a piece of footage. First, apply the effect CC Radial Fast Blur to your clip in your timeline (Effect>Blur & Sharpen>CC Radial Fast Blur), and in the Effect Controls set the Amount to 80.


Frame 1 above shows the original clip, and frame 2 shows the clip with CC Radial Fast Blur, amount set to 80. Next, to adjust the contrast (which will give you punchier light rays), apply Levels (Effect>Color Correction>Levels). Then adjust the Input Black & Input White on the Histogram (the left & right triangles below the Histogram graph) so that they line up with the left & right edges of the Histogram, respectively.

Your Histogram will look different based on the footage you are using.

Frame 3, above, is the shot with Levels applied and the Input Black & White adjusted. Finally, you’re going to composite this over the original, unaffected clip. Select the clip in your timeline and select Edit>Duplicate. On the lower version of the clip, remove the CC Radial Fast Blur and Levels. Then, on the upper version of the clip, select the Add Blend Mode by clicking on the Mode pulldown menu and selecting Add. If you don’t see the Mode pulldown menu in your timeline, you may need to right-mouse-click on any of the columns on the left side of the Timeline and select the Mode column to display it.

Then, with the upper layer selected, hit the T key on your keyboard to solo the Opacity property. Adjust the Opacity to around 60% and you should see something close to Frame 4, above. Depending on your footage, you might need to tweek the above setting a bit, but the resulting effect is usually very convincing.

So do you have some AE recipies that are killer? You want to show ’em off to your fellow AE users? Well, we’ll be at Siggraph 2006 in Boston and I’m looking for some Adobe customers to showcase their AE or Flash work on the main theater stage @ our exhibit. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

All Broken Up

I get asked a lot of questions about Particles in After Effects 7. Particle generators can be a little hard to get your head wrapped around at first, so I recommend “CC Particle Systems II” as a good jumping-off point. It’s one of the first particle generators ever developed for AE, and while it’s not as feature-rich as Particle Playrground, or other third-party particle generators, it’s an easy one to learn, and you can apply the knowledge to more complex incarnations. The “CC” stands for Cycore – these are the 60 additional Cycore Effects that come included with AE7 on a separate installer on the AE or Production Studio installer disks.

Start by adding a new solid layer to your AE comp (Layer>New>Solid) and make it the size of your comp. Then apply CC Particle Systems II (found in the Simulation category in the Effect menu). Do a RAM preview and you’ll see a pretty basic fireworks effect.

The Particle Systems II effect controls and the default results in the Comp viewer.

The basic concept with a particle generator is that a particle is born, it does something over time, and then it dies.

At first, all the controls in the Effect Controls panel will be twirled up (i.e. hidden). Click on the triangles next to Producer, Physics, and Particle to reveal their respective controls. Most of these are pretty self explanatory (Velocity, Gravity, etc). The first place to start is to decide what kind of particle you want to generate. Pull down the Particle Type pulldown menu and try each of the selections to see what they look like.

A pretty common application of a particle generator is to create fire & smoke. So to start off, select Shaded&Faded Sphere from the Particle Type pulldown. Then change your Birth & Death color to something more resembling fire. When the particles are born, we want them to be an orangey red. When they die, we want them to be pretty close to black.

Then start from the top of the screencap below and change the settings one by one. Each time you change something, do a RAM preview, or just hit the spacebar, to see the results of your changes. This will give you a basic idea of the influence of each of the controls.


So once you’re about where I am in the screencap above, you should have something pretty close to fire & smoke. To give it some extra punch, apply Levels (Effects>Color Correction>Levels) and adjust the sliders on the histogram as I have them below (again paying close attention to the visible results in the comp as you make the adjustments).


If you started with a blank comp, your background will most likely be black. Change the background color to white (Composition>Background Color) and do a RAM preview to see the results.


You should be seeing something pretty darn close to the screencap above. The next place to go would be to animate the Producer Position – try setting an initial keyframe at frame 0 and then moving it around the comp over time to see what happens.

Back to the Boom Boom Rattle of SF

The side door of Adobe’s SF office with the source of all the racket in the upper-right corner

It’s not often one gets to return from New York City to a much noisier place. By and large, San Francisco is super quiet, but next door to our SF office, where I work when I’m not on an airplane somewhere, is a major construction project and they’ve been hammering away driving huge metal things into the ground for months.

When I first moved up to this office from San Jose and felt the shaking under my feet, I thought we were having an earthquake (something I thankfully haven’t experienced since moving to SF last year). Then someone pointed out the construction across the street and it was like being back in The Bronx. Aaah, the relaxing vibe of San Francisco . . . NOT!

So after weeks and weeks of travel, I get to actually stay here for awhile. I’ve got a short trip coming up in mid-June to the HOW Conference in Las Vegas, where I’ll be participating in the “Evangelists’ Challenge” on Wednesday, June 13 along with my esteemed colleagues Alan Rosenfeld (Print Designer) and Greg Rewis (Web Designer). This should be a fun session, with the three of us working in our respective disciplines to create a multimedia project before your very eyes.

MOVEing and Shaking

I gave a talk this morning at the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artists) MOVE Conference at New York University (yep, that’s right, on a Saturday morning). Luckily I had a nice turnout for my session which was about using After Effects, Illustrator, and Bridge to process video with the Live Trace feature from Illustrator (check out my tutorial here), and an introduction to Flash Video workflow using After Effects and Flash Professional. I also got the chance to talk to many attendees, most of them After Effects users, and hear about the great stuff they’re doing with our products. I also got many good feature requests for AE in particular.

So my 10am session was right before the “headliner,” which in this case was Laurie Anderson.


I guess that made me her opening act (should I update my resume?). What a sweetheart she was, and her session was fascinating (the most interesting part being the work she did as the first ever Artist in Residence for NASA).

The Coolest Thing I’ve Seen Thus Far At Adobe


Last night, Anne-Lise & I attended a benefit screening for the Educational Video Center (EVC) at the IFC Center in NYC. The EVC is a workshop where high-school kids from some of the rougher parts of New York come to learn documentary filmmaking. Working in small groups, led by a mentor (typically a professional documentary filmmaker), the kids produce films that speak about issues in their world. At the screening, we saw excerpts of the films Alienated (about undocument teen immigrants facing life after high school with no options for legalized work or college), All That I Can Be (a story of a teen who makes the choice to enlist with the US Army during the US occupation of Iraq), and Still Standing (about the challenges faced by Hurricane Katrina survivors). The films were moving, and even more moving were the current students & alumni of the program that went to the podium to tell the story of how they got involved with the EVC and what it meant to them to be able to learn filmmaking in a supportive environment and to express themselves in a profound way.

Adobe sponsored the screening last night, is a major financial supportor of the EVC, and soon we’ll be announcing a partnership with them and several other similar organizations worldwide in what is going to be the largest philanthropic program Adobe has ever undertaken. We’re a pretty philanthropic company to begin with, so you’ll be psyched to hear about it when it’s announced in the coming months. I get to be involved with this, and it’s by far the most meaningful thing that I’ve had the pleasure to do in a really long time.

That’s A Wrap

The “secret project” (darn NDA) came to a smashing conclusion on Friday.


Above is the crew at _________ with director ___________ behind the camera, as I finish shooting for ________. It was a long couple weeks of work, everything came out great in the end, and it won’t be much longer that I gotta be tight-lipped about it.

I’m not gonna be tight-lipped about namedropping, though. After we wrapped on Friday, I spent the evening with my friend Greg in Chinatown, NYC, then we drove to JFK to pick up Anne-Lise (my fabulous wife). We all then went to our friend Caitlin’s house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she had 15 people or so over for drinks. When we walked in, I saw a couple sitting on the couch chatting it up, and we walked over to introduce ourselves. I extended my hand and said “hi, I’m Bob” and the guy shook my hand and said “hi I’m Mike” and then I realized that I was shaking hands with Austin Powers. Yep, that Mike. Turns out Mr. Myers has been a fixture in our old Williamsburg crew for a while now (see what happens when you move away?) as he’s on a street hockey team with Caitlin and a few other friends of ours. So we talked with him & his lady friend for a good part of the evening – if you didn’t know he was Mike Myers you’d probably think he was just this Canadian dude at the party. Very cool way to end the week.

Down Under

This “secret project” I keep writing about is almost over. Tomorrow we do some effects shots, and that reminded me of a story that my colleague Mike Kanfer told me about the making of the film The Aviator. For the shots of the Spruce Goose flying over a crowd of people, shot from the perspective of the crowd, they used a radio-controlled model plane built at a small scale of the original. It flew at something like 4 feet above peoples’ heads while the low-angle camera captured it as if it were the real deal. When you think about all the things we do in CG to simulate this kind of stuff, it’s interesting to see how really simple, basic stuff can be more convincing than anything that could possibly be done in post.

Rob Legato rocking the camera on the set of The Aviator

The effects shot I’m talking about was done by Rob Legato & the crew from The Basement, a visual effects house that does their work using Production Studio. You can get more details about their work right here.

Anne-Lise gets here tomorrow, and not a moment too soon.

Autumn Rocks

My friend Stu (who I was in the band The Rake’s Progress with for years) is a Photoshop guru who’s worked for several magazines including Oprah Winfrey’s mag “O”. He’s also got a band called Barnacle Bill, which rocked Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side Monday night. It was their CD release party and their first show in 2 years. The last one was at Luna Lounge on a bill with my old band Dasher.

So Stu & his compadres in Barnacle Bill have an incalculable amount of collective years behind them playing in rock bands, and they’ve all really hit their stride with this one. The CD “Towards The Pebbled Shore”, which you can stream from their website, has been in “heavy rotation” on my Adobe-gifted IPod for the past couple weeks.

Strike The Anvil

I’ve mentioned my friend & fellow Co-op City escapee Dean Velez in a few previous posts. Dean recently left the employ of Total Training in order to strike out on his own — he’s offering up After Effects training via his training company The Anvel .

Clearly, nobody gets out of Co-op City 100% sane.

The training is subscription based, and although I haven’t yet seen any of his content, he’s one of the best AE artists & trainers in the business so I imagine it’s gotta be really good.

On a different note — if you think all this business travel I’ve been doing is glamorous, click here to see where I’m “living” this week.

The Manhattan Project

Luckily, I’ll be able to tell you about the project that I’m in NYC for in the not-too-distant future.


There I am hard at work on it. Brings me back to my college radio days at good old WPUR — 10 watts of power rocking the town of Purchase, New York. I was the General Manager for 2 years and wound up having to fill in for DJs when they got sick or just didn’t show up for their on-air shift. I got pretty good at faking accents and everytime I’d have to do a fill-in I’d make up a bogus name, put on an accent, and become WPUR’s newest DJ (who I would then report as dead when I’d read the news later in the day). We had the record for the highest “DJ Mortality Rate” in the nation.

Last Thursday I fell victim to a stomach bug that’s been going around here and got to catch up on the wonderful world of daytime TV.