Steve Kilisky's Dynamic Media Blog

September 6, 2007

Simply Powerful - Part 1

I've been thinking a lot about complexity lately and I've decided it's a complex subject.

Some might say After Effects is a complex product (the marketeer in me tends to prefer to call it sophisticated). One user quote from way back that captured the essence of AE (at least in the pre-AE6 era): "You can do anything with AE, if you can figure out how to do it". To me this encapsulated a what I believe is a common (mis) perception; Powerful = Complex. A corollary to this is, Easy to Use ≠ Powerful. I would like to challenge both of these notions.

Now this post is not about AE, but before I move on; the last several releases of AE have made a concerted (and I believe successful) effort to make AE accessible to those who don't have years to dedicate to becoming an "AE Zen Master". Text Animation Presets which were introduced in AE6.5 are an interesting example of allowing casual users to tap into the power of AE quickly and easily. Shape Layer presets serve a similar purpose in AE CS3.

When we implemented this feature, we anticipated presets being useful to new and occasional users of AE, but it was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise to learn that advanced users were taking advantage of them as well. Both users saw value in being able to deliver pleasing results to their clients with minimal effort.

We thought advanced user would shy away from using pre-built looks. In many cases since the presets were customizable advanced users used them as starting points, or as learning examples by breaking them down into their individual elements. However, numerous times they were used more or less as is. Maybe the budget didn't warrant spending the time to build a custom look from scratch or from a preset, maybe a tight deadline was looming, or maybe the client was happy with the "off-the-shelf" look. Whatever the reason Easy to Use became powerful in this context.

As I said at the top, I've been thinking a lot about complexity and it's a complex topic. So complex that I've used up my self-alloted time for this entry and haven't gotten to the "crux of the biscuit".

To be continued... (and hopefully it won't be 30+ days between posts).

P. S. There were quite a few Dynamic Media announcements made today:

Adobe Media Player Announcement

Flash Media Server Announcement

Audition 3.0 Announcement

Cisco Flash Streaming Announcement

P.S.S. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by the Adobe Booth at IBC (but think twice before accepting a brownie from a stranger, trust me on this one).

Posted by Steve Kilisky at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2007


Kate White — 6:21 PM on September 7, 2007

Adding nodes would make AE a lot easier to use.

Rich — 2:09 PM on September 10, 2007

They're not perfect but Apple does a good job with previews, from effect thumbnails to floating palettes to iDVD template previews. Sure beats that tiny little Encore template preview.

James Wicks — 5:10 AM on September 13, 2007


I first picked up a copy of After Effects (6.5), because I wanted to add stunning visual fx to my videos and films.
But I was warned at the outset: great program, but it's like climbing Mount Everest ...tough to do because it's hard to learn.
The other thing I was told was simply: good luck.

It wasn't easy to learn, at first.
But I figured that if I could master Pro Tools, Final Cut, Avid, etc., that I could, in time, figure it out.
I persevered, de-constructed projects, watched tutorials, etc.
And before long, I was half way up Mount Everest. Which was a good thing.
My advice is: you've got to want it in order to do it.

James Wicks

wil — 7:55 PM on October 1, 2007

I've been thinking a lot about complexity in motion graphics as well. From a code point of view I think about programs like Maya, where there are usually 3-4 obvious different ways of accomplishing any one task. Node based programs like Shake offer a similar level of complexity for relatively little overhead - it's the combination of Nodes (methods) into trees (functions) that creates the complexity, rather than the individual nodes themselves.

It reminds me of Wolfram and his cel automata: simple rules can often produce astounding complexity. So perhaps the job of a motion graphics artworker is to recognise patterns and statistically likely outcomes of the work we're producing. While that might seem like I'm putting a mystic spin on the use of AE etc, in fact it's probably the most logical of methodologies. Chess players, for example, often talk about recognising plays (and learning by rote common openings) to deal with the inherent complexity in that system.

I think we'll see a lot of new ways of thinking about CG in the future - combinations of Nodes... graphics more as a visual programming language where we combine processes to generate outcomes that we desire.


Appreciate you sharing your thoughts.


Frank Capria — 6:34 PM on October 19, 2007

As developers we learn simple does not mean easy. The Kilisky Corollary would be complex does not mean hard.
Hi Frank,

My first corrollary :-)

Kenneth Sebastian — 10:37 AM on June 30, 2008

I am 17 years old, and i do quiet a lot of Visual Effects. I have been using AE (7) for a year and a half, and i have to say in the begining it was very difficult to understand and use AE. I even gave it up. But then i saw every one who did visual effects on the net mentioning AE, so i got back to it.
I agree with James Wicks, through tutorials and books i could figure AE out to some extent.
As steve said, "You can do anything with AE, if you can figure out how to do it".is very true.
With expressions etc.. there are so many things that After effects can achieve..
But i don't know how simple you can make After Effects,
because you need that overwhelming control to get what you want, and without those million parameters,expressions,etc AE will become simpler but wont be able to do just about anything..

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