The three most recent installments of Chris and Trish Meyer’s After Effects Apprentice series have covered three different approaches to grouping layers in After Effects. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses; mastering all three means you can choose the right approach for a particular task—or combine them for the ultimate in power and flexibility. Here’s an overview from the third in the series, After Effects Apprentice 09: Expressions.
Expressions allow you tie an individual parameter of one layer either to the identical parameter of another layer, or to a different parameter of the same or different layers—even across compositions. This makes it the most targeted and most flexible approach to grouping in that you can target specific properties, and leave others untouched.
One of the biggest advantages of expressions includes the ability to keyframe just one property or layer and have others follow (and update) automatically. However, this is just one use of expressions; many other functions are possible, including the ability to automatically loop or randomize the animation of a layer.
As you may have heard by now, Adobe recently released Creative Suite 5.5. Some programs in the suite, like Photoshop and Bridge, received minor upgrades, and are labeled as version CS5.1; others, such as Adobe After Effects, received more significant upgrades, and are known as version CS5.5. After Effects expert Chris Meyer recorded a training series, After Effects CS5.5 New Creative Techniques—available on lynda.com the day Creative Suite 5.5 shipped—that demonstrates how he takes advantage of his favorite new and upgraded features. Now that he’s been using the release version for a while, we thought we’d catch up with him and see what continues to stand out for him in his motion graphics work.
Q: The most buzz surrounding After Effects CS5.5 was for its new Warp Stabilizer effect. Is it just a flashy technology demonstration, or is it actually proving useful in the real world?
A: I think it’s turning out to be the main reason many are upgrading to AE CS5.5. For those in a real-world production environment, its ease of use has been a huge time saver—just apply it to a clip, do other work while it processes in the background, and now the bumps in the camera movement have been smoothed out without any user intervention required. A single parameter allows you to adjust the amount of smoothness; a simple popup allows you to completely lock down the shot. It was the first thing I demonstrated at an advanced training session I recently led at a cable network. At the end of the first morning, they were ready to upgrade and start using it on jobs they already had in production. You no longer have to think, This is a visual effects shot; I have to stabilize it; this is going to be work. Now it’s just an effect you apply to any piece of footage with undesired camera movement in order to improve it.
Aside from the Warp Stabilizer’s automated capabilities, there is a lot of additional power under the hood that users are just starting to play with, such as the ability to synthesize new edges for stabilized frames based on frames that happened earlier or later in time. And, like any semi-automated tool, there are times when it’s going to guess wrong. That’s why I spent some time in New Creative Techniques showing you how to put it back on the right path in the event it starts stabilizing the wrong object in a video, or warps the background in unanticipated ways.
Q: Stereoscopic video is also a hot topic these days. I’ve heard that After Effects CS5.5 has some new tools to make that easier as well?
A: Yes, it does. There’s a new 3D Stereo Rig tool that creates a chain of compositions to create stereoscopic output from a 3D scene set up in After Effects, as well as an enhanced 3D Glasses effect to help resolve alignment and convergence issues in already-shot stereo footage.
I admit to originally being a stereo skeptic. And I think it’s still too early to know whether or not it’s really going to catch on this time. But it’s undeniable that more people are demanding stereo content, including for broadcast, not just major films. As a result, I’ve been putting more of a focus on how to create stereo imagery that produces less strain when viewed through 3D glasses, and that also is more watchable by those without glasses. The secret is a combination of managing the convergence parameters in AE CS5.5′s Stereo 3D Rig to lock onto the most important layer in your composition, plus adding depth-of-field blur to put objects in front of or behind the convergence point out of focus. By doing this, the ‘hero’ in your frame will be in the stereo sweet spot for those with glasses, and not have colorized halos for those without glasses. Plus, those halos will be blurred rather than sharp for those without glasses, making them far less distracting. This is also demonstrated in New Creative Techniques.
Q: Speaking of depth-of-field blur, that feature also received an update in After Effects CS5.5, correct?
A: Yes! The 3D camera in After Effects has long supported depth-of-field blur, but it was slow to render, and frankly didn’t look that great when it was done. As a result, few used it; many didn’t even realize it was in there because so few of their peers were using it. But in AE CS5.5, they’ve greatly improved the quality of blur. It’s a true camera simulation now, with control over iris settings and more. Plus, it renders a lot faster. As a result, I think the default will become to use it, rather than avoid it.
In addition to the improved depth-of-field blur for the 3D camera, 3D lights also received a much-requested upgrade in AE CS5.5: lighting falloff, where a light’s strength weakens over distance. In typical After Effects fashion, they’ve implemented this feature in two ways: one that is realistic, for visual effects artists; and one that has unrealistic controls, for motion graphics artists. In general, it’s nice how the After Effects team keeps their focus on easing real-world production tasks, rather than sticking to a theoretical or engineering-based ideal.
In addition to the topics discussed above, Chris also demonstrates numerous other new and improved features in his After Effects CS5.5 New Creative Techniques course. This includes taking advantage of Adobe’s advanced audio program, Audition CS5.5, which has now been ported to the Mac and is available in both the Production Premium and Master Collection suites. Whether you’ve recently upgraded, or are still deciding whether or not to upgrade, take a look at Chris’ After Effects CS5.5 New Creative Techniques to quickly get up to speed with After Effects CS5.5.
Also, be sure to check out Chris and Trish Meyer’s After Effects Apprentice series, an indepth project-based series of courses designed to help you get the most out of this powerful motion graphics software. Seven of the nineteen total installments are available now in the Online Training Library®. The series is appropriate for the CS4, CS5, and CS5.5 versions of After Effects.
After Effects has a very powerful text animation engine. The dark side of this power is that text animation in After Effects can be (to put it politely) difficult to master just by poking around. As a result, many artists only apply text animation presets, and have not yet learned how to modify these presets or create their own custom animations, settling for what Adobe provides.
Well, it’s time to change that. In the latest installment of the After Effects Apprentice series, Trish Meyer reveals the secret of mastering text animation in After Effects: understanding the purpose and use of a Range Selector inside a Text Animator. Once you master that, you will learn that most type animations are simply a combination of offsetting properties such as scale, color, or opacity of already set type, and then selecting (and animating) which characters get offset and by how much. Along the way, Trish teaches the two core type animation recipes (‘typing on’ and ‘cascading’), as well as how to refine, randomize, and customize these movements. She also shows how to place characters in 3D space, animate type along a path, work with Photoshop type in After Effects, and cycle lists of words. And yes, she covers text animation presets as well—including a good workflow for choosing candidates to present to a client, as well as improving them beyond their defaults.
Beyond text animation, Trish uses her background in print to demonstrate professional typesetting techniques many video people may be unaware of. Ignore them at your own risk, as knowing them can be the difference between a sophisticated- and amateurish-looking job. Her partner Chris also makes an appearance, talking about adding audio to your After Effects projects and how to time your animations to music. Chris also touches on subjects such as licensing concerns and how to best mix audio inside After Effects. These two sections will be of use to editors and animators of all stripes, regardless of what software you actually use. And for After Effects users, both Trish and Chris share numerous workflow tips and creative ideas throughout this course that you can put to use the next time you need to incorporate type or music in your work.
Authors Chris and Trish Meyer introduce us to their new series at lynda.com:
Many After Effects users know us for our books Creating Motion Graphics (CMG) and After Effects Apprentice (AEA). CMG is intended as a deep reference for After Effects, while AEA is structured as a series of lessons to help a beginner or part-time user get up to speed more quickly with the key features of the program in a real-world environment.
We’re very excited to be taking the lessons and projects in After Effects Apprentice and recording them as a video training series for lynda.com. Video allows us to better explain what we’re thinking when we choose a particular tool, effect, or parameter value—it’s like being able to look over our shoulder and listen in on our brain as we work, which better conveys both the technical and creative process we go through. Not being restricted to the page count of a printed book also allows us to expand more into related features and techniques, and actually work through the Idea Corner and Quizzler challenges sprinkled throughout the book. We feel this additional background will make these videos useful both for people learning on their own, and for instructors who use AEA in their classes as curriculum.
Rather than release the entire video series as one exhaustive course, we’re recording each lesson as a self-contained video set. We hope this approach avoids the potential of a beginner feeling overwhelmed by the breadth of After Effects, and allows you to more easily focus on the areas of the program you’re most interested in or need to learn for a particular job. To this end, we’re also taking some of the lessons in the book that covered two disparate features—such as Painting and the Puppet Tool—and breaking them out into separate video courses. This video series will be relevant for both CS4 and CS5 versions of After Effects.
Today, the first three of 19 total installments in the series are now available in the Online Training Library®:
This Saturday marks the start of the NAB conference in Las Vegas. The conference brings audio, video, and film professionals together for five days of inspiring keynote sessions, demos of the latest cutting edge equipment, and hundreds of vendors in the vast exhibit hall.
There are quite a few lynda.com authors who will be speaking at NAB this year, and it’s not too late to register for tickets.
I sat down with lynda.com authors Chris and Trish Meyer, legends in the motion graphics industry, to talk about where they came from, who inspires them, and what the future holds. Here’s what they had to say.
When did you get started in the motion graphics industry? What was the industry like then? What/who inspired you?
We got our start back in the early 1990s, which was when motion graphics started moving to the desktop. We were one of the development sites for After Effects 1.0, and used a lot of “1.0” software back then. This was the era where traditional post production houses charged in the area of $500/hour, one gigabyte hard drives were just starting to appear, and capturing uncompressed standard definition video (one frame at a time) to a computer file required a dedicated Abekas hard disk recorder. Desktop-based tools like After Effects were what we call today a “disruptive technology.” Indeed, the reason we started writing books was to help train other desktop motion graphics artists about the right way to do things, so that clients would have no reason to pick a traditional post house over a desktop-based artist.
Vignetting is a classic photography technique involving darkening areas of an image in order to focus the viewers attention on a desired point of interest. In After Effects: Extended Vignette Techniques, Chris Meyer shows how vignettes can also be leveraged in video. He demonstrates how to frame a subject better, fix a poorly composed shot, give a vintage feel, create “quiet areas” to overlay text and other graphics, and how to blend an image over a new background. Vignettes can be created using masking, shape layers, and gradients. Be sure to check out the entire course for more insight and techniques.
Hey lynda.com peeps! In case you are thinking about your summer vacations now, you might be interested in planning them around some SWEET conferences, workshops and tradeshows, where you can see the lynda.com authors you know and love in person. Here are a few you might want to check out:
What better way to end your summer fun than with Flash on the Beach in Brighton UK where you can see Craig Swann, Rich Shupe, Hillman Curtis, Mike Chambers andLee Brimlow! This conference is from September 20-23rd and I wish I could go with you. So many authors in such a cool location!