Anyone who is considering a career in graphics, film editing or special effects would be well advised to think about taking a course in Adobe After Effects. This leading visual effects and motion graphics program is used in the post-production of film and TV programmes, for general editing, creating visual effects and adding animations. As such, fluency in After Effects is a valuable skill for people planning to work in post-production broadcasting, as well as anybody wishing to create their own enhanced video content.
Doing it for Effects
After Effects is a non-linear editing system, or NLE – effectively a far more complex version of Cut, Copy and Paste. This allows different digital video tracks (such as camera footage, captions and visual effects) to be overlaid on top of each other at the same time or at user-determined intervals, thereby enabling many things to be shown on-screen at any given moment. In turn, that makes After Effects suitable for complex editing and visual-effects work, and it is typically used by filmmakers or the post-production teams responsible for television programmes.
Unlike linear editing packages, users can skip directly to any frame within the footage, either by clicking on a timeline image, entering a time code or searching for specific data. This is also a non-destructive form of editing, because there is no need to lose information – data can be loaded into a master file and edited or trimmed without affecting the original data document. That ensures far more flexibility when editing, since it isn’t necessary to get things right first time.
Before and After
When After Effects was launched in 1993, its capabilities were very limited by modern standards, and yet at the time, it was considered revolutionary, with non-linear editing still in its infancy. The ability to undertake layered compositing or add visual effects seemed exciting and futuristic in an age before the PlayStation or powerful home computers. When After Effects was acquired from original developers Company of Science and Art by Aldus (and thereafter Adobe), it gradually evolved to tackle more complex roles, such as adding multiple effects onto each layer, removing any dust or scratches on video footage, and introducing blurring effects. The current version of After Effects (12) is also the first to embrace Cloud computing, in keeping with the modern vogue for accessing programs (and getting instant updates) via the Cloud.
Today, After Effects can be used to achieve incredible visual effects. It can distort video footage of a person to make them appear demonic, with creatures crawling under their skin and smoke emerging from their ears. It can generate stunning captions and title sequences with illuminated moving swirls casting shadows across 3D characters. Planets can be shown disintegrating and spurting lava, while everyday objects can be distorted and reshaped to suggest implosions, dancing, or countless other animations. Advanced After Effects courses can teach all these skills and more.
Plug and play
Like a number of other Adobe packages, After Effects utilises something called plug-ins. As the name suggests, these are additional bits of programming that can be bolted onto the main software package, to handle individual tasks that the software wasn’t originally intended to deal with. Software companies actively encourage the creation and sharing of third-party plug-ins, as it enhances the capabilities of their packages.
Examples of After Effects plug-ins include sub-programs that can create realistic snowflakes, crop out safety wires used during stunt sequences, or add cartoon/cinema effects into a conventional piece of video footage. Because additional plug-ins are being developed all the time, there is always something new to learn, even for people who already boast a working familiarity with this package.
Speaking the language
Because After Effects uses hugely complex software to provide incredible effects and editing, its sales literature and user help sections are populated with industry jargon that can be hard for a novice to understand. Terms like 3D ray tracing or warp stabilisation will mean little to newcomers, which is why an After Effects course holds real value. Not only will such a course guide users through the steps involved in editing and adding effects, it will also explain the concepts behind techniques like 3D light casting or object disintegration.
The word ‘adobe’ describes an earthen brick, so it seems fitting that the eponymous software company has a full house of design and visual effects packages, all of which support and stand alongside each other. After Effects is the sibling of Dreamweaver (used to design and animate websites), the InDesign desktop publishing package, and Flash, which is commonly responsible for animations, transitions and moving content on websites. Because there is considerable crossover in functionality and file-sharing among these packages, it may be worth considering a course in Dreamweaver or a Photoshop course, to complement skills learned while undertaking a course in After Effects.
By Neil Cumins