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advice sought on visual effects introduction book

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Doug Buckseradvice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Oct 29, 2012 at 9:14:12 pm


Thanks to the very kind people at BorisFX, I just upgraded to Red 5 from Graffiti using the recent cross-grade promotion.

In order to learn to use Red properly, I'd like to understand the basics of visual effects, so that I can understand how to implement them using Red. Although there are quite a few tutorials and videos on the BorisFX website, I haven't been able to locate a "Visual Effects 101" example. I've looked at Amazon and there are quite a few visual effects books, but I don't know which is suitable for a beginner trying to understand the concepts.

Can I please request any advice about a good book or tutorial series which explains the basics (e.g., the terminology, common effects and when to use them)?

Thanks for your help.


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peter mcauleyRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Oct 31, 2012 at 2:38:18 pm

Hi Doug,

Well ... if you are asking for general compositing knowledge / training then you should start by reading this book:

The text in book should provide you with answers for many of the questions that you may have regarding the fine art of digital compositing.

If you are looking for tips / tricks / techniques that are specific to the Boris product line, there are several tutorial DVD's that we offer for sale on our web site. You can find them here:

You might also want to consider taking a class ... there are most likely some editing or compositing user groups close to where you live and I'd suggest finding one near you, going to one of the meetings and asking some of the folks there for some good training resources.

I hope this helps,


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Doug BuckserRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 2, 2012 at 11:04:58 am

Hi Peter,

Thanks very much for the advice. I have ordered the on-line training for Boris and the book from Amazon (got the last copy of it, in fact). It should arrive here in about 4-6 weeks and I'm really looking forward to reading it.

I really appreciate the guidance. Thanks.


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Marcus WarrenRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 4, 2012 at 9:03:19 pm

Also consider:

Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist: A Practical Guide to Principles & Techniques by Angie Taylor

The VES Handbook of Visual Effects: Industry Standard VFX Practices and Procedures

Motion Graphic Design: Applied History and Aesthetics by Jon S. Krasner

Also elaborate more on specifically what you would like to achieve.

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Doug BuckserRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 5, 2012 at 3:07:02 am

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for the book references. I'll look for them on Amazon.

You asked about what I'm hoping to achieve.

When home users first started to create web pages, there were lots of pages with flashing letters, dancing Santas and so on. Many people didn't know that because they could do something, that didn't mean that they should do it.

I'm just a humble home user who wants to make better videos of our vacations and family life. Once I become sufficiently good at it, I'll start to incorporate the visual effects into videos for work.

I don't have any formal training in video editing or visual effects production. Therefore, I hope to learn the basics of video design and practices, so I'll know when and whether to insert a visual effect or fancy transition and when it's better to keep it simple. I don't want to create lower thirds full of dancing Santas if it's not the right time or place.

Red 5 offers so much functionality, I have a responsibility to my family not to burn their retinas out with over the top, counter-productive fancy stuff. So I hope that these books will provide a foundation of what to do and what not to do.


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Marcus WarrenRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 5, 2012 at 6:15:09 am

Hi Doug. I enjoyed reading your reply.

Based on your goal, let me suggest a different approach. All of the books that I recommended will be useful to you at some point, but what you may want to concentrate on is good story telling. Tell a good story first. When you add effects, those effects should be in service of the story, nothing else.

It doesn't matter if your video is a vacation video, wedding video, documentary or feature film, tell a good story. Use color, color correction, color grading, sound effects, choice of fonts, transitions, and effects to help tell the story, pace the story and move the story forward.

This old adage is a very worth goal: "A good story, well told." Story is King.

You should not use an effect, or transition (or whatever) just for the sake of using it, or because it just looks cool (which sometimes is hard not to do). Use them only to serve the greater story. If you use that approach, you will become quite selective in what effects you use, why you use them, and how you use them. That in itself will help you learn VFX, because you will know exactly what you want to do to, based on the story that you are telling.

If you are really new to video production, I recommend a subscription to Videomaker magazine. A one year subscription is less than $20 (if you are in the US). The writing style is aimed at beginners and intermediate users, but believe me, it will be a long time before you outgrow the usefulness of the magazine. Also watch movies that you like (and the special features), and figure out what worked as far as story telling and the audio and effects that support the story and why it worked. Also peruse the videos at Digital Juice ( They use to do lots of tutorial videos (not so much these days), but those older videos are still on the site. Many of them are product-specific, but there is really nothing that you can't achieve in RED. Even their product promo videos are good sources of inspiration. Many of the Digital Juice videos are downloadable.

As you learn, pace yourself. On a couple of videos, concentrate on font selection, and just do fade-ins and out of the titles. Choose fonts that convey the character or mood of the piece. The next few videos concentrate on color correction and grading. The videos after that, play around with speed ramping - making some scenes in the video move faster or slower. Then the next couple of video, use lighting effects to "relight" some of the scenes in the videos. The next set of videos, use sound effects. This "go slow" approach will prevent you from getting overwhelmed and will let you build on concepts you've grasped.

There are tons of books on telling good stories using moving pictures so I suggest researching them and picking one or two. Go for the ones that emphasize the three act story structure. Beyond the story how-to books, other books that are worth reading are How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck, the Shut Up and Shoot series, The Visual Story, and Sight, Sound, Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics by Herbert Zettl. This last one is very expensive, so check used book stores and sellers for earlier versions. It will be worth the hunt.The newest edition is $215 on Amazon. I've seen earlier versions in a used book store for under $25. I would also go ahead and pick up the Design Essentials book mentioned in my other posts. Also Developing Digital Short Films is a good book if you want one that gives you assignments and exercises to complete.

Learning to be a good video maker can be a life long endeavor. You should never stop learning and you should enjoy the journey.

One final word. Never underestimate the value of good, clean, pristine location audio and good lighting practices. Audio is at least half of the video experience and proper lighting (and exposure) are essential to making good videos.

Keep me posted on how you are doing.

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Doug BuckserRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 6, 2012 at 2:19:13 am

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for the information. I downloaded "how to shoot video which doesn't suck" from Amazon and am learning a lot from it. The author writes quite a bit about doing a bit of planning beforehand, rather than just grabbing whatever happens in front of you. Even for my little home-made videos about family events and vacations, i can see the results would have been better if I'd been better prepared. Shooting with a purpose in mind is going to get better results than randomly capturing stuff and hoping to organise it later.

In the book, the author says that it's better to shoot the video without zooming if possible, to avoid the shakiness which accompanies zoom. I'm a bit confused, though, about whether shooting at the widest point results in lens distortion (as it can when wide-angle still camera lenses are used on people). If I shoot with a wide angle lens with a Canon 7D for example, the person's nose becomes alarmingly large if I shoot at the wrong angle. Does this happen with video cameras as well?

I also purchased the design book from Amazon. It's a very interesting book. I'm just in the first chapter where she's explaining how horizons work and x-, y- and z-dimensions. No doubt I'll learn a lot from it as well. I'd like to understand a bit about how titles and lower thirds work -- at this point, I don't have any idea, so it's going to be good to understand some theory. For example, I'd like to understand how to select a font and how the different fonts affect the effect differently. The bonus is that Red 5 appears to make this process simple, so it's going to be straight-forward to experiment quite a bit.

I also ordered the second edition of the visual effects book that you recommended. I bought it from the Book Depository in the UK. It's a bit more expensive than Amazon, but includes postage. As the book is approximately 700 pages heavy, I suspect that the postage is going to be significant...

Thanks again for all your advice. It has given me a lot to think about and I'm looking forward to practicing and putting the thoughts into action.


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Marcus WarrenRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 7, 2012 at 2:04:22 pm

Design Essentials will help you with font selection and usage.

The author is referring to shooting with the camera handheld. If you are shooting handheld, a good way to get smoother shots is to shoot looser. You can experiment with this yourself to see how steady a shoot looks zoomed in (while hand-holding) compared to shooting the same shoot wider. it's just harder to maintain a smooth shot while zoomed in(or zooming) as opposed to shooting that shoot wider. Additionally, if you want a tighter shoot, move closer to the subject while using the same foal length. Shoot so that you can cut (during the edit) between the wider and tighter shoots. Obviously, the moving the camera part will not be part of your final edit, just the change in shot composition as you cut from one to the other. I hope that I am being clear on this. Let me know if I am not. Keep in mind that you can use RED to so simulated zooms on shots.
As far as any lens distortion, you will have to experiment with that as well to see what works with YOUR camera. You will have to become intimate with your camera and lenses to know what works in any given situation. An external monitor will help give you a truer view of what you will actually see in your edit session.

Keep in mind that you can zoom successfully, particularly if your camera is on some kind of stabilizer; tripod, monopod, rig, etc.

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Marcus WarrenRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 4, 2012 at 9:24:21 pm

I wish that I would have followed the link that Peter gave you earlier, I would have suggested another book by the same author.

Peter's link leads to the original book by Brinkmann. The link below takes you to the second edition that was written almost ten years later...

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Marcus WarrenRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 4, 2012 at 9:10:46 pm

This one is pretty indispensable:

Apple Pro Training Series: Encyclopedia of Visual Effects by Damian Allen, Brian Connor and Ron Brinkmann.

It's a slightly older book that focuses mainly on Apple's Shake and to lesser degrees, Adobe After Effects and Apple's Motion, but the concepts are applicable to RED and the book truly is an "encyclopedia" in terms of the knowledge it presents.

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Marcus WarrenRe: advice sought on visual effects introduction book
by on Nov 4, 2012 at 9:35:19 pm

If I were designing a course to follow I would recommend reading the books in this order:

Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist
Motion Graphic Design: Applied History and Aesthetics
Encyclopedia of Visual Effects
Digital Compositing for Film and Video, Third Edition
The Art and Science of Compositing, Second Edition

I am no expert by any measure but I do own all of the above books including the first edition of The Art and Science of Composting.

I don't have the VES Handbook of Visual Effects, but it is on my "get list".

Also, check out Steve Wright's Compositing Visual Effects: Essentials for the Aspiring Artist, 2nd Edition.

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