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Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE

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Scott O'Hara
Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 28, 2012 at 4:41:40 pm

Hey all,

Couple things that are driving me nuts. I love AE and what it can do. I watch tutorials and think it's amazing what can be produced out of this program. The problem I'm having isn't copying a tutorial to make something look pretty darn good, but it's being able to apply the skills learned in my own projects without spying (a tutorial) on somebody elses. I want to be that person making the cool tutorial or figuring something out, or working on a film and knowing what needs to be done (in AE) and how it needs to be shot for effects, etc.

I know this is a wide open question but does anyone have any experience with this? What got you over that hump? Is it just experimenting and not looking at a tutorial that made you finally start understanding when and how to make certain effects. Is it just a matter of time? is it creating cheat-sheets for yourself?

I haven't been using AE very long. Maybe a month or two. I just want to expedite the learning process and would love to hear from people as to how they did this and got to be great at using this program.

Thanks a bunch and I know everybody is a different kind of learner, but overall what strategies worked.

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Dave LaRonde
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 28, 2012 at 4:53:20 pm

When I was first learning AE -- version 3.1, for those scoring at home -- I relied on two different kinds of training materials: Adobe's Classroom in a Book, and Total Training's AE course. Since it was for work, the boss paid for this stuff.

On my own, I also bought Chris and Trish Meyer's Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects book & DVD. There's a whole series of them for various versions.

The thing is, you need to begin at the beginning. There are too many basics to foul you up. Too much grunt work to learn about the interface, footage, getting used to effect controls, etc. Picking up tutorials on the internet don't help you get a clear view of how this baby works.

Here's a good starting point, and you get a lot of options on how you want to progress: paid/free, etc.:

Dave LaRonde
Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA

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Matthew Keane
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 28, 2012 at 5:15:05 pm


I don't think you should consider tutorials as 'spying' - they're a good way to learn new techniques. I've been using AE for a good number of years now (since v3.1) and still regularly see tutorials about using an existing plug-in in a new way, or a new function of AE that I haven't played with yet. One of the things I like most about AE is that there's always something new to learn, or new ways to use something you know already.

As long as you don't slavishly copy the tutorials, but use them as a starting point for something new - use your own footage, or a different type of footage to whatever was used in the tutorial, or just tweak the effect parameters to see what they all do - I consider that learning and not cheating. Tutorials can also be great time-savers when it comes to learning - not all effects have intuitive settings that you can get to grips with just by playing with them and, in that case, a quick pointer in a tutorial can save you hours of frustrating experimentation and get you to the 'ah-ha!' moment a lot quicker.

I see Dave LaRonde recommends a book by Chris and Trish Meyer. Years ago, I bought one of theirs called 'AE in Production' which uses concrete examples of production projects to demonstrate different AE techniques - I learned a lot from that.


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Walter Soyka
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 28, 2012 at 6:05:20 pm

I think there are three parts to producing good work: a good concept, good design that supports the concept, and good technique to implement the design.

Tutorials teach technique: how to use AE as a tool to achieve a specific goal. What tutorials do not teach are the higher-order elements of concept and design. There was a good thread on this subject about a year ago here: I really just want to make cool compositions... Where do I start...? [link]

Back to technique: the more you study technique, the better you will understand how to use the tools at your disposal to create the looks you can envision. As you work through tutorials, think about the problems that the tutorial is trying to solve; in your future designs, identify the problems you face, and think back to techniques you've used in the past to solve those problems, then tweak those techniques to address the specifics of the challenge at hand.

As with technique, concept and design come through hard work: practice, study, criticism, and rigorous self-improvement.

You can't just sit down at a piano and play Rachmaninoff. You have to put in the time working on your scales and arpeggios to build up your mastery of technique first. In my post in the thread I linked to above, I recommended a few ways to get that practice in for AE.

I hope this helps. This is a high-level overview of a really broad topic, so please feel free to come back with more questions to keep the conversation going.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events

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Scott O'Hara
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 29, 2012 at 4:14:40 pm

Hey all,

Thanks for the replies. It definitely gives me a pointer of where I should go. I absolutely get everyone's point that the basics are a must, and really understanding the nuts and bolts of AE is the way to go to fully harness the capabilities of the program.

That being said I'm now focusing on the best way to do what you guys have told me. Learn the ins and outs at the basic level. To do that I plan on:

Getting Adobe's Classroom in a Book, and looking into Total Training's AE course or something similar as was stated in a previous post.

Look into Chris and Trish Meyer's Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects books and DVDs (seems like that's a good source).

I also will stick with tutorials as well and really try to understand why they're doing what they're doing. I'm still having some issues with understanding the layers and how they affect one another to get the desired effect, pre comping, etc., but I'm sure the above resources will help clear that up.

What has helped is I always shoot my own stuff so there's always differences from the tutorial footage and therefore always issues that arise because I didn't film things the exact way. Or in many cases the tutorials wont show everything that I want to do. This can drive me crazy because I end up sitting at the comp for hours upon hours trying to figure something out but I know that's of benefit.

Any other suggestions/resources?

Thanks again I really appreciate you guys taking the time.

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Kevin Reiner
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 28, 2012 at 8:50:42 pm

I've been using AE for over 10 years and would consider myself very knowledgeable of its abilities. That being said, I know 20, maybe 30 percent of all its capabilities. Not because I can't understand things, but because they don't apply to my needs.

Like Dave said, learn the basics - the technical ins-and-outs of dealing with the application. Then, every job that you do, you'll learn a little more.

To punish myself, I'll occasionally look at projects from a couple years back and realize how dumb I was for doing things certain ways. On some projects that might have taken me a week, I could probably kick out in a half a day now. The thing is, in 5 years I'll be saying the same thing about projects I'm doing right now.

Honestly, the COW has been my biggest help. Just make sure you search for the answer before asking it. If one more person says that they render to .h264, I am going to pull my hair out (uh oh, too late)

Best of luck to you,

Mac Pro 2 x 3 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon
32GB Memory
Dual-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card
Dell Display (23" flat panel)
ATI Radeon HD 5770
AJA Kona LSi SD/HD capture card
Rourke 16 TB
Flanders 2460

Mac OS X 10.6.5
After Effects CS5
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Angelo Lorenzo
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Feb 29, 2012 at 12:47:03 am

No one, after a brief glance, really touched on "or working on a film and knowing what needs to be done (in AE) and how it needs to be shot for effects"

At this point, learn the program and it's limitations when it comes to compositing and tracking, but sink your brain into It also helps if you know camera operation and basic trigonometry (sine, cosine, and tangent for camera and perspective measurements) on-set.

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Jon Bagge
Re: Going crazy trying to understand the ins and outs of AE
on Mar 1, 2012 at 5:02:12 am

I'd also suggest looking at tv shows/documentaries/advertising/films or whatever interests you and see what other people are doing. Find something you like (which isn't too complicated), and try to figure out how to make it yourself.

Copying others while learning is fine. There are a whole range of common techniques that have been used a million times, but they are still useable.

Once you are more confident your own style/ideas are more likely to come forward. Don't worry too much about that too early.

Do watch tutorials (I've watched most things out there) to pick up common techniques, but stick to doing projects where you go through the phase of working it out yourself.

Having an idea in mind (wherever you got it from) and then breaking it up into little problem solving tasks is very good experience.

Jon Bagge - Editor - London, UK
Avid - FCP - After Effects

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