Aetuts+ Book Review: After Effects CS5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques
Adobe After Effects CS5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques by Mark Christiansen surveys the art of compositing and visual effects using Adobe After Effects. While most books on AE focus on motion graphics or step-by-step instruction, this one gives you a succinct overview of optimizing the use of AE for effects compositing, as well as covering a variety of advanced topics to get you closer to photorealistic renders.
Some of the brief explanations put into stark relief just what you don’t know, so beginning AE users should first look at various free introductory tutorials available on the web like Aetuts+ AE for Beginners, After Effects CS5: Learn By Video, Classroom: Basic Compositing and Animation in After Effects CS5 by Adam Shaening-Pokrasso, Adobe TV’s Learn After Effects CS5, and for CS3 users Adobe Video Workshop and Video Copilot Basic Training, or training libraries like Lynda.com. You can find many additional details using the AE Help system. An even better reference, for example if you need visual outlines of the rendering pipeline, would be Creating Motion Graphics for After Effects for AE CS5 by Trish and Chris Meyer, which catalogs just about every feature niche and quirk in AE.
Intermediate users can jump right into AE Studio Techniques because it builds a solid foundation for working as a power user in AE. Editors and motion graphics artists interested in expanding horizons, as well as those lax in staying abreast of the latest versions of AE, will all benefit from the focus on VFX best practices.
The first section (one-third) of the book deals with UI, using alpha channels, masks & composite modes, and optimizing rendering. The main focus is on the Timeline, AE’s “killer app.” Here Christiansen discusses navigation, the Graph Editor, control of keyframes, and time manipulation — with shortcuts & tips to rule them all. Even experienced AE users should pick up something in this section.
The next section on the essentials of compositing is the heart of the book. The benefit of gaining control over color and the ability to create keys and procedural mattes can not be overstated.
- Tonal and color correction with levels and curves (but not the Color Finesse filter), and good coverage of color matching
- Generating mattes, “Steps to a Perfect Key.” and strong coverage of keying and the KeyLight filter
- Rotoscoping and paint, Roto Brush & Refine Matte, morphing with the Reshape filter, the Puppet Tool, and Shape animation
- Tracking is covered in depth; matching motion blur, rotation and zoom; nulls, 2.5D and 3D tracking, Mocha & Mocha Shape
- AE’s 3D Camera, optics and lens matching, grain, and a camera mapping technique that improves on regular multiplane animation
- 32-bit float compositing, good intro to HDR and other colorspaces, Color Management in AE, gamma, QuickTime quirks
The last section of the book explores best practices of common creative VFX tasks involving light, environment matching, heat, and explosions.
- Neutralizing hotspots, color looks including Day for Night, a simple solution for Light Wrap, relected light, shadows, multi-pass 3D composites
- Climate and environment matching for thick air, smoke, precipitation, sky replacements
- Pyrotechnics including firearms muzzle flashes, subtleties of heat distortion, energy effects like lightsabers and lightning, creating and using fire elements and explosions
After Effects CS5 VFX Studio Techniques gives you a firm foothold in visual effects in only 475 pages, but sacrifice comes at the expense of some detailed explanations of features for text, some video technicalities, and workflows to other Adobe applications like 3D, Vanishing Point exchange and Dynamic Link. But you can find information on these features in many other places like AE Help and resources noted above. There is an online sample chapter, “How to Optimize Projects in Adobe After Effects CS5,” but it’s missing the friendly readability of the book and eBook PDF.
This book takes a different approach, not only by giving you ‘just the facts’, but by adding a task-based focus on visual effects. This new edition adds coverage of new features like the Roto Brush, Refine Matte, and Mocha & Mocha Shape as well as tips on newer scripts that enhance and automate tedious workflows. The book is a great one-stop shop for learning visual effects and, while not a cookbook, is suitable for all kinds of users. It complements the approaches in The DV Rebel’s Guide and Creating Motion Graphics and adds divide and conquer’ methods and practical tips to solve specific problems in After Effects.