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After Effects Tutorial – “Infographics that Animate Themselves”

I recently shared a time-saving expression that I cobbled together some time ago, which has saved me tons of time and keyframes over multiple projects.

Basically, it allows you to bring in tons of layers at the same time, & control them all with a few sliders on a single control layer. It’s great for adjusting the timing of a lot of layers at once. The best part is that, once you’ve created the setup, you can copy and paste this to any new composition & your layers will essentially animate themselves.

The good people at AEtuts+ have the tutorial over at their site. Hopefully it helps you as much as it has helped me.

Attack!

Dug this test render/comp up from a few months ago. The robot was built for a Prolifik project and used in design elements, but I just couldn’t help scuffing him up and putting him into a scene for fun.

Here’s what he was actually used for:

How to Work with Creatives.

As I’ve talked to other designers and creatives about difficulties with clients (let’s face it: it’s what we do every time we get together), somewhere along the line I realized that many of the problems we face are easily remedied with a simple change in mindset.

So, if you are someone who works with creatives (designers, animators, video producers, writers, etc), here’s a little tip from our side of the fence – and if you’re the creative, try relaying this to your clients. I whole-heartedly believe that this single sentence can vastly improve your experiences:

Creatives are, at the core, problem solvers – so treat them as such.

Early in art school, I learned this simple truth from one of my professors: “As a designer, you must be a good problem solver.” It may seem like art & design is no more than making pretty pictures, but the reality is that every project we approach is, essentially, a series of specific problems that must be solved. Each problem contains a vast number of variables. Some are big picture variables (such as the goal, or the target audience), while others are more detail-based (such as paper size or running time).

An experienced creative knows this and finds an answer to all of the problems in a single solution. Often, the result is as delicately balanced as a house of cards. Each element is placed for a specific reason with numerous variables in mind. As the client, it’s easy to look at a finished piece and decide to make “a few tweaks,” without realizing that your specific requests may cause the whole balance to come crashing down.

So, how can you apply this idea? Here is my best advice:

Structure your feedback in the form of a problem, not a solution.

This is big. It’s the magic fairy dust that can make everything better. When changes need to be made, one sure way to hinder the process is to format the feedback incorrectly. When that first proof arrives, it’s natural to spot a problem and then try to fix it. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong response.

You’re paying a creative to solve the problem for you; so, for the sake of your project, let them solve it. They (should) have the knowledge and experience that qualifies them to find the best solution. They also know why they’ve strategically placed every wall in your house of cards, so they know which walls need to stay and which ones can go.

So, instead of “make that blue,” your response should be “we don’t think that color works.” Instead of “make this bigger,” try “this isn’t prominent enough.” It’s a subtle shift, but it frees your designer to do what he or she does best. Otherwise, you limit their ability to give you the best solution, and make their job harder by forcing them to fit a square-shaped request into a round hole.

So, try it next time. Even if you’re no stranger to working with creatives, you might improve something. And, creatives, don’t forget to treat yourself as your clients’ problem solver, either. That’s your job.

How to Get Better Feedback for your Design Projects

As a designer, I frequently ask people for their opinions of the pieces I’m working on. It’s a pretty necessary part of the design process, but the reality is that not all of the feedback people give is helpful. So, how do you know which critiques are valid, and which you should dismiss?

For years, I agonized over this question with each project. Finally, I landed on something that significantly lessened the amount of stray, irrelevant responses I received. So, here are some thoughts that have helped me over time. Maybe they’ll help some of you, as well.

The problem:

The big issue with searching for feedback is this: Once you ask someone for their opinion, they are immediately no longer your target audience.

Think about it. When you ask someone to give their thoughts on a design, you’ve just made them a part of the process, and they begin to view your work in ways that your target audience never will. Most people will genuinely want to help, and even feel pressure to do so. There’s a natural sense that, if they DON’T find something to criticize, they will be letting you down. So, they look for something, whether it’s really an issue or not, until they find it.

The solution:

In order to get more honest, unadulterated results, we need to remove the pressure to “find something wrong.” The best way I’ve found to do this is to ask more direct questions.

Ideally, I try to ask a “yes” or “no” question first (“Do you understand what this is trying to communicate?” or “Does this look like something you would wear/buy/etc?”). Depending on the response, I may move to a question with a broader answer (“What message does this send to you?” or “What feeling do you get from the colors?”). This gives people a way to respond easily, which satisfies their need to help, and doesn’t put them on the spot to find something wrong. It also allows me to get the answers I need for particular questions I have. Most importantly, it still leaves the door open for people to point out anything that truly is causing a legitimate unexpected reaction, which is what I’m looking for in the first place.

Just be careful not to be too leading. You still want to keep it fairly vague, because you can easily sway their feedback if you don’t.

For years, I solicited feedback by saying as little as possible, believing that saying too much would skew my results. I would often ask no more than “what do you think of this?” and wait for a reaction. Since using this method, however, I’ve found that the responses I receive are much more helpful. It’s a subtle change, and I hope it helps you as much as it has me.

Blog Neglect.

A few months ago, I took on a new role as creative partner at Prolifik Films. It’s been the best decision I could have made, and I’ve already been a part of some great projects. We’ve got a lot of work and life is good. The only downside is that I’ve been so busy doing things I love, that I’ve neglected my blog again (is that really a downside?).

So, in an effort to remedy this, I’m going through the (short) list of half-written blog posts that have stacked up over the past couple of years, and am making a commitment to finish them. Most are more theoretical ideas about design and the process, which is why I never posted them, but recent conversations have brought them back to mind. So, in the next couple of weeks I’ll have posts about teaching clients how to deal with creatives, soliciting better design feedback, and others.

In the meantime, we’ve just posted a quick showreel at Prolifik that you can check out:

3D anaglyph in Photoshop or After Effects

I’ve always been obsessed with 3D images. Even as a kid, I discovered that I could create my own 3D drawings with a red ink pen and a blue ink pen (what I wouldn’t give to find that epic Ninja Turtle battle I drew in fourth grade). So, it’s no surprise I still love creating anaglyphs (the red/blue kind of 3D) in both Photoshop and After Effects. After being asked a few times, I thought I’d share the process.

NOTE: You’ll need a pair of Red/Cyan glasses for this to work. Mine have the RED ON THE LEFT and the CYAN ON THE RIGHT. If yours are reversed, you’ll need to flip the colors at the “Levels” step.

First, you should know that – for stills – there is an iPhone app (3D Camera) that will do this all for you, extremely easily. It’s limited to the resolution of the phone, and it only works in portrait mode – not landscape – but it’s still the easiest way to make anaglyph images in no time. I love it and use it often. However, if you want to use a higher-res camera, don’t have an iPhone, or want to create anaglyphs in video or animations, this is how it’s done in both Photoshop AND After Effects* (demonstrated with Photoshop):

Take two images:

Whether with your camera, 3D software, or video camera, take two images – slightly offset left and right. Try to keep them level vertically. This is how your eyes create depth, and it’s the only way to do this correctly. For stills, you can use the same camera, but for video you’ll need two (I’ve rigged two Flip cameras side by side and had success). In 3D software, create two cameras and render them separately. Now you’re ready to open Photoshop or After Effects.

Bring in both photos and layer them on top of each other in the same document. I always put the left on top.

Desaturate the images.

3D anaglyphs can be pulled off in full color by avoiding certain hues and through color correction, but there’s a bit of a science to it, and it’s far easier to create them in black and white, so that’s what we’ll be doing.

Line up your middle ground.

Aligned images
Temporarily lower the opacity of the top layer to align the positions of a subject in the image. The spot you align will become your neutral depth plane, (the plane that will appear even with the frame of the image). Anything in front of this plane will appear to protrude out at the viewer. Anything behind it will recede back into the frame.
TIP: Try to keep anything that bleeds out of frame even with, or behind, this plane to prevent awkward results.

Add the red/blue with Levels.


NOTE: this is for glasses with RED on the LEFT and BLUE (cyan, actually) on the RIGHT. If your glasses are reversed, you’ll need to reverse the colors mentioned here.
On the right image, add a Levels filter and set the Red channel to zero. Then on the left image, set both the Blue and Green to zero
.

Finish with a blend mode.


Set the left (red) layer’s blend mode to Screen. Crop off any errors around the edges, and you’re done! Put on your glasses and enjoy.

*IN AFTER EFFECTS:
The most common method of creating anaglyphs in AE is the “3D Glasses” effect. However, it only allows horizontal control over the alignment of your images. So, if your shots are even a little bit off vertically, the effect won’t work correctly. For this reason, I find that it’s more effective to use the same manual method in both Photoshop and After Effects.

If you still want to try it the other way, this is how you would use the effect: Import your two footage into AE and create a composition. Under Effects/Perspective, apply “3D Glasses” to one of your layers and set the Left View & Right View to the corresponding footage. Then, align the Convergence Offset until your images line up. That’s it.

Hopefully this has sparked some interest. If you create anaglyphs, be sure to drop a link in the comments or shoot me a message. I love looking at them.

Cinema 4D to After Effects CS5 – .aec import fix

Just a little help to any motion design readers out there. Hopefully it will save you the frustation I experienced.

If you’ve recently upgraded to C4D 11.5 and AE CS5, you may find that importing an .aec file doesn’t work like it did before. Even after copying the proper plug-in into your AE folder, any .aec file will still be ghosted out. After some trial and error, I finally found the reason: The plug-in that shipped with C4D 11.5 is outdated.

Here’s the new plug-in at Maxon’s site. Unzip it and drop it into the Plug-ins folder inside your AE application folder, and all will be well again.

If you haven’t used an .aec (After Effects Composition) file before, it’s an exceptionally helpful way to marry Cinema4D and After Effects, by syncing up 3D environments and cameras to avoid extra renders and speed up production time. Here’s a tutorial from Maxon to get you started.

LifeChurch.tv – Season Finale

As some of you know, I have been the senior graphic designer at LifeChurch.tv for a few years now (in fact, that’s probably the only reason a lot of you even know about this blog). I can’t even explain how great it has been to work here in the “Bling” building, alongside some of the most talented people I’ve ever met – my creative soul mates in many ways.  The environment is a blast, the projects are creatively fulfilling, and the sky is all but literally the limit. Seriously, you should all check out the http://www.blingblog.tv just to see what these people are up to.

So, it’s pretty hard for me to announce that I am stepping down from my role here. Without getting into too much detail, I’ve taken a position that will allow my family to overcome some significant challenges, and will allow me to spend more time with them. While I’m saddened to leave a place that’s been so fun and fulfilling for me, I’m excited about what the future holds for my family as a whole.

Obviously, I’m not leaving design behind, and I’m looking forward to the work I’ll be able to create in my new position. And, while it is a corporate role, I will still be involved in ministry media through freelance projects that, I’m excited to say, are already beginning to line up. If you stick with me, I’ll be showing those here as well.

A big thanks to all of you whom I’ve met, talked to, worked with, and gotten to know because of my time here. The island is done with me.

P.S. For best results, re-read this post while listening to “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men.