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Production Values

by Mark Christiansen

Mark Christiansen is the author of After Effects Studio Techniques (Adobe Press). He has created visual effects and animations for feature films including Pirates of the Caribbean 3, The Day After Tomorrow and films by Robert Rodriguez. Past corporate clients include Adobe, Cisco, Sun, Cadence, Seagate, Intel and Medtronic, and broadcast work has appeared on HBO and the History Channel. Mark's roles have included producing, directing, designing and effects supervision, and his solo work has appeared at film festivals including L.A. Shorts Fest....

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adobe after effects scripts

After Effects Script of the Week: Change Render Locations

Sometimes a small gem can be found right where your nose prevents you from seeing it.

By Mark Christiansen | September 13, 2011

Change Render Locations is included with the regular After Effects installation - go ahead, look under File > Scripts, there it is - and it solves one tedious After Effects workflow issue, that you can't reassign multiple items in the Render Queue to a new render location.Before selecting the script, make sure any render destined for a new location is checked, as that's how this scripts knows which render location to move. Now simply assign the new location, and you get confirmation of the new output path.Badabing, badaboom. Read More

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After Effects Script of the Week: pt ExpressEdit

Power-users, end your struggles with large sets of expressions.

By Mark Christiansen | September 09, 2011

Expressions are among the most powerful additions you can make to your After Effects game. They are also fragile; set up 4 dozen staggered dependency layers to create a pattern form and then somehow delete the layer they point to, even for a moment, and all of the expressions are reset. And making a fix that applies to each of those layers can be the very definition of tedious.There's the magic word - tedious. If it's an After Effects fask to which that description fits, it's an obvious candidate for a script, and pt ExpressEdit is the right tool for anyone who works with expressions a lot, or even a lot of expressions once in a while. Read More

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After Effects Script of the Week: MochaImport

Much more than a workflow enhancer, this one unlocks new possibilities for using mocha for After Effects

By Mark Christiansen | August 31, 2011

My number one tip for anyone who needs to do tracking in After Effects is to break open the installation of mocha for After Effects (or "mocha AE") that ships with the application (and has since CS4). Nominally a "planar tracker" used for screen replacements and so on, it can actually be used to track just about anything with more intelligence than the point tracker built in to After Effects. The thing that keeps most people from doing this is:a. they do not know that mocha AE is included with After Effectsb. they don't know how to use mocha AEc. they don't know what to do with the tracking or corner pin data once it's generatedLet's consider (a) solved, assuming you read the first paragraph, and resources are available to address (b). That leaves (c). Read More

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After Effects Script of the Week: KeyTweak

A huge time-saver to fix drifting motion tracks and animated masks that need repositioning

By Mark Christiansen | August 22, 2011

Note: This is an ongoing series that features one After Effects script a week. For an overview on scripts, check out the debut post.Just this morning, I found myself stuck. I had a good corner pin track of a handheld cell phone screen that needed to be replaced, but there was a problem; the visible, trackable object was the hand holding the phone rather than the phone itself, and the hand moved and changed its angle as the shot progressed. Fixing this in MochaAE, where the track was created, was difficult, because Mocha was doing its job correctly.Instead, I used KeyTweak (Shareware, current suggested price $5) to change the frame-by-frame motion track data over time.

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After Effects Script of the Week: pt EffectSearch

Huge problem solver offers 2 huge features when dealing with effects: search and instances

By Mark Christiansen | August 15, 2011

Note: this article is part of an ongoing series that features one After Effects script a week. For an overview on scripts, check out the debut post.The problem: You are up against a deadline and working with a project from a freelancer. You open a project that was created on another system and boom! - too many third party plug-in effects are missing for After Effects even to tell you which ones, or where they are located. You face a long, tedious process of looking in every comp for every layer with applied effects, to attempt to locate the missing ones.Or you can try pt EffectSearch. Not only can it return a list of all plug-ins of a certain type in your project - missing, third-party, built-in, on or off, within all comps, the open comp or a selection you make in the Project panel - it can take action on the result. Read More

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After Effects Script of the Week: Immigration

This powerful script provides a whole missing feature set

By Mark Christiansen | August 11, 2011

Ask any veteran After Effects artist who uses scripts which ones should really be built right into the application and among the top handful for most artists will be Immigration. It provides an interface to work with image sequences, something that the file system (Finder or Windows Explorer) and Adobe applications which rely on it (all of them) doesn't do well. Read More

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Script of the Week: Shortcut Key Reference

Place the most powerful boost to your workflow right in the UI

By Mark Christiansen | August 01, 2011

This week's script of the week does not, by itself, replace any multiple-step tasks in After Effects for you, yet it may have the most power overall to make your workflow more efficient.In my book and whenever teaching people to work in After Effects I find myself a huge advocate of keyboard shortcuts, of which there are literally hundreds in After Effects. Some of these shortcuts are listed right in the UI menus, while others can only be discovered if you look them up, or if someone teaches them to you. Given enough time, you can learn them in an ad-hoc fashion, but attempting to learn them all at once by, say, reading the manual cover-to-cover just doesn't work unless you have a strong photographic memory. That shouldn't be a prerequisite for working efficiently.Shortcut Key Reference simply takes the list of shortcut keys that is used by the application itself and places it in a panel that can be left open in the After Effects UI. It's searchable, so if what you're trying to do has a term that is easy to define, you can look for it, but it's also easily scannable; you can take a minute or two to just look down the list until you hit one you didn't know, and try it.The categories and names aren't always completely intuitive for searching purposes, although you will find search works great for those times when you know a certain shortcut exists and just can't remember it. By clicking the HELP button in the UI you can access a few preferences, including the ability to toggle live search updates. I turned these off since I found that, on my laptop at least, the list didn't update fast enough for me to keep typing.I recommend this script for anyone who uses After Effects, whether a beginner trying to get the hang of the workflow, or an expert who thinks there's nothing new to learn about the application. It's available as a shareware download from aescripts.com. Read More

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Script of the Week: True Comp Duplicator

Huge stumbling block of the layer/comp approach is removed from After Effects.

By Mark Christiansen | July 25, 2011

Note: this is the fourth in a series featuring one After Effects script a week, now appearing at the beginning of each week. For an overview on scripts, check out the debut post.An astonishing amount of the work that gets done in After Effects is theme and repetition work. You create something, and then there is the need to create 1, 2, 10 or 147 more of them, and for each to be similar yet unique. This generalization clearly applies to motion graphics work, in which pattern forms are part of the deal, but it applies equally well to a visual effects scene with, say, a crowd or a bunch of green screens taken with the same setup.You can duplicate a comp and re-use it, no problem. But if you're doing your job correctly in After Effects, that one comp may very well not contain all of your work, but is likely to contain sub-comps that contain all of the detail you've put into individual elements. These sub-comps often go three or four layers deep, but when you duplicate the master comp, only that one is duplicated; if you also want the sub-comps to be unique - which, more often than not, you do - you need to do that by hand.And any time you think that thought when working in After Effects, "I guess I need to do this by hand," try training yourself to think "I must find a script that does this," and thank me later. Here is a classic example of a workflow problem, plain and simple, that because of how it is implemented in After Effects, can lead not only to painstaking effort but also careless errors (particularly if you loathe repetitive tasks as much as I do, in which case careless errors are a particular Achilles heel).In Nuke, when you select a set of connected nodes and copy/paste them, all of the components in the new branch are unique (although the file path to any source footage is also copied over, which is easily repleaced). True Comp Duplicator recreates this behavior in After Effects, treating the elements of a comp like the nodes on that Nuke tree, and does it one better by allowing you to choose how the new names are formed.Sounds trivial, right? Indispensible is more like it. And if you are clever about naming your files, the result can even automatically increment the duplicates in a way that makes logical sense. The UI for this script (when installed into the ScriptUI Panels subfolder, see the first post in this series for details) lets you specify where in the name to increment and even allows you to replace one text string from the source comp with another, which is as good as a custom script for any nodal compositing app.This is the first script featured in this series that uses the "Name Your Own Price" scheme on aescripts.com; it is shareware, as are the majority of After Effects scripts, despite the recent trends to serialize the most valuable among them. This means you're not prevented from grabbing it if you're in a facility where a purchase order would be required to actually buy it on a deadline, and you're free to kick a few bucks to the developer at any time to encourage more of these great workflow enhancements to be devised and shared. Read More

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Script of the Week: 3D Extruder

More sophisticated than many plug-ins, it provides "2.9D" to otherwise flat 3D layers in After Effects.

By Mark Christiansen | July 18, 2011

Note: this is the third in a series featuring one After Effects script per week, now appearing at the beginning of each week. For an overview on scripts, check out the debut post.You are planning out an animation, or perhaps you're at the 11th hour refining it for a deadline, and you realize that some real 3D elements such as extruded and beveled text would add to the look of what you're doing. But for whatever reason - and there are many - it's not convenient to use an external tool to create 3D text. Maybe you are working somewhere that the basic installation of After Effects is all you have to work with. Or maybe you have a bunch of other options, including a copy of Cinema 4D, but because you've already created the design and animation right in After Effects, and like working that way, the idea of bringing in a third-party tool just sounds like it will obstruct your process.Adobe After Effects has been a 3D application for a long time without ever really allowing you to work with layers that themselves have 3D depth. Yes, plug-ins such as Particular create true 3D particles, and there are even ways to get a 3D model on a layer (Zaxwerks Invigrator will extrude a logo, and Plexus (which despite appearing at aescripts.com is a plug-in) and the upcoming Element import .obj files). But After Effects itself has long been what is often called a "2.5D" app, with the "postcards in space" model whereby a layer can inhabit true 3D space while itself being 2D. This has led to a number of compensation methods, including the rather clever trick of stacking a set of these 2.5D layers so that together, the stack has 3D depth. Read More

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Script of the Week: BG Renderer

The first featured script was also the first to be considered truly indispensible by most small studios

By Mark Christiansen | July 08, 2011

If you're an After Effects power user who has gotten at all into scripts, you are most likely already familiar with BG Renderer, which really changed the game for scripts by providing an alternative to much more expensive solutions to any studio or individual in an After Effects render crunch.Lloyd Alvarez apparently first devised this script on behalf of a studio that had huge rendering needs, yet was unable to harness the full computing power in-house for a simple reason. As great as the After Effects render queue is, when you click Render, the user interface - and thus the whole app - is tied up until the render is completed.The industry solution for this problem used to be a separate render software, Nucleo Pro from GridIron Software, but Lloyd's story is that the studio didn't want to pony up the several hundred dollars that each license seat cost, despite that a few hundred dollars compares favorably with the cost of buying a new Mac Pro or other dedicated render station and the software to run on it.Like other After Effects nerds, Lloyd knew that there is a free way to render After Effects compositions in the background, on spare or unused processors, while continuing to work in the After Effects UI. The aerender application installs along with the main app and can be run from the Terminal or a DOS shell, but the process is far from automatic. Getting it to work at all requires typing the correct UNIX string, and customizing it so that it doesn't take so much processing power as to make the system unusable requires extra understanding.BG Renderer was written to harness the full system resources while providing a low-cost interface available directly in After Effects, and it is available for all versions of After Effects from CS3 onward. If you have a system with multiple processors (you do) and sufficient RAM to support them (ideally in After Effects this means 2GB of RAM per proc, but you can sometimes get away with as little as 1GB if not working with large format footage and stills), and you've ever needed to keep working while pushing out a render, you've justified purchasing this script. Read More

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Introducing: After Effects Script of the Week

Introducing: After Effects Script of the Week

A new series to boost your After Effects workflow

By Mark Christiansen | July 01, 2011

The most recent edition of After Effects Studio Techniques included a new sidebar category: scripts. Over the past several years since it was introduced in After Effects 6.0 , scripting in After Effects has gone from a hidden feature set that a few nerds played around with to reduce tedious tasks, to scripts that provide substantial feature additions in After Effects.You could refer to scripts as hidden in plain sight, as these highly useful add-ons are now available to everyone, yet not everyone uses them or stays up-to-date with what is available for their use. This new series addresses that.As something of an evangelist on behalf of the best scripts out there, my goal is to help anyone who uses After Effects - not just the power users - to incorporate these simple additions, one week at a time.Most of the scripts featured here will link to aescripts.com as a central repository for scripts, where most of them are available as donation-ware. If you want to get moving faster incorporating scripts, browse the descriptions, add a script to your cart, and pay the suggested donation; it goes directly to the developer. Read More

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Red Giant’s newest Plot Device: Magic Bullet Looks 2

New and upgraded component applications, one-click suite install, aggressive pricing

By Mark Christiansen | June 28, 2011

Red Giant Software today unveiled Magic Bullet Looks 2 in dramatic fashion, boosted by a fun, humorous trailer called Plot Device that shows off what the software can do. Included in the new suite are nine individual point products also available individually, including the brand-new Cosmo for automated touch-up and an version 2 upgrade of the widely popular Looks software.Full suite cost is $799, but current owners of previous versions pay as little as $199. Watch for more in-depth coverage to follow! Read More

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Free Stereo Footage from Artbeats, and an After Effects tutorial showing how to use it in CS5.5

A video preview of what you'll find in the After Effects Studio Techniques CS5.5 update, available via download to readers next week

By Mark Christiansen | June 15, 2011

Incorporating 3D Footage into the After Effects CS5.5 Stereo Pipeline from ProVideo Coalition on Vimeo.

Here's a 7 minute tutorial to get you started incorporating 3D graphics and 3D footage using the stereo 3D pipeline in After Effects CS5.5. To learn more, look for the CS5.5 electronic update available to readers/owners of my book, After Effects Studio Techniques CS5, which will be available sometime this month (details to follow).Artbeats, your source for royalty-free stock footage, is offering everyone a free HD clip from their new Stereoscopic 3D (S3D) library. If you've been wanting to try your hand at working in 3D motion, this free download is the perfect opportunity to test it out.For those of you who are not ready for 3D, you can download the same clip in 2D for use in your everyday high def projects. You can download the free clip now thru July 5th. Read More

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Premiere Pro for DSLR in a few easy steps

Premiere Pro for DSLR in a few easy steps

The Adobe application's handling of DSLR and other card-based media is straightforward and quick, as it should be.

By Mark Christiansen | May 09, 2011

Let's face it, a lot more editors, artists and animators have Premiere Pro loaded on the systems they use every day than are actually using it. And yet over the last few years-and in particular over the past year, since Adobe started demoing real-time playback of all kinds of files, including 4K RED .r3d source, in Premiere Pro on systems with CUDA-enabled nVidia cards-there's been this notion that the application is really pretty good, and worth learning more about. Sure, clients tend to ask for other non-linear editors, so even if your day-to-day job demands that you edit in some other application, the question remains, what are you missing out on in Premiere Pro, both with its integration with other Adobe apps and by itself, if you're not using it? I'll be focusing on this in more than one article. Read More

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ASSIMILATE announces Mac support for SCRATCH, updates product line and prices

The makes of SCRATCH change the game in color correction with major announcements.

By Mark Christiansen | April 11, 2011

ASSIMILATE today announced version 6 of SCRATCH for Mac and Windows, as well as SCRATCH Lab, a lower priced toolset aimed at rapid on-set and dailies work. Both will ship "during Q2" this year.SCRATCH 6 includes many updates, the biggest of which is availability for the Mac. Long among the most highly regarded color correction tools, the software has until this point been Windows-only, and moving to the Apple platform at the dramatically lower price of $17,995 represents a leap forward in accessibility to a much broader pool of color correction artists.From the press release, SCRATCH's new compositing, color grading and paint features include: Read More

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After Effects CS5.5 in Production

"Dot" update packs in surprising number of hard-to-live-without additions

By Mark Christiansen | April 11, 2011

It's only been a year since After Effects CS5 was released, which brought the application to 64-bit and introduced Rotobrush. With the announcement today of After Effects CS5.5 we are looking at the most rapid upgrade since Adobe unified all of its applications into one dancing,kicking line of graphical chorus girls known as the Creative Suite.

What did the After Effects team manage to accomplish in a year? Maybe that isn't entirely a fair or accurate question, since there are often features that are in development, or even most finished, before a given development cycle begins. Nonetheless, for many artists version CS5.5 of After Effects may constitute more of a "must-have" than the previous couple of releases, if features alone are the gauge.

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ASSIMILATE SCRATCH first out of the gate with RED Epic HDRx support

By Mark Christiansen | April 09, 2011

ASSIMILATE sent a press release describing new support for footage from RED Epic at full 5k, including the new HDRx format that unlocks the dynamic range that is the signature of that camera. This presents a professional finishing tool as an alternative to RED's own software, which may unlock more possibilities to, for example, keyframe exposure over time, in a tool already commonly used to grade features at every level.RED MX was already being used on Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, and being posted at or near locations around the world in stereo 3D by Company 3. When the decision was made to take a few pick-up shots with the 5k RED Epic, RED and ASSIMILATE collaborated to upgrade software and firmware to allow the higher resolution, higher dynamic range footage into SCRATCH.At this writing, there are no public images or demonstrations of how exactly 5k HDRx footage is manipulated in SCRATCH. This may be something to look for at the ASSIMILATE NAB booth. Read More

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Foundry Releases CameraTracker and Kronos 5.0 Plug-ins for After Effects

CameraTracker enables 3D tracking without leaving After Effects. Kronos 5.0 brings updated retiming technology.

By Mark Christiansen | August 10, 2010

The Foundry, makers of Nuke and the Furnace tools, today released two After Effects plug-ins, and they are two of the biggest additions to come to the application in some time.CameraTracker will soon be the "I can't believe I lived without this" addition to After Effects, allowing you to matchmove a 3D camera to a scene directly from the Composition viewer. It's also an "I can't believe they pulled this off" piece of technology which rivals Trapcode for pushing the After Effects API to its limit, as it offers a multi-stage automatic tracking pipeline with the ability to manage individual points and work with selections, all without requiring a separate application.Kronos 5.0 offers a whole new approach to retiming footage, bringing the latest technology at the heart of the Furnace retiming tools to After Effects. It uses BLINK technology to leverage an nVidia CUDA GPU for optimum speed and performance with this processor-intensive task. Included with Kronos is a separate effect just for adding motion blur, called, intuitively enough, MotionBlur.Node-locked licenses of CameraTracker will be available later today for $250, floating license $375Node-locked Kronos 5.0 for After Effects are $100, floating license $150More complete coverage and reviews of these two effects to follow. Read More

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Innovation and Cinema 4D Part Two: William Dudley on Virtual Sets

Part Two of an interview with the production designer of Peter Pan, featuring circular virtual scenery around a live play.

By Mark Christiansen | July 29, 2010

In the second and final part of this interview, I chat with visionary production designer William Dudley about the usage of projection and computer generated spectacle in a live setting. (Click here to read and listen to the first part.) Read More

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Innovation and Cinema 4D Part One: William Dudley and Peter Pan 360°

Part One of an interview with the production designer of Peter Pan, featuring circular virtual scenery around a live play.

By Mark Christiansen | July 28, 2010

The SIGGRAPH conference is a week in which groundbreaking, innovative and inspiring uses of computer graphics are celebrated. Curious about the variety of uses that are found for Cinema 4D these days, I profiled a couple of innovators whose stories fit this theme.The first of these is Read More

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