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Is After Effects for Editors?

Editors on many Hollywood productions are more valuable with After Effects skills. What's stopping them?

By Mark Christiansen | December 13, 2012

An article published last month on the Adobe Press site has sparked much discussion and a little controversy, so I think it's worth following up, starting with a clarification.

The topic clearly strikes a nerve; the article became the site's most popular for the month, and among the enthusiastic response I heard back, I also received some thoughtful criticism which sounded to me like a response to things I never said - in other words, an opportunity to clarify and take the topic further.

If I had to pick one group that most wants to do more in After Effects, yet avoids even opening the application, it would be film and video editors. There are specific reasons for this, most of which have to do with how many productions even in Hollywood have come to resemble small independent projects more than big-budget VFX films

The counter-argument was made on the debut episode of the new podcast for compositors, A over B, that editing and compositing are and should be entirely separate disciplines, that compositing is somewhat of a distraction for the editor, who needs to focus on knowing the content and aesthetic of the project and work with the overall rhythm, timing and look.

No one sensible would advocate that Thelma Schoonmaker would have been better off diverging from her editing work on Hugo to help out my friends Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning on their Oscar-winning VFX work with Rob Legato. That's silly.

In the real world of Hollywood and independent production in the second decade of the 21st century, editors see more and more jobs that call for After Effects skills. The reasons for this are simple:

• There is a lower tolerance for letting little things go that can be fixed with a VFX composite
• Graphics work is more sophisticated. Every show of any merit has a carefully-designed open.
• At the same time, production cycles are shorter and budgets stingier, so that there is value in completing a project with fewer people.

With a short turn-around, it's a huge cost-saving to the production not to have to attach an After Effects artist to do a couple hours a day of quick fixes.

The number one mistake editors who want to get into After Effects make is to start with motion graphics. This is, in fact, one of the most rare and difficult skill combinations in the business. To be even a passable motion graphics designer requires not only that you can design a compelling frame, but that your sense of timing and technical acumen allows you to put it in motion, with any unique effects you might have conjured.

I love motion graphics work, but I'm especially interested in helping bridge the gap for editors to create the kind of bread-and-butter effects that not only will make them more valuable as employees, but in fact allow them - you - to live the dream of creating your own production, on whatever budget you have, with the kind of effects that can make people believe it's just as good as anything they see from the studios. This is the dream lived by such pioneers in all-in-one VFX independent filmmaking as Gareth Edwards and Neil Blomkamp.

This could very well become a series of thoughts on this topic, beginning with yours.

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Chris Meyer: | December, 16, 2012

Although the purist point of view may be that “editing and compositing are and should be entirely separate disciplines” (and of course there are reasons to focus and specialize), the reality is - for better or worse - that on many productions, people are being asked to do more and more themselves. It’s been that way for years, with no signs of reversing. Therefore, an editor that can also do some After Effects work - and maybe some audio clean-up as well, etc. etc. - will simply be more employable and a more valued employee than someone else with the same editing chops who can’t or won’t take on additional tasks.

jayrogers889: | February, 04, 2013

I’m an editor who purchased your AE Apprentice book exactly for this reason, but my problem is not in learning AE but simply DESIGN itself. Just looking at personality type, I see great designers and VFX artists as kids who probably loved drawing and had a keen eye for lines, shapes, colors, and composition growing up, whereas “other” types like myself just wanted to tell great stories. This is the where the natural splinter between the writer, actor, director, editor types and the Animator, Compositor, Colorist, C4D Nuke etc. Coding types happens I think, and I envy with all my soul the brilliant mind who can combine all these skills and maybe even through some great shooting skills in as well. The final a/v output for the user combines so many different skill sets, personality types, professions, companies, etc. its just staggering in this crazy industry of ours.

Mark Christiansen: | February, 04, 2013

Jay, although I realize your comment was directed at Chris, this is exactly why I carefully bracket motion graphics off as being advanced, not beginner work - it combines three difficult skills - design, animation and technical acumen. Meanwhile, if you’re inclined to go further with your skills in After Effects, its helpful to understand where to start - a subject for another article, I think…

jayrogers889: | February, 04, 2013

Write that article! I can envision the day in which the market becomes so competitive that if you aren’t a Gareth Edwards or Neil Blomkamp you’ll have a tough time landing anything. The sellers have the power and we dungeon junkies will always have someone nipping at our heels with more skills and willing to do it for less- which is a good thing. I can also envision a day in which live-action is only used for documentation purposes, and when that happens, editing will leave LA and just go to news and corporate.

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