Professional VFX Compositing With Adobe After Effects

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Participants will learn how to create photo-realistic visual effects composites using Adobe's popular After Effects software. No prior familiarity with After Effects is required, however the techniques involved are complex, so a general fluency in computers and graphics software (eg Photoshop) will be a great benefit. In other words, this is an intermediate to advanced level class.

Techniques covered will include rotoscoping and paint, motion tracking, color correction, bluescreen and greenscreen keying, film grain, warping, edge treatments, expressions, pre-compositions, general compositing theory and practice, and more. A strong emphasis will be placed on photo-realism - what it is, how to train your eye to see it, and how to achieve it. We will also discuss the modern VFX "pipeline" and how the various VFX disciplines function in this pipeline.

Each student will be provided with the elements needed to produce a "character replacement" shot: the removal of an existing character from a scene and their replacement with a new actor who was filmed against a greenscreen. This is a very fun project, and provides a great framework within which to explore many of the most commonly used techniques in visual effects compositing.

Here are some examples of similar projects created by former students of mine.

Fight Club character replacement by Samuel Plainfield

The Big Lebowski character replacement by Nathan Hackett, Vishish Kumar and Peter Hootman

The Graduate character replacement (selected shots) by Austin Eddy

Beetlejuice character replacement

The Godfather character replacement by Raimondo Albinati

Instructor[edit | edit source]

Aaron Muszalski is a professional visual effects artist and educator with over twenty years of experience. A veteran of George Lucas' Academy Award-winning visual effects facility, Industrial Light + Magic, he has worked on such films as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Sleepy Hollow, Galaxy Quest, The Mummy Returns and Star Wars: Attack of The Clones. As a Visual Effects Supervisor he has overseen shots on The Last Mimzy, Grindhouse and Synecdoche, New York. He teaches visual effects at the San Francisco Academy of Art University and is a regular contributor to the art and culture blog, Laughing Squid.

Schedule[edit | edit source]

This class is no longer currently being offered. I do hope to offer it again sometime in the future. If you would like to be notified of this, add your name and email (or other contact information) to the Interested in Future Classes section below.

Cost[edit | edit source]

This class is entirely free, and open to all.

Suggested Reading[edit | edit source]

There is no required textbook for this class. However, if you have a strong interest in learning VFX compositing in AE, I recommend purchasing "Adobe After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques" by Mark Christiansen.

After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques by Mark Christiansen

Written by my friend and former LucasArts co-worker, Mark Christiansen, this is the single best guide to professional VFX techniques in After Effects, and the required textbook for my VFX2 class at the Academy of Art. Highly recommended, especially for anyone whose interest in AE is in the areas of photo-realistic VFX compositing, greenscreen compositing, and HDR workflow (the latter being increasingly standard in film VFX). If you're only able to purchase one book related to my class, this is the one.

NOTE: Initial versions of this page erroneously listed this book's predecessor, "Adobe After Effects CS3 Professional Studio Techniques". While either will work, the most current edition is obviously preferable, and is in fact what I'd meant to specify (and thought that I had, until Vlad helpfully alerted me to my oversight).

Art and Science of Digital Compositing, Second Edition: Techniques for Visual Effects, Animation and Motion Graphics by Ron Brinkmann

The compositor's bible. In every professional VFX artist's library, and more often, on their desk. Do look closely though, as many copies hardly have their spines cracked, their owners having quickly been scared off by the preponderance of math and technical content. Of course, the same properties that makes this book a tough read for the artistically-oriented effects artist makes it ideal for those coming to VFX from scientific or engineering backgrounds. Not recommended as an entry-level text, but a must-own for anyone who aspires to truly grok the art and science of digital compositing.

Compositing for Film and Video, Second Edition by Steve Wright

Steve Wright's "Digital Compositing For FIlm And Video" is by far my favorite application-agnostic VFX textbook. Incremental, accessible, and eminently practical, it's packed to bursting with strategies for triumphing over real production challenges. Although written primarily for node-based compositing systems (eg. Nuke and Shake) most of the examples can be easily adapted for use in layer-based systems such as Photoshop and After Effects. Still, this is perhaps not the best text for an aspiring After Effects artist (I'd start instead with Mark Christiansen's book, above). But once you've become comfortable with the basics in your chosen application and are looking to gain a real understanding of the hows and whys (and cheats and hacks) of professional digital compositing, this is the book I'd turn to next.

Visual Effects: Essentials for the Aspiring Artist by Steve Wright

Wright's most recent book, this is an excellent introductory VFX textbook. Highly recommended for any beginner interested in gaining an overview of the entire contemporary VFX pipeline and the processes that comprise it. From terminology to practice, Wright applies his unparalled experience and trademark clarity to making the complex comprehensible. If you have little or no prior VFX experience, this would be an excellent companion to Mark Christiansen's After Effects book. If you are more experienced, consider selecting "Digital Compositing For FIlm And Video" (above) instead. Motivated, aspiring professional? Get both.

Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects: Essential and Advanced Techniques, 4th Edition by Trish and Chris Meyer

The definitive guide for creating motion graphics with After Effects, something I know that many of you are interested in. Since this is not an area of the application that my class will directly address, I thought it might be helpful to include a text for those of you who wanted to explore this area on your own. Trish Meyer has been using and writing about After Effects since it was first released, and she and her husband Chris are widely considered to be among the most knowledgeable AE motion graphics artists in the world. This is the latest edition of their book on that subject.

After Effects Expressions by Marcus Geduld

An "expression" is the name After Effects gives to its ability to re-wire any keyframeable parameter to any other parameter, either directly, or run through a script. And since the expressions engine uses javascript, these scripts can be made to do some rather nifty stuff. I've not read this book, as I don't yet own a copy, but the title makes it sound as if it would make the perfect gift for a die-hard After Effects addict and expressions junkie (hint hint).

DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap by Stu Maschwitz

Not strictly a VFX text - or rather, not solely a VFX text - this book from my former ILM co-worker (and subsequent Orphanage co-founder) Stu Maschwitz is a manifesto for no excuses filmmaking, in which the clever use of VFX is but one part. Still, what VFX advice is there is vital, and infused with Stu's irrepressible passion for film and filmmaking. Like Robert Rodriguez (see "Rebel Without A Crew", below) Stu WANTS YOU TO STOP COMPLAINING and MAKE YOUR MOVIE and the DV Rebel's Guide is a guerilla training manual to help you accomplish that. (And do overlook the now rather outdated title; the book's techniques are just as applicable to cheap HD filmmaking.)

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez

Not a VFX text, but included here for its potential utility as a guide to hacking your way into a career in filmmaking. Armed with only $7,000 (much of that earned by repeatedly checking himself into the hospital as a test subject for drug trials) aspiring director Robert Rodriguez produced his first feature-length film "El Mariachi" at the age of twenty-three. Originally intended to be sold to the Spanish-language direct-to-video market, the film was eventually picked up by Sony, who polished the audio and gave the film a theatrical release, thus launching Rodriguez' (From Dusk 'Til Dawn, Sin City, Spy Kids) Hollywood directorial career. An honest and thoroughly entertaining book, you'll learn how his "edgy editing style" was a workaround necessitated by his inability to record sync sound (his camera was too loud), how he lit his scenes using color-balanced bulbs in whatever standard light fixtures were available on location, and how he used a borrowed hospital wheelchair for all his "dolly shots". Pure genius, brash and inspirational.

Recommended VFX Resources Online[edit | edit source] ProLost is the blog of Stu Maschwitz, filmmaker and accidental technologist.

2009 Classmembers[edit | edit source]

Jonathan "Pb" Foote

Audrey "Penfold" Penven

Steen "Steen"

Stella "Deadeye" Worley

Star "&" St.Germain

Nicole "Coelacanth" Aptekar

William "Hopalong" Heath

Vlad "Racer X" Spears

Reed "Montana Jack" Kennedy

Rubin110 "0.4 Rubins and Counting"

Leah "Four Barrel" Cooper

Steve "Malderor" Courtney

Jason "the unspeakable" Araujo

Toshi "Doktor" Hoo

Jonathan "Jiminy Cricket" Mayer

Mattbot "Mattbot" Mattbot

Interested in Future Classes[edit | edit source]