Mine‘s Better Than Yours

Or How to Make a Swarm of Flies in After Effects

An interesting debate sprang up in the comments on my previous posts. The question came up of "What do you do in AE that Fusion/Shake aren't good tools for?" While I feel that "my software is better than yours" discussions are silly, there is much to be gained by users and developers from a healthy discourse about the workflows that particular programs have really nailed. "After Effects suxx0rz compared to Shake" == not productive. "I can do this one thing I do a lot really fast in Combustion, whereas it takes forever in Fusion" == productive.

Last year I was putting together a teaser trailer and found myself missing a shot. The shot we desperately needed was a rack-focus from a barn to flies buzzing in the foreground over some unseen form. I had a still photo of a barn, and was able to camera-map it onto some planes in After Effects and create a convincing camera move. Next came the flies.

Creating the swarm of flies that buzzed around the camera, flitting in and out of focus, took 20 minutes.

Don't believe me? Well, I recreated the feat in AE7 for you to watch, The link below is to an unedited screen capture of a 17-minute session in AE7. I was able to shave three minutes off my time because I'd done it once before.

I considered the creation of this shot to be a triumph of AE's flexibility, 3D capabilities (including depth-of-field), and expressions. It might be a bit beyond what most people would consider appropriate for a comping app, but of course that's what I loved about it. I made a cool, spooky shot out of a still photo in only a few hours. There are many things I know I could do in Fusion or Shake that I would have a tough time with in AE, but the comment specifically asked for an example of something easier in AE than in Fusion, and I submit to you:

flies.mov (5.3mb Quicktime 7)

Feel free to comment and include links to your own examples of stuff you did in your favorite app. Better still, include a link that proves me wrong, showing you doing this in 16 minutes with some other tool!