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Entries in Adobe After Effects (83)

Monday
Sep022013

Prolost Boardo

Some people procrastinate writing by shopping for notebooks, or perfecting their Markdown preview CSS. Some procrastinate their work by cleaning their desk, and some procrastinate cleaning their desk by working.

I procrastinate storyboarding a new video I’m working on by creating iPad templates and After Effects presets designed to make storyboarding easier.

If you read my post on storyboarding on the iPad, you may remember that my app of choice was Penultimate. I lovingly created storyboard templates for it and defended its clean simplicity. Penultimate makes it easy to sketch out, edit, and rearrange a series of boards using a custom template, and export the results to a PDF.

There was one feature that I wished for however: the option to export to individual, numbered PNG files. If all you want to do with a storyboard is print or share it, a PDF is perfect. But if you want to take the frames and create something else with them, it’s much better to have them as individual files.

For example, you might want to bring them into Storyboard Composer HD, where, right on your iPad, you can sequence them into a timed-out animatic, or board-o-matic. complete with camera moves and sound.

Or you may want to edit this board-o-matic on your computer. Usually I use NLE software such as Adobe Premiere for this kind of thing, but the power this solution offers comes with a price: doing some things is less simple than in a dedicated app such as Storyboard Composer.

It occurred to me that I could use After Effects to automate some of the most common board-o-matic tasks. Although After Effects is not a great environment for creative editorial, it is an excellent platform for automating some kinds of motion and imaging tasks.

But first I needed to solve my problem of getting individual PNG files of my storyboards. I began investigating tools for ripping images out of PDFs, and simultaneously I continued my gentle harassment of Penultimate’s creator, Ben Zotto. The app allows a single page to be exported as a PNG, so, I reasoned, there’s a certain consistency in offering this option for multi-page exports.

You may recall that Ben and I blogged back and forth about how users should best make feature requests of developers. It was a bit of a love-fest, and I deeply admired Ben’s commitment to a simple, clean, user experience.

In May of 2012, Penultimate was acquired by Evernote, and is now free. It’s still great, but I’m no longer using Penultimate for storyboarding on the iPad.

A Little Less Less

Back when I first posted about storyboarding, many readers suggested alternatives to Penultimate. There is no shortage of busy, complex, feature-crowded notebook apps in the App Store. Most of the suggested apps made my head hurt with their cluttered UIs. But a few folks suggested that I look at Noteshelf ($5.99 on the App Store).

It’s hard to imagine that Noteshelf didn’t draw inspiration from Penultimate in its design and feature set. It’s a note-taking and drawing app that works on the model of multi-page notebooks that can be lined with various virtual “papers,” including ones you create yourself.

Most importantly for my storyboarding workflow: your drawings can be exported with, or—crucially, without, the paper template embedded, in various formats, to various destinations, including numbered PNG files to Dropbox.

But Noteshelf is not just a me-too app. It’s sturdy, attractive, well thought-out, and not without restraint. And there are a few things about it that I like better than Penultimate. Its “ink” overlaps more realistically. It features highlighter “markers” that are great for shading storyboards. And it works much better in landscape orientation.

Templates

Like Penultimate, Noteshelf allows you to create custom paper templates. But instead of helpfully packaging them up in a unique file type that can be one-tap installed like Penultimate, Noteshelf simply offers the option to import any image from your iPad’s Photo Library.

Quirks aside, Noteshelf offers almost everything I want from an iPad storyboarding sketchbook, and few things I don’t. I can quickly bang out a bunch of questionably-legible cinematic chicken-scratches and export them to my laptop. So what do I do with them then?

Prolost Boardo for After Effects

Prolost Boardo is a set of three Animation Presets for Adobe After Effects that automate the process of creating an animated storyboard, or board-o-matic.

Easily create animated camera moves, including cross-dissolves, camera shake, and cycling animations, all without using any keyframes.

The video shows you how it works, but it’s deceptively simple. There’s some complex math going on under the hood to make these virtual camera moves smooth, realistic, and predictable. Anyone who’s ever tried to animate 2D artwork in an NLE can tell you how frustrating it can be.

Boardo, on the other hand, makes it so easy that you might use it just for fun.

Boardo works with any kind of storyboards, wherever you create them (and includes instructions on customizing the settings for whatever format you like), but it defaults to work with frames drawn in Noteshelf using one of two templates. You can download them here.

This is is the most powerful and complex tool I’ve created for the Prolost Store, and I really think you’re going to like it. Prolost Boardo is available now for $24.99.

Monday
Aug122013

Prolost Burns v1.6

After I released Prolost Burns, some folks urged me to rebuild it as a “Custom Effect” preset. This is a feature in After Effects that allows you to use XML to create something that looks exactly like a real plug-in, but with no actual guts of its own.

The XML editing happens in a file hidden within the After Effects application package. It’s not something most users will ever touch. I wouldn’t have regarded this as approachable without help. Batchframe features a wonderful tutorial on creating “Pseudo Effects,” another name for Custom Effects—as well as a rather amazing interactive tool for building them. Just design your interface and then press a button to get the XML code.

Now Featuring Errors

If you save a preset from one of these Custom Effects (presumably with some expressions and/or other effects to perform the actual awesomeness), and then apply that preset on a machine that doesn’t have the edited XML file, another After Effects feature kicks in—the ability to show the UI for a missing effect. Since the UI is all we need, a missing effect is as good as an installed one, with the one exception that the user will see a “missing effect” error when they apply the preset.

At first, I felt that this rather deplorable user experience was a dealbreaker, but I passed the Custom Effect version of Prolost burns to a few willing beta testers, and they unanimously reported that the advantages outweighed the inconvenience of the error message.

Those advantages range from purely aesthetic to quite practical:

  • The preset sure looks nice. Even with a big “Missing:” in front of its name, it’s lovely to have all the controls under one “effect” that looks just like a big-boy effect.
  • This consolidation isn’t just pretty though. It allows you to easily copy/paste settings from one layer to another (if both have the preset applied).
  • You can also reset the preset to the default values I set. In 1.0, you’d have to reset the sliders one at a time, and they’d revert back to the After Effects defaults rather than mine.
  • I can control the functionality of the sliders more, by limiting their ranges and determining whether they can be keyframed or not.
  • I can create groups of controls that can be twirled open and closed individually.
  • I can create a pop-up menu of options. Which I did for Burns, and I really like the results.

While I understand why After Effects is reporting these effects as “missing,” the truth is, there’s nothing missing at all. A missing effect is simply a shell of sliders with no innards, which is all the Custom Effect ever was in the first place. I’ve contacted Adobe about this issue.

Beer

Clearly I’m having fun with this little experiment of packaging up my household presets and selling them (and supporting them) at a fair price—something I only regard as possible thanks to the simplicity and power of the Squarespace 6 e-commerce platform. I’m planning a post about that whole process soon, because part of the experiment is sharing the results with you and maybe even inspiring you to do something similar.

See, I don’t really look at this as me selling you stuff. I see it more like we’re all a community of creative folks, making cool things, sharing them, and buying each other a beer here are there. In a world where we might buy a $2 weather app based on a screenshot and the promise of a slightly prettier way of avoiding sticking our heads out the window, it’s nice to know that so many of you feel comfortable sailing a few bucks off into the ether, with the trust that a useful thing will come zinging back to you in return.

So check out Prolost Burns v1.6. That’s right, it’s now up to 1.6, even though it’s 1.5 that you see in the video. Version 1.5 switched to the Custom Effects model and added the pop-up with four scale options. Version 1.6 adds an option called “Natural Scale.” This uses an exponential scale curve to make the zooming animations more perceptually uniform over time. It defaults to On, because it’s, like, a million times better than a simple linear scale curve.

Free Upgrade

If you bought version 1.0 or 1.5, the upgrade to 1.6 is free. Just reply to your order email and I’ll hook you up, as quickly as I can.

Note: If you’re upgrading from 1.5 to 1.6, don’t use 1.6 in existing projects that feature 1.5. Since the missing effects have the same matchname, you’ll experience conflicts. Maybe in the future I’ll include version numbers in the preset names to avoid this—like I said, it’s all a big experiment.

An experiment that’s successful enough that I already know what the next batch of presets will be, and they are so insanely cool that I can barely contain myself!

Get Prolost Burns v1.6 now on the Prolost Store, and don’t forget to throw the free DV Rebel Tools in your cart while you’re there!

Tuesday
Jul232013

Prolost Burns

When I was creating the demo video for the Prolost Lightroom Presets, I wanted a quick way to create the classic zooming/dissolving photo montages known as the “Ken Burns effect.” And because sometimes your scaffolding needs scaffolding of its own, I decided to make an Animation Preset to speed the process.

Prolost Burns is an Animation Preset for Adobe After Effects CS6 and greater that automates the process of creating this type of animation. It’s so handy that I thought you might get some use out of it yourself.

  • Set the start and end zoom values, and your layer will smoothly zoom over its entire duration. Changing the layer’s length automatically adjusts the animation.
  • Use any comp size and any layer size.
  • Layers automatically cross-dissolve based on how they overlap in the timeline.
  • Set a custom center point for the zooming animation, to draw the viewer’s focus.
  • Apply the preset to many layers at once for a near instantaneous setup.
  • Works with Adobe After Effects CS6 and CC, Mac and Windows.

Prolost Burns makes it insanely easy to set up gorgeous photo montages. Get it now for only $3.99.

Monday
May132013

Cutting Through the Cloud

Aharon Rabinowitz posted a wonderful breakdown of why you’re both right and wrong to be bent out of shape by Adobe’s announcement that most of their flagship software will go subscription-only.

Adobe is a company that makes tools we all love and rely on for our work in video post production. But with their latest announcement – that from here on in, all software will only be available through subscription – a lot of people are upset and feeling betrayed. I want to try to address it all in a balanced way. I’ll ask that you read all the way through because I am going to start with why, about certain things, you’re totally wrong. Then, I’ll move into why you’re also totally right – and have the right to feel angry and demand more.

Aharon’s words stick out like a sore thumb on the internet, because they’re rational, well-considered, researched, and nuanced. Creative Cloud is neither a money grubbing conspiracy designed to seize power, nor is it a deftly-handled modernization of a business model. The truth is somewhere in between, and Aharon has done us all a favor by taking the time to analyze the situation.

And the part about the ruler/stylus guy is priceless.

Adobe fans and haters alike, read it. Adobe employees, print it out and tape it to your wall.