Welcome! My name is Alan Shisko, and I'm a freelance motion graphics artist working out of Toronto, Canada. I've been very lucky in my career to have had many inspiring teachers, and decided to start this blog to give back to the community that has enriched me both technically and aesthetically. Perhaps my words and images will inspire you to do the same! If you wish, take a minute to view my demo reel at Shisko.com, or view a comprehensive gallery of my past work Here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Package

I got an email from a student the other day with the subject line, "How to Make A Demo Reel?". It's certainly a valid question, repeated ad nauseum in forums the world over, because the demo reel is seen as the essential calling card in our industry. My answer, as always, was... "Only put your best stuff in it. Keep it short (less than 2 minutes)." That's really about all there is to it!

I then thought a little bit more about her intention. If one is putting together a demo reel, then obviously one is in the process of seeking employment, whether it's full-time or on a freelance basis. And if that's what you're after, a good demo reel isn't all you need. You need A Package.

When you're hunting for the gigs, you'll need all of the following at a minumum: A demo reel (DVD and online versions), business cards, letterhead (with at least a cover letter template and resumé), and a website. And here's the key: You're a creative person in a creative industry, so it ALL has to look good!

So design a logo. Author your DVD Reel. Make a website. Create your letterhead and have a printing house print your business cards (avoid doing it yourself on your inkjet!), and do it all with flair and style. Package the hard-copy stuff in attention-getting folders so you'll go to the top of the pile. Use the same look consistently across all media. I noticed an online ad for an available position, and the employer had written that "... any DVD's submitted with your name written on it using a sharpie will be thrown out". So drop $149 on an HP, Canon or Epson that prints directly onto inkjet-printable DVD's.

The image at the top of this post shows the 'hard copy package' that I might drop off to clients, including cover letter, resumé, business card and DVD with reel. You might want to travel lightly, though, and so here's the 'Standalone' DVD reel with business card in a simple, catchy clamshell case. Contact your local consumables dealer to see what interesting case options they offer, and avoid the easily-breakable jewel cases like the plague!

Create some letterhead and use it on all correspondence, including your cover letter, resumé and, perhaps, a 'testimonials' sheet. I'd personally suggest designing it in a page layout app such as Quark or Indesign so that you can export as a PDF when applying for jobs electronically. Why? Because everyone has Adobe Acrobat Reader installed, but not everyone has MS Word.

And finally, tie it all together with your website. Keep the look consistent across all media, make it look great, and you're sure to get that second glance that puts you before all others.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Favourite Expressions

Blogger doesn't seem to allow for really long, uninterrupted lines of text (ie. long expressions), so you'll find that the code below is 'cut off'. When copying the code, make sure you begin the selection at the start of the expression (first line) and drag to select everything to the end of the last line: all will then be copied. What I'm saying is, don't copy single lines: you might miss something!

Expressions are a powerful but rarely used toolset that can drastically simplify animating in After Effects. Based upon the Javascript programming language, I suspect that 'artists' tend to shy away from anything resembling the BASIC that many of us were forced to learn way back in the dark high school days of DOS, but I think you'll find it's worth it to dig a bit deeper and figure out the rudiments of expressions.

I, personally, feel that I have a moderate understanding of expressions. I use the 'pickwhip' a lot in After Effects to link parameters for layers together (general rule of thumb: if you ever copy and paste keyframes, use expressions instead) and can whip something up from scratch if need be. That said, I can't claim intellectual ownership of the two expressions that I use the most, because the math was a tad bit beyond me. Read on, however, to see how you can use these expressions in a real-world project.

The first expression we're going to look at allows you to make an After Effects layer in a 3d composition 'one-sided'. The idea is this: if you have a layer facing the camera, you'll see it. But once the camera moves 'behind' the layer, instead of seeing the same layer but backwards, it'll disappear. This one was written by Michael Natkin of Adobe and is applied to the 'opacity' parameter of a 3d-enabled layer layer in a composition with a camera...

a = toWorldVec([0,0,1]);
b = thisComp.activeCamera.position - toWorld(anchorPoint);
c = dot(a,b)/length(b);
if (c > 0) 0 else value

Orbit the camera around the layer and you'll see it appear and disappear.

The second expression is a 'bouncy' effect that is applied to the scale parameter of any layer (doesn't have to be 3d), and was created by everyone's favourite polymath and all-round helpful guy, Dan Ebberts. You can modify the final size, duration and 'stickiness' of the bounce by altering the variables in the expression, and the only caveat to this one is that you can't tell it when to start: it always begins at 0:00, so some pre-composing might be necessary to use it in your composition.

(NOTE: see tip at top of post regarding copying/pasting this expression)

bounce_duration=3; //lower number is longer
bounce_speed=10; //lower number is slower

So, there's some neat-o math for you, but how might it be used in a real-world production environment? I had a recent project that called for a 'light, hip, kinetic' look, and I ended up using both of these expressions a great deal to both lend visual appeal to the piece and to drastically simplify the project design and workflow. Take a look at the finished animation here, and then to get a visual overview of both the expressions and how they were used in the project, take a look at this video tutorial overview.

UPDATE: Regarding the necessity to pre-compose the 'bouncy' expression, Kasper sent me this note:

Hey there...
i was just watching your tutorial with the "bouncy" expression and one of the guys here at work did a little addon to the expression so that your layer don't have to be at 0:00:00 so no more pre-composing. here is the expression:

(NOTE: see tip at top of post regarding copying/pasting this expression)

bounce_duration=3; //lower number is longer
bounce_speed=10; //lower number is slower


Hope that it is useful (ed. note: sure is!)

UPDATE #2: Kasper is one clever fellow... read on and see how he and his colleagues have taken away the need to set the final scale in the expression...

So we updated the "bouncy" expression again. It was becoming a problem that you couldn't keyframe the scale of the layer because "final scale" was set in the expression. So you always had to use a null to keyframe the scale if you wanted to do some more scaling to the layer. But my buddy here at work updated the expression so that the scale is no longer defined within the expression. You now just set the scale as always within the "transform" properties. So that way you can now keyframe the scale.

(ed. note: it might not be apparent that this actually works. If you're at the start of the layer with the expression applied, the scale parameter will say "0". If you click and drag on the scale number, you can change the scale but when you release the mouse button it reverts to "0" again. No fear: it'll scale to the size you indicated when you actually run the expression.)

Here is the updated expression:

(NOTE: see tip at top of post regarding copying/pasting this expression)

bounce_duration=3; //lower number is longer
bounce_speed=10; //lower number is slower