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, May 31, 2007


I've posted before about Boomerlabs' Max2AE plugin that integrates 3dsMax cameras, lights and layers with After Effects, but they've since released the 2.0 version and it certainly warrants another close look.

This particular post takes you through the creation of an entire project, from modelling in 3dsMax to ray traced materials, rendering issues to After Effects, and how to make it all work together. Click here to view the tutorial.

One thing: I do not have the final rendered movie to refer to (I mention it in the tutorial), but you can instead see elements of this look in my demo reel.

New to this release of Max2AE is the ability to go from After Effects to Max. This capability is something new and quite exciting: to the best of my knowledge, this is the ONLY way that you can take your AE worldspace and export it TO a 3d application if you decide that you want to add some extruded elements to an existing AE project. I'm still playing around with this capability and I don't touch upon it in this particular post, but keep your eyes pointed this way for a tut covering AE2Max one day soon.

Matthew from Boomerlabs sent me a note pointing out a few changes to my tut:

1) Timestamp 22:13. You no longer need to create a layer to export a camera or use MAX2AE. MAX2AE is also available in the Utility Panel.

2) Timestamp 28:08. Maintain heirarchy will keep the existing object hierarchy when you export. If you turn this off, all objects _will_ properly move relative to each other and the world. However, their hierarchy is not maintained. For most users, keeping it on or off is no big deal. However, if you are only exporting _individual_ layers that aren't already arranged in the proper hierarchy in AE, it is best to turn this option OFF otherwise you will be importing motion that is relative to a parent that doesn't exist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Saving

Ok, we all know how to 'save' a project. File-> Save. Some people even know a tricky little keyboard shortcut that impresses clients and girl/boyfriends: Ctrl+'S' on the PC, or Apple+'S' on the Mac. But every now and again someone posts an urgent request on a mailing list or a forum- usually using a lot of capital leters- asking for "HELP! CAN'T OPEN MY AFTER EFFECTS PROJECT!! DEADLINE!!! URGENT!!!!"

Now I love After Effects. It's my number one tool, I use it every day, all day, it puts food in my family's stomach and it's paying the bank that owns my house. But it's also not perfect. Every now and again, weird things happen and if you've drawn the short karma stick that particular day, you might end up with a corrupted project. And a corrupted AE project often means that it can't be opened. At all. Ugh time.

There are a few little tricks you can try. First off, quit AE and re-start. If that doesn't work, shut down your entire computer and re-start. If that doesn't work, shut down your computer and your network/router and re-start. At this point, if it's not opening, re-start After Effects again, and instead of opening the project, 'Import' it into a blank AE project, which oddly often works wonders. If that doesn't work, shut down AE and try removing the Open GL plugin from your 'plugins' folder: this is (sadly) often the purveyor of much woe. Then try removing ALL of the (non-standard) plugins from your plugin folder. Moving on, if you were using an older version of After Effects (say, v.7), then try opening it in v.CS3 if you have access. Don't have the most recent version? Download the trial from Adobe.com: it works for 30 days. But note that you can't open AE projects in EARLIER versions of the software at all. At this point, if things are still not opening, try gnashing your teeth, waving wands over your monitors and burning incense. Then come back to this point, re-read the following words and follow this advice on your NEXT project...

Increment And Save.

Say it again. Then do it.

Look closely under your 'File' menu and you'll see a little item called, oddly, 'Increment and Save'. Never selected it? Try it and see what happens. If you have a project named, say, "Opening.aep", it'll save it without opening a 'save-as dialog box', and automatically append a number to it, in this case, "Opening 1.aep". Select it again and it'll become 'Opening 2.aep'. And on and on. You'll never save over a previous version of a project. Now, the question is, why? Let me tell you a little story...

I was called in to work in a shop to modify a project that one of their freelancers had originally produced. I sat down, asked where the project was and they showed me the directory. And there it was: something called "Network Package.aep". One project. I opened it up and discovered that it had comps for many show openings, backgrounds, lower 3rds, intersticials, segment spots, promos transitions... and on and on and on. There was ONE After Effects project, containing EVERYTHING for the look for an entire network. And no backup. Well, I admit that I shuddered. If this project were to get corrupted, or accidentally deleted, or saved over after it got 'reduced', or... or... well, you get the idea.

First thing I did was type Ctrl+Alt+Shift+"S". And there was "Network Package 2.aep". I breathed a little easier then. Now I certainly would NOT recommend putting so many elements together in a single AE project, and certainly not having a single version of the project file. That's a disaster waiting- nay, Begging!- to happen.

So, that's the AE keyboard shortcut. You'll find it in the "File" menu too. I use it on every project I'm working on. When? Well, that depends. Usually 'when I remember', and always when I realize that if a project were to get lost/deleted/corrupted then I'd cry like a baby. I often do the keyboard shortcut when I know a client is watching me so they can see how cool it is: so many fingers, pushing so many things at once... it's like that teensy blue power light on really expensive speakers: very impressive and professional looking, but in a confident and understated way.

Yes, you'll end up with a lot of versions, but think of it as "a lot of insurance" instead. Almost free insurance. Yes, it'll take up space on your drive, but you can always buy a new drive. Getting back hours/ days/ weeks of your life is a little more expensive.

Now if you're using AE7 or later, you'll see that there is an option in Preferences to "Auto-Save" (turned off by default). I personally never use it, mostly because "you never know". Like if you do 'reduce' a project, then you may lose the rest of the project next time you open it. I like to control when, where and what I save.

That should control any damage if you should ever find your project corrupted, plus it's just smart production practice. After all, you just never know. If need be, you can go back to the earlier version, and lose minutes or hours of your life at most.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Zaxwerks Layer Tools In Production

Working in 3d space in After Effects can be a tricky business at best, and downright confounding at worst. I recently completed a project for a client and dealt with a couple of these issues in a quick, streamlined way using a new 'plugin' from Zaxwerks called "Layer Tools".

At issue was how one can quickly distribute layers in 3d z-space such that there wasn't any 'ringing' when two intersecting layers fight for the same worldspace. Kind of a 'Layer Smackdown', one might say. I also talk about how "Layer Tools" gives you creative options that were previously achievable only through persistence and much time away from family and friends.

Take a look at the finished animation here (11 megs, h.264, 1:20). Then take a look at this tutorial which describes how I used "Layer Tools" to overcome a couple of technical and creative hurdles.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ira Glass on Getting Started

A client sent me a link to this inspirational post. If you want to view all four episodes, check them out here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Animating 3d Pie Charts

If you spend any time working the corporate graphics side of the biz, it's only a matter of time before someone wants you to show data in an interesting manner. Bring on the pie charts!

It's a bit of a mind-bender how to even create a pie chart in After Effects, though, unless you're lucky enough to own a copy of Digital Anarchy's 'Data Animator' plugin package. So for those of us struggling without, here is one (well, three, actually) ways to make that data look great.

Each stage steps up the 'quality' quotient. The first part describes how to create a simple, flat, animating pie chart using no third party effects. If you're happy with it, then you're done! But if you want to up the production value a bit, the next section covers how you can use Zaxwerks Invigorator to extrude the chart, giving it depth. Finally, the third part shows you how you can use Zaxwerks' new Layer Warp plugin to bring the data on (and off) in an interesting manner.

Here is a link to the 'finished' clip, showing what you will be able to accomplish (QT, Pjpeg, 7 sec., 3.5 megs). Then take a look at this tutorial explaining how to do it (QT, h264, 26:25, 26 megs). Finally, you can download the project file here (AE v7, Zaxwerks Invigorator v4 (optional), Zaxwerks Layer Warp v1 (optional), 25 kb)