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.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

And 15 years later...

... I discovered a super-duper, handy-dandy right-click functionality that has probably been in the After Effects application for years but that had for some reason eluded me.

When applying an effect, I often search for what I want in the "Effects and Presets" window (especially after they re-ordered all of the effects with AE v7, like moving 'Beam' from Effects-> Render to Effects-> Generate). But when I know the effect I want (say, Fast Blur) then it's quicker for me to go to the 'Effect-> Blurs...' menu along the top of the application window and choose it from there.

And here is what I discovered... This morning, I pushed the wrong button on my Wacom pen (equivalent to a right-click) while I was hovering over the Effect Control Window, and Lo! what should appear, but all of the effects, ready for me to select! No more do I need to mouse up to the top of the application window! They're all right there! Waiting! Whoo hoooo!

Alright, I know, I know... THAT is a head-slappingly obvious, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me, you-seriously-didn't-know-that? noob discovery. Of COURSE you'll get the freakin' effects when you right-click in the ECW. What else are you going to see? But let s/he who is without blindingly-obvious discoveries in spite of years of experience throw the first raspberry... I bet there are tons of little gems waiting for YOU too. After Effects is a pretty mature app, and it sometimes pays to do something just to see what happens, especially with the right-click button, and those little triangle flyout thingies up in the corner of most palette windows. Explore!

So that's my humbling little discovery 'o th' day that reminds me I'm human after all. What super-obvious gems have YOU discovered in the last little while?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Creating Trees in After Effects

A client came to me recently with a very interesting and challenging project. They wanted to create an instructional DVD and use as source the imagery that had already been created for the print campaign.

The predominant image was a leafy fall branch superimposed over a soft, billowy background. After some consultation, it was decided that I'd make the branch into a 3d tree, and use this 'world space' as the basis for the introduction.

I contemplated tackling the project in 3dsMax, and indeed spent a good deal of time modelling trees and playing around with shaders and textures and such. But in the end, I decided that it would tie into the print campaign best if I were to use the 'actual' imagery. I decided to tackle the project using ONLY After Effects.

Now as most of you know, AE is a "2.5d" application. The worldspace is 3d, but any imagery you have (discounting 3rd party applications such as Invigorator and such) is "flat". Much head scratching ensued, until I finally hit upon a technique that really sold "the look" that I was trying to achieve.

Take a look HERE to see what the fully rendered intro ended up looking like (MPEG4, h.264, 1:04, 7 megs) and then take a gander at THIS tutorial (QT, h264, 25:27 dur, 43.7 mb) that explains the technique in detail, plus walks you through the finished project.

NOTE: at 5:16 in the tut, there is a little editing jump. Cut out accidentally was the step where I changed all of the masks to 'subtract' mode.

In the tutorial I talk about how one can interactively control camera focus distance, and here are the instructions and the necessary expressions code so you can do it too (thanks Harry and Dan for whipping this one up!)

1) Make sure you've got a camera in your composition.
2) Create either a solid or a null and name it "focusControl" (note: you can name your solid when you create it, but to change a null you have to select it in your comp window and hit the 'enter' key. You can then type a new name for it.)
3) Make the solid/null a 3d object.
4) Apply this expression to the "Focus Distance" parameter of your camera:

length(thisComp.layer("focusControl").transform.position, toWorld([0,0,0]))

The camera will now focus wherever your null or solid happens to sit. This expression is golden when you're doing a lot of Depth of Field work.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Whipping Masks

Yes, I've wanted to discipline my masks in the past, especially when I had one mask that I wanted to use on multiple layers. Copy, paste. Copy, paste. Copy, paste. And then the art director tells me that they want to change the shape.


And then AE CS3 came along. Plenty of great new features, but dig a little deeper and you'll see mention of a new capability a LONG time coming... the ability to pickwhip masks.

Whoo hoo! No more copying and pasting! Now when I need to use masks, I can create just ONE, and link it to any number of layers across any number of comps via expressions, specifically the pickwhip.

Click HERE for a very short overview of what it is and how it works (QT, h.264, 3:38, 3.8 mb).

AE shadows on Rendered 3d Clips

Take a close look at the header image. Nothing too special about it, is there? There is some AE text, and it's in a composition above a "wood textured" AE bitmap layer with some rendered 3d imagery composited over it all. Right? Wrong. There are only TWO elements in the scene: The text, and a 'flat' 3d image sequence rendered out of 3dsMax.

So how is the text throwing a shadow on a 'flat' image rendered out of a 3d application, matching the scene, AE objects and camera moves perfectly? Can't After Effects only throw shadows onto it's own layers? Maybe, or maybe not!

Thanks to the opportunities afforded artists by Boomerlabs' "Max2AE" plugin and some tricky compositing, you CAN cast shadows from your After Effects layers 'onto' imagery rendered out of3dsMax. You can also use the same technique if you use Cinema4d, Maya and other popular 3d applications that have integration with After Effects.

Click HERE to view a Quicktime tutorial walking you through the technique (QT, h.264, 16:27, 19.7 mb).