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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The fine folks at Flash-In-The-Can have finally seen the light and are exploring how pixels move around. Vectors... phsaw! So very narrow-band.

Pause: Ideas in Motion is an "exploration of concept and design within Broadcast and Film". Sez Shawn Puckness, founder of FITC, “Attendees can expect a very dynamic event with opportunities to engage, learn and connect with the best creative minds in the industry.” BTRY, Digital Kitchen, GMunk, MK12, UFO and many others... oh be still my beating heart! And of course don't discount the legendary FITC parties. All work and no play makes Alan a dull boy, after all.

This looks like it'll be a very exciting little confab- a bit of a tonic in the midst of a great deal of economic uncertainty- and if the stars align I hope to attend. "Ah", I hear you say, "I'd love to go as well, Alan, so that I can meet you because you're such a cool and talented guy. Oh, and to see what the best in the industry have to say as well, of course. But times are tough, and cash is tight." Well, perhaps this might help... thanks to the fine folks at FITC, I've got free full event passes that I'll give to the first two people that reply to me directly...

alan (followed by the 'at' symbol) effektor (then a dot) ca

See you in New York!

Friday, October 24, 2008

3d: Industry Consolidation

Just read this press release from Autodesk. How might this affect the motion graphics world? As I've written before (here and here), the consolidation of so many 3d apps under one roof (with one more now added to the stable) worries me quite a lot. Will all three apps actually remain viable? And specifically, will my chosen solution (3ds Max) be the first against the wall when the time comes (and I suspect that the time WILL come)?

If nothing else, I suspect that this latest move may turn up the heat on Adobe to consider adding a 3d app to it's roster, the most likely (in my opinion) being Maxon C4d. If that were to happen, I would seriously consider making the jump, as the current uncertainty gives me pause to continue developing my skills on an app that (as unlikely as it sounds) may be reaching end-of-life.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The End of the DVD Reel

There. I said it. DVDs are done like dinner. Disappered like dodos. Disposed of like dirty dishes. Dissapated like disparaging alliterations that I'm now going to stop, please and thank you. Yes, I've burned my last DVD, and I'll be a richer, more dynamic and connected man for it.

I'm a freelancer in the motion graphics world, and I've been thinking quite a lot about self-promotion of late, specifically how I get my work out there to be seen. I've got a reel, of course. It's my calling card, a spicy, sizzling little morsel, easily digestible, that summarizes what I do. How one gets said reel out and about and into the hands of clients has always been one of the trickier aspects of self-promotion. In the olden days (so I'm told), you'd have your work on a big 'ole 3/4" video tape. That was, I might point out, before my time, but I did enter the business just at the end of that particular epoch and heard stories about art directors who insisted on a 3/4" reel because that's the only machine they had in their office. The lovely, much-maligned VHS format then reigned supreme for awhile, nicely butchering many a fine reel. A few hardy souls then played around with various formats on Cd's once they became standard on desktops, but it wasn't until you could author and burn DVDs on your own machine that physical reels finally reached their technical apogee. And so it remained.

And then, along came the Internet.

I remember the first few reels that I saw online (yes, I am THAT old). They were teeny little quicktimes with lousy audio that took forever to come down my 28.8 KB data pipe. They weren't effective, and for some time the DVD remained the de facto standard, mostly because it was "full resolution", portable, file-able and tactile. Electronic reels were adopted fairly slowly by the industry, mostly because of data rates and encoding techniques. But once these hurdles were overcome, most everyone moved online.

I've maintained my reel as a DVD for some years now, but as I've mentioned, it's time has come. I have decided to move to web-only delivery for the following reasons...
1) The Expense. There's no denying that it ain't cheap. A good quality blank DVD can cost a buck, or more if you go with ink jet-printable (which you should have). Stylish clam shells add to the cost, too. Print a hundred, and that's a pretty nice dinner out.
2) The Printing. You didn't send in reels to potential clients with your name written on it with a sharpie, did you? Of course not! You picked up a DVD-printing ink jet. And of course the thing would break, or start printing funny, or run out of ink, or simply refuse to print at all.
3) The Coasters. I'd usually take a day once a year to 'update my reel'. I'd prepare for the upcoming season by printing off a whole bunch of DVDs, so that they'd be ready to get to clients right away. Of course, come the end of the year, that always meant a great big pile of drink coasters or car-mirror accessories.
4) The Fishermen. And of course there is the problem of how to actually get said disk into the hands of a client. If they were local, I'd take the opportunity to go for a little bike ride and drop it off, maybe squeeze in a quick 'hello'. But most of my clients are international, necessitating shipping charges. Now, the big question is always, "how serious is the potential client?" If it's Sergey Brin on the line, you can be sure that it'd be a quick trip to FedEx for that package. But then there are the fishermen. They're motion graphic artists who want to find out how much to charge. It usually involves an email, asking something vague like "We'd like you to do a TV show opening. How much do you charge?" I always assume that any contact is a potential client, so no problem, I'd send them my day rate, and that's usually the end of it. But sometimes a request is more sophisticated, necessitating a more sophisticated response on my part. If I feel that they're a potential client, then that might mean an offer to send them a DVD reel to compliment my web reel. I'd send it by mail if I wasn't sure, but usually I'd go the FedEx route. If a gig comes of it, then all is well, but every now and again I'd pay the $45, ship the reel, and never hear from them again. That's painful, not just because of the courier expense, but because it takes me time just to GET to the courier!

So, those are the reasons for dropping DVDs from my promotional package. But It's also worth discussing why I believe you should embrace Internet-only promotions. First off, consider 'how' and 'where' your potential client might view your work. Sitting in front of their computer? Quite possibly. But consider this article by Allan Tepper. Six million iPhones have been sold to date, and you've got to think that some of them are art directors, and that some of them may want to view your work on the subway, or at lunch in the park, or with a colleague in the hallway, or at 35,000 feet on their way to meet Sergey Brin. Don't tell potential clients when and where they can see your work, let them choose. Encode your reel for web viewing, but consider creating a version sized for iPhone and other mobile media platforms. There's a reason why Adobe ships 'Device Central' with their production software.

But the most important reason to fully embrace the Internet is because it is dynamic. How often did you update the 'recent work' section on your DVD? Did you even HAVE a 'recent work' section? Motion graphics artistry is evolving rapidly. You can't wait six months or a year to publicize some great work that you pulled off. Clients want to see it NOW, not next year. There are a number of ways that you can pull this off. If you're good with the web, put a 'recent work' section on your site. But don't let the medium slow down the message. If it takes you six months to get around to updating your recent work because of the exquisite flash code that you have to re-figure out every time you sit down to modify it, then find another way. I chose a blogger page. Simple, easy to update, clean in execution. It's not perfect, because it's not 'my site'. But I might encourage you to not let perfection get in the way of promotion. Get your work up there, make it easy to link to, and let the client chose when, where and how they're going to see your work.

In the meantime, I've got a lot of coasters seeking a nice, cold drink.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TechTip: Knoll Light Factory pt. 2

It's easy enough to track a lens flare along a straight line, but what to do when you want it to trace an arc? Take a look at this quicktime (h264, 9:20, 22 megs) for my technique, and view the complete clip here. Bonus: This tip isn't necessarily exclusive to Knoll Light Factory and can be used with any plugin that has an emitter source, such as Trapcode Particular.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TechTip: Knoll Light Factory pt. 1

This is the first of two little 'power tips' to those who use Knoll Light Factory in the course of their work. This one talks about how you can use an After Effects animation preset to simplify the process of viewing all available options in the KLF effect setup window. Click here to view the quicktime (h264, 4:42, 9.2 megs).

And yes, I will never use the 'audible mouse clicks' option in my screencap app ever, ever again :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Recent Work

Some of you have noticed a distinct lack 'o posting on my part of late. Doesn't work just always get in the way of FUN? Gah! I'm hoping that there is a payback for you, my loyal readers, though, as I've (finally) decided to put together a little site that features much of the work that I've done over the years. It's something that I'll be adding to as projects are completed from now on, and I'm hoping that it'll be a nice resource for those times when you're stuck and looking for something different to try.

You can take a gander at the library here, and of course my current demo reel and web site can always be found at shisko.com

Thursday, May 01, 2008

TechTip: Invigorator Track 3d Layer

In "Making It Look Great v2", I talk at length about how the "Track 3d Layer" feature in Zaxwerks Invigorator can revolutionize how you animate objects in Invig. Take a look at THIS short addendum (QT, h264, 12.1mb, 3:47) that both introduces the feature and addresses a technical workaround that one no longer has to implement. Begone, 'Purge Image Caches'!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"MILG 2" Available Now!

A quick heads up for those who have been asking when my training package is going to be ready... "Making It Look Great" vols. 2 (by me) and 3 (by Harry Frank) are now available from the MILG website! There will be a promo clip up within the next couple of days to give you an idea of what to expect, but in the meantime here is a clip (QT, h264, 15 megs, no audio) of what you'll design as you go through the tutorial.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Viva Las Vegas

I'll be attending the annual NAB convention in Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday. I'll be hanging out at the Zaxwerks booth both days where I'll be doing the occasional demo, featuring some tips 'n tricks from my "Making It Look Great" training package (available online starting mid-next week). Do drop by if you're in attendance and say 'hi'. I'll also be at the Media Motion Ball on Monday night, where great revelry is sure to ensue.

I'm hoping to report on my NAB findings as I wander the halls, so keep your eyes peeled to this page for the next couple of days!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easier Easing

Have your keyframes ever found themselves bored with the drab, grey predictability of "Ease" and "Easy Ease"? Do they often complain about plain-jane temporal velocity adjustments? And do you select keyframes, apply an ease, then sigh as your layers move with the predicable monotony brought on by the After Effects defaults? Oh, sure, you might get brave and wander over to the Graph Editor now and again to alter the velocities of your items by hand, but really, how often do you just settle for an "Easy Ease In" and call it a day?

Is there a better way?

Thanks to Ian Haigh, there is. Ian was good enough to recently adapt some Flash-based easing equations originally designed by a fellow named Robert Penner, and he's brought them to After Effects. Check it out at his website.

I've tried the script and was very happy with how it all worked. I've now got a one-button solution to not only creating variations on 'eases', but also the opportunity for consistency. I pretty much always go to the graph editor to make my eases 'more extreme', but the trouble is when applied to multiple keyframes across many layers, they're all slightly different. Now I can use this script and all KF's that I apply it to will have the same 'movement personality'.

There are two drawbacks to the script*, both with workarounds. One, it only works on the first two KF's in an a given parameter. The workaround is to apply the script on multiple 'transform' EFFECTS instead of on to multiple keyframes on the 'transform' PARAMETER. And two, you can't view the resulting velocities in the Graph Editor (should you so choose) unless you select the KF's and go to Animation-> Keyframe Assistant-> Convert Expression to Keyframes. But I would surely recommend that you give it a try, I think you'll like it.

*Edit: take a gander at the comments to this post. Ian addresses both of these considerations.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Making It Look Great 2 with... Me!

You may have been wondering why I haven't been posting to the blog much of late, and now I can finally reveal the reason. I've been hard at work creating a full length, comprehensive motion graphics tutorial for Motionworks' "Making It Look Great" series.

I'll be walking you through all the techniques necessary to create a sophisticated "News Show" opening, plus how you can adapt the intro to create fast and effective Lower Thirds and backgrounds. It's not just a discussion about "how" to design the spot, I also talk a lot about "why" I make certain design decisions during the process.

Topics will include:
• Learning how to think like a designer.
• Secrets of effective project workflow.
• Pro-level modeling and texturing with Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator Pro.
• Advanced techniques for transforming and deforming 3D Invigorator objects.
• Building dynamic transitions using text.
• Beyond–the–ordinary background design.
• Creative color grading with Blend Modes.
• Quick and easy lower third design.
• Mastering the After Effects Graph Editor.
• Tips and tricks for taking control of masks.

My colleague Harry Frank is also contributing a title to the series, and you'll be able to choose either a download or a DVD of the package. It will be available for purchase via Zaxwerks.com very soon. I'll let you know when it's officially released.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

TechTip: Math... Yum!

Now and again you might find yourself needing to modify a parameter JUST SO. Perhaps an art director has asked you to 'please move that logo down precisely 115 pixels, and move it 91 pixels to the right. Maybe it's already at 232/ 54, your brain hurts because you've got a perfectionist hanging over your shoulder, and you just can't add the numbers up in your head.

Don't reach for the calculator, let AE do the work. With a layer selected hit the 'P' key to bring up the position parameter. Assuming it's a 2d layer, you'll see two numbers (in the above case, 232 for the x axis position and 54 for the y axis position). Click once on "232" and (as expected) it'll become highlighted and will allow you to type in your changes. Now go to the END of the number and simply type "+115" (without the quotes). It should now say "232+115". Hit 'enter', et voila! AE will do the math for you.

This technique works with simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but does NOT, alas, work for more complicated math. For instance, it won't calculate "232+5*(4/2)". Which, I'm sure, you do often.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sticky Roots

Waaaay back in my film school days, I had decided that I wanted to be a cinematographer. I lived Arri's and HMI's, could tie in to electrical panels, and read the ASC Manual every night before hitting the sack. I once built my own steadicam crane (!) out of plywood, 2x2's, bolts and bungie cords (it actually worked, too, but was a tad difficult to maneuver). But then photography intervened. I discovered that it was much easier to create imagery without a huge crew (and buckets of money) and for some time hung out my shingle as a photographer. That led to Photoshop. And that in time led back to motion with After Effects, and here I am!

Film production, photography and motion graphics are to me, at their core, exercises in problem solving. You've got to get the shot, or you've got to get the idea of the editorial across, and you've got all of these cool tools (digital and analog) to make it all come together and look great. But sometimes it all just comes down to a roll of gaffers' tape.

Last summer I picked up the video camera, taped it on to the end of my photo strobe boom and took to the local park to document an earthen structure I helped build back in '05. Earthen building is another one of my passions, and this short clip can show you what you can do with a bit of clay, sand and straw while you wait for those extra-long RAM previews to render :)

Youtube doesn't really do the clip justice, of course, so if you'd like you can take a look at THIS full-rez version of the clip (MP4, h264, 34 megs, 1:51)


Most of my projects these days involve the creation of moving title sequences and show packages. My usual approach is to first create the "hero" frame in After Effects (usually close to the end of the intro, where you see the main title rendering) and then work backwards from there. I find that from this seed grows a mighty oak tree. Or sometimes a lush forest. Or on occasion just some modest shrubbery, as the script may well call for.

I've just finished (or perhaps started) a project that's going in a slightly different direction. A local independent film maker is putting together a proposal for a documentary and wanted to put some imagery into his written grant proposal. Something to "set the mood" for the granting agencies. This was a great opportunity to establish the 'look' of a project from the outset, not only in terms of what might happen once the financing is arranged, but also in terms of putting together a seamless, well-designed production package, which is a necessity for those of us in a creative industry.

Click on the header image at the top of this post to see a larger view of the image that is going on the title page for the grant proposal. Now, I do most of my work in After Effects these days, but it's really nice to get back to my Photoshop roots now and again. Although the application continues to evolve, the fundamentals remain the same.

The interesting thing about this project is that even though it was designed in PS, I had to start planning for the mobile future. Assuming that financing comes through, the doc is going to need motion graphics title sequences, intersticials, credits and such, and I kept all that in the back of my mind as I was laying it out. For instance, when shooting commences, it would be VERY helpful to get some footage of dancers shot against a green screen. Put all of the elements in the title image in 3d space with keyed imagery, and it will be a very compelling motion graphics spot. You might well call this image a 'key frame' from which the entire graphical look of the film may grow.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Idle Dimensional Speculation

Way back in April, I spent some time going on about Adobe's notable lack of a 3d program in their stable of applications. Recently, I've received several marketing spots in my inbox touting the Adobe/ Maxon Power Integration Tour. To the casual observer, it would certainly seem that Adobe and Maxon are getting pretty cozy. Are they dancing, or merely leveraging their respective core strengths? Who's to know! But let's see now... the last date in the tour is here in Toronto on April 3rd. The NAB show takes place in Vegas April 11-17.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Copy/ Paste bug in After Effects: Possible FIX

If you're running After Effects on a windows machine, you may have run into a problem where elements that you copy in an application other than AE refuse to paste into AE. For instance, it might happen that you copy some vectors in Illustrator to paste onto a solid in AE, but when you select the solid and choose 'copy-> paste' nothing happens. The same thing might happen if you were to copy text in Wordpad and try to paste into an AE text layer.

You may also have discovered that to get around this problem, you have to quit After Effects and restart, at which point copy/paste works again. Not only is this behaviour a royal pain, but it can be a huge time waster if you've got a massive AE file that takes forever to load.

Having duly submitted the bug to aebugs@adobe.com, I received this email from an adobe employee a short while later...

It was recently brought to our attention that Microsoft has issued a "hotfix" for a condition that commonly causes copy/paste functions to break between After Effects and other applications.
May I please ask you to run the hotfix and see whether it resolves the issue you reported a while back where copy/paste often breaks after an indeterminate time?

It would appear that the offending application is Microsoft Media Player v11. Take a look at 'symptom 1' on the hotfix page linked above and see if it is relevant to your situation. You can even test it by starting AE, then viewing a WMV clip with windows media player and then trying to copy/paste some text into AE. I did, and the paste indeed failed. I then ran the hotfix, and, well, the problem was fixed!

As with all 'patches', YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. I can therefore not guarantee that the patch will work for you on your system, nor can I guarantee that the patch won't turn your gear into a blubbering pond of goo. I recommend that if you choose to proceed, then backup your system prior to running the hotfix.

While the fix appears to have taken on my system, the adobe contact wrote with the following request...

One possible problem with the hotfix is that the clipboard functions broken by WMP can theoretically be broken by other running applications as well, and apparently the clipboard doesn’t break for all applications, just some, and AE seems to be one of them.

If you should run into this again, please note any other applications that are running when it breaks. Maybe we can get Microsoft to address this more comprehensively, or figure out a more reliable way to handle the API.

So if you DO choose to apply this hotfix and the problem occurs again, send a note to aebugs@adobe.com and be sure to include all of the particulars. Include in your note one or all of the following bug report numbers:
After Effects bug # 46079
Adobe bug # 1663988
Microsoft bug # SRX080114600334

Friday, January 18, 2008

2008 Reel

I've updated my demo reel for the new year... some new, some old, all of it looking and smelling great! Take a couple of minutes out of your busy day and give it a gander HERE. New clients are always welcome, so don't be shy... drop me a line!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Edgy Glints

Have you ever wondered how to create those little traveling glints that you'll see now and again on design lines and element edges? Every designer has their own 'recipe' that works for them, and here you'll find three different strategies that will give your compositions a little extra bit of zing.

First, take a look at THIS little clip (QT, MP4, pjpeg, 1.7 mb) and you'll see a simple composition with three subtly different glints traveling along the edge of the lower 3rd element. Then walk through how it's done with THIS clip (QT, MP4, h.264, 28.8 mb, 16:37).