Tips for beginners and some free plug-ins to get you started in VFX
Today I'm in the mood of helping others with some tips and tricks that I would've been happy to get in the beginning of my career. I'm going to make a simple list of fun and free plug-ins that got me started as well as some tips to maximize your workflow.
First of all: Learning should be FUN! And although our interests differ a bit, who doesn't want to see what it looks like to hold a lightsaber? To be a Jedi or maybe a Sith from Star Wars? This is where I began. I googled for "lightsaber effect in after effects" and stumbled across a lot of tutorials on YouTube where I finally got introduced to Video Copilot and their huge library of free content.
I assume that you who are reading this has access to After Effects and know how to install software on your computer. Below I only give tips on plug-ins and what you can do with them.
The first plugin I found was the brilliant SABER. With this I could easily customize my solids in After Effects into brilliantly looking laserbeams or in this case lightsabers. Just by dropping the plugin on a solid created a good looking Jedi lightsaber with a blue glow without me having to do anything with it. I immediately went into my bathroom and started filming myself with a broken broomstick as my lightsaber and a hairdryer as my gun and imported this into my project. I followed the tutorial (linked above) and got an introduction to several stuff that I could do with the plugin. I found it to be pretty easy to start animate and less than a day later I suddenly was a bathroom Jedi hero! I was stoked on learning more!
Orb is a brilliant free plug-in for scifi shots in space over earth or planets. Developed by Video Copilot and easy to learn, thanks to great free tutorials of course. You'll be amazed on how cool stuff you can do with this!
Also a plug-in from Video Copilot. Well, this isn't a cool plug-in such as saber, but it's very helpful in your workflow and I use it every time I open after effects. Basically it is a shortcut tool to all your effects in After Effects. Along the way when following tutorials you'll start to learn a lot of AE-plug-ins and what they do. Instead of going the usual long path to add effects, use Ctrl+Space and a small search box appears. Search and customize your most used effects and add them to your files. Once applied, you'll never want to go back!
Okey, this one isn't for free, but it's very cheap if you think about the possibilities it can give you. $199.95 for a fully functional 3D software as a plug in for after effects. No need to open more advanced and expensive packages such as Cinema 4D, Maya or Houdini for example. This plug in is fantastic in so many ways and I still use it today even if Im studying the above mentioned softwares. Some tasks just don't need that complexity and Element 3D is more than powerful enough to meet most of the needs for a motion graphic designer that wants to combine 3D and 2D in After Effects. Look at the video and be amazed what Element 3D can do. There's of course tons of tutorials out there to learn from as well. Even more exciting is that the awesome Andrew Kramer, founder of Video Copilot is hosting many of these tutorials.
If you are heading for the 3D world and haven't heard about BLENDER it's about time you do. Blender is a FREE open source software who is taking the industry by storm. This software is as powerful as Maya or Houdini in some cases, but has for a couple of reasons not entirely taken place in the industry due to pipeline and support issues. Since it's open source, it also takes forever for bug fixes for example, but you would probably not even face these issues until you enter pro level. Although, it's a perfect package for the one who wants to learn 3D. Check out Blender Guru on YouTube and take it from there! But first, make sure to see a showreel to really understand the power here.
For me, Cinema 4D was the go to program to learn more advanced 3D motion graphics due to the easy workflow between AE and C4D. In AE you actually have access to Cinema 4D Lite and can start to learn from there! Cinema 4D is comfortable and easy to learn. It's something about C4D that just makes me keep using it for 3D Concept art and hobby renders. I just love it.
Alright. Enough with the 3D and over to compositing. For those who don't know, compositing is the final stage in most VFX pipelines. In this stage, the comp team gets access to all finished files such as 3D rendered sequences, greenscreen shots and special effects shots. There's a lot of green/bluescreen work as a comp-artist and to get started with that, you might as well start with keying out greenscreen and replace it with whatever background you want. For this, the KEYLIGHT plugin that comes with AE, is a great way to start. Easy to remove basic screens but can do a lot of advanced keying as well if you dig deep into it!
To avoid a too long list I will stop with the plug-ins here. Instead I want to talk about some simple tricks that will help you in later stages in your careers. I would recommend a simple screenshot software called Lightshot. Easy to install and maps your printscreen-button straight to the program after install. Here you can take quick screenshots on your work, copy and paste straight into messenger chats and emails seamlessly. It also makes it possible to draw and write notes straight on the screenshot to make communication even more easy between you and your clients, friends and colleagues.
Another thing that I like to have access to, is remote control of all the machines that I work on. Googles Remote Desktop is working great for this. With this I can check in on longer renders or do minor changes from my phone while I'm on the road or if I just need to make sure that renders finish in time without errors. The worst thing I know is when I put on a render the last thing I do when I go from work and then arrive early next morning, only to find that the render crashed a couple of frames in. With remote desktop, this has never been a problem. Just check in now and then to make sure your render comes out right!
I guess that's it for now. I really hope you liked this post and that you learned something. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. I'm happy to help if I can! Until further notice!
Feel free to watch my first showreel back in the day when didn't know that a 4 minute long showreel was not ideal... Anyhow, it sure shows what I learned the first year of self online-learning.