love/hate for after effects

Before college, I had never used Adobe After Effects. The first time I opened it, my head exploded. I instantly hated it.

My first project in AE was an animatic starring my mother, the lunch lady. It turned out pretty decently, but it frustrated me so much. It got lots of laughs during the showing, so at least the storytelling was good.

At the end of that project and semester, I told myself I would never do anything in visual effects and therefore I wouldn’t have to mess with that crap. I have no idea why I thought I could ever get away from AE as a video editor. I think I was trying to make myself feel better after a semester of frustration. Deep down I knew AE was a permanent staple I would have to confront eventually.

The time to really confront AE came at the beginning of my senior year. I had used it here and there to do a few things, but I never really dug into the software to learn it at a deeper level. I was more confident than I was during that awful lunch lady animatic, but not necessarily all THAT confident. So I focused an independent study on motion graphics. This happened to be at the same time I was taking “the After Effects class”, and they ended up complementing each other very well.

This semester was pretty rough. I felt like I had no natural ability in motion graphics – or at least not at the same level as I had with editing. I was struggling and researching hard, and redoing things over and over. By the end, I had produced a 30 second PSA of a decent level and felt like I couldn’t ever do motion graphics professionally.

I didn’t realize, however, that all the time and effort I put into this study, mixed with the bits of knowledge I obtained during the class I took, actually helped. A LOT.

I didn’t require much AE in my capstone or any other projects for the last semester in college, but whenever I pulled it out for something, I could whip through the software. I understood it at a deeper level and I never even realized it was happening.

Now in my full time job, I use AE almost every day. I only have one AE reference book (that I purchased for the independent study) and I keep it at work. Today I was trying to work through an issue and picked up the book. I then realized my issue was beyond the scope of an introductory book.


I may not be an expert motion graphics or 3D artist, but to know I can talk the language and use the software as a part of my video editor arsenal is very comforting.

One thing I have learned though, is probably the biggest reason I was so frustrated with AE. It took me a long time to grasp that AE is not and was never intended to function as an NLE. It’s a compositing program. The methods are different. I wish the instructor I had when I first learned AE had better smashed that into my brain.

So now I feel pretty zen in AE, at least for the level that I’ll be using it at as an editor. I have a long way to go learning more of the 3D stuff and how to use expressions, but I can see such a huge difference from only 3 years ago, and that’s very promising to me.