Since switching to Final Cut Pro back at the time Apple introduced the SuperDrive-equipped G4-733 towers, I've strayed away from AE without much regret. Newer versions of FCP have allowed me to create motion effects right on the timeline that I previously required After Effects to do. And for the limited amount of photo montage effects that I utilize, AE became the equivalent of using an armored tank division when a flyswatter would do.
It was at WEVA's Chicago Town Meeting last March that an Adobe representative commented that Josh Fozzard taught After Effects "better than I do." So it was with great anticipation that I received Josh's training DVD-ROM, Creative Photo Montage Techniques Using Adobe After Effects.
Although the packaging states that the DVD is "viewable on a PC computer only," this disc is playable in any default Web browser utilizing Macromedia Flash, which means it will also work on a Mac. But don't even bother trying it in your living-room DVD player; this is strictly a computer-based training title.
The program opens with a brief voiceover introduction by Josh, in which he states that AE is his favorite application to use because of its powerful capabilities and "easy-to-use interface." Huh? Are we talking about the same Adobe After Effects?
The DVD-ROM is laid out in an easy-to-navigate manner, with three sections on the right: AE Basics, Techniques, and Advanced Techniques. The very first chapter in the Basics section is AE Crash Course, a five-minute overview of the AE interface and tools "for those of you who are new to After Effects." Sounds like me.
Moving beyond the basics, Josh effortlessly walks you through each project that's featured in the tutorial (the full projects are also included on the DVD-ROM so you can follow along), and this "easy-to-use interface" becomes a lot less intimidating when you have a masterful guide leading the way. I'm embarrassed to say I never realized what a pickwhip was or how versatile a tool it is until viewing this title. (It's also the new name of Josh's business.)
The content is both informative and inspirational, never spending too much time on any one section or technique, with only a couple of exceptions. One of those exceptions is Josh's explanation of how to use the Pen Tool to create a mask around objects in a few of the projects. Once you learn it in one project, it's learned. It's not really necessary to follow the tedium every step of the way each time. Now, given that each project lesson can be viewed out of order, this is easily forgivable (since you might have missed his explanation of the technique the first time), but still, the disc would be better organized if he explained techniques used repeatedly in a Basics lesson. Among other things, by shortening the tutorial for each project, he could save a few precious minutes on the DVD for an additional lesson.
The only other criticism I have is the large banner ad at the bottom of the interface staring back at me. Promoting how I can get an Xbox, PSP, or Mac Mini for free is not my idea of useful information. Speaking with Josh, I learned something about this banner. It's actually being pulled from his Web site, and is only visible if you have a live connection to the Web. Its original intent was to provide Josh with a non-invasive way to inform users of updates or future releases, which is a good idea, especially given the mid-January release of After Effects 7.
Many of the techniques and samples illustrated here can be seen in action in Josh's 4EVER Group Videographer Challenge-winning photo montage from early 2005, viewable at www.4evergroup.org. Even if your work doesn't involve photo montages, there isn't a single thing here that cannot be utilized for other projects as well. So, if you've ever been intimidated by AE, or just want to hit the ground running, Creative Photo Montage Techniques is a must-have for your educational library. That self-deprecating Adobe rep was right.