Review: fast & Fabulous, Vol. 1 (PixelPops Design)
Posted Jul 1, 2008

If there’s one thing PixelPopsLance Gray is known best for in our industry (besides his award-winning 3D photomontages), it’s for helping videographers to push beyond the limits of what they thought they could do or thought was possible in their graphics work in general and their Photoshop efforts in particular. What’s cool about Lance’s latest instructional title, fast & Fabulous Volume 1—a rapid-fire assortment of great graphics tips—is that it not only transcends the limitations of many of the tutorial DVDs we see, but as a download-only Flash-based title, it also sidesteps one of the primary shortcomings of DVD as an instructional medium.

One of the criticisms I hear most often of videographer education—both the live-seminar variety and the DVD version—is that there’s too much beautiful video and too little explanation of how it was created. You won’t feel shortchanged by the wedding video-to-instruction ratio on fast and Fabulous; Lance isn’t a wedding videographer (see Elizabeth Welsh’s June cover story, Going Corporate), and it’s not his intention to wow you with his video work. fast and Fabulous might be called "Fast and Furious" for the amount of instruction that he packs into this collection, although with Lance’s easygoing teaching style, the lessons never seem rushed.

The other thing that’s cool about this training title is that it’s delivered in Flash. You’ll need to play it on your PC or Mac using the included Flash Player 9. This is great for two reasons. For one, it encourages you to run the tutorial on one computer while you work in Photoshop on another, which means you can try out the techniques Lance describes as he explains them, which I did repeatedly as I worked my way through the collection.

It also means you’ve got the menu right in front of you the whole time, and you can access it at will without having to back out of the tutorial itself, which you’d have to do on a comparatively clumsy DVD. If you’ve bought or rented Blu-ray movies with pop-up menus, you know what a nice perk this can be on a movie disc. But for a collection of tutorials like this one, it’s a natural. And because it’s sold via download, it’s lower-priced than other PixelPops training tools (and most training DVDs sold by videographers), and if you can’t wait to buy it after reading this review, you don’t have to. While this approach doesn’t make sense (yet) for video-heavy instructional titles, it’s the only way to go for a training title like this one.

Lance kicks off the disc by talking about the $500 Photo Effect enhancement he discussed in the March installment of his Graphic Thoughts column. Immediately thereafter (fast & Fabulous just rolls right from one tip to the next) he explains how to save the steps used to create the effect as an Action so it can be reused later. He also explains—just as importantly—how to load and apply Actions that you may have downloaded or purchased from PixelPops or the dozens of other companies developing Photoshop Actions.

From there it’s on to a range of great plug-ins, many of them free, including a cool and very customizable frosted glass effect using Mister Retro’s Machine Wash, and two excellent plug-in actions from a company called PanosFX. My favorite is B&Big Picture Effect, a downloadable Action (open your Actions Palette, load it, click Play, and Photoshop does all the work) that chops up an image into small pieces and individual layers. One possible end result (after choosing a perspective, and choosing to have a "soft wind blow over the photos") is shown in the screenshot above. After noting that each individual piece is an individual layer, Lance shares ideas of how you might move the group onto a background and move the pieces around, or have the pieces fly in individually using After Effects. Another great PanosFX Action breaks your image into Filmstrips (all separate layers)—another effect that could take hours to create, but can be applied in minutes (or seconds, if you don’t customize it) by loading it as an Action.

Fast and Fabulous also explains how to achieve some cool artistic effects using two sketching plug-ins, and how to illuminate text and a silhouette photo using the customizable (and free!) Luce Lighting plug-in from L’Amico Perry. And it provides some invaluable tips on creating cool color effects using Photoshop Gradients—as always, with an eye to creating designs that will help you do work that commands top dollar.

Perhaps the best thing about this fast & Fabulous set is that it’s only the first in a series. Here’s hoping the next one is just as fabulous—and gets here fast.

Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV.