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After Effects

Cinema 4D: Experimenting with Sound Effectors

Since I've been learning After Effects and been following Andrew Kramer's Videocopilot, my interest has been peaked towards 3D visualisation and animation. As Videocopilot's Element 3D plugin (which I love) has been a signal of the importance of 3D within After Affects compositing going forward, I have kind of followed like a little lost sheep.

I'm no stranger to 3D, having worked during my Retail Design years with some top 3D designers and visualisers. People like Matt Tipping, Creative Director @double-europe, James Cutler @mintviz, Joe Wright @spudcreative, Florent Beaujot @Artform - but they were the one's creating the magic, not me. I just won the business.

So, armed with Maxon Cinema 4D, some tutorials from, Greyscale Gorilla and others, I've been learning and playing.

A couple of months ago, the guys from KiteRight - a charity which uses KiteSports to improve the lives of people who normally wouldn't be able to access the sport - posted a visual on their Facebook page, with an idea to turn it into KiteRight branded globes which would animate to music.

Kite Right balls inspiration

Kite Right balls inspiration

So, initially I had a play with it in Adobe After Effects, using the Element 3D plugin. This was pretty basic and only took a few minutes, to generate a bunch of colourised spheres, with a texture map containing the Kiteright logo. I then animated some basic rotational parameters of the balls and a camera to do a quick sample render. This is it...

From there, and coming back to the initial topic, I decided to have a play with it in true 3D space using cinema4D and toy around with Sound Effectors, using the MoGraph suite of tools. 

I'd been playing around with syncing animation with audio keyframes in After Effects previously, so made for a good set of features to test here. I found a really excellent tutorial by GreyScale Gorilla on the subject.

I picked a song that I'd bought from Audio Jungle, called "Live My Life" by MetroLightMusic, which is nice and uplifting and quite apt for the cause.

Here's the initial result, which I abruptly cut short because a) it's just an initial draft and b) I was using my crappy laptop which takes ages to render out the .tif sequence and I couldn't wait around.

The great thing about this technique is that you can basically swap out the audio in C4D for any track and get a completely different animation effect thanks to the combination of Dynamics engine and the audio-based animation.

I think you'll agree it's a pretty awesome little effect.

Finally, I took it into After Effects for a bit of colour correction, added some composited elements, vignettes etc.

Be kind, I'm learning...

Creating an Explainer Video: Taking a Shortcut

Time is of the essence, I need something and I need it now.

So one option is to cheat and use a template. There are more and more resources available to use as the basis for your explainer video. Since a good explainer follows a particular model and is made up of a number of components it's safe to assume you could bottle that process, apply a theme and just change the content.

Yes and no.

It's always going to be a compromise. So much of what makes a great explainer is about the personality and the narrative, it's not always possible to take some pre-existing template and have it instil the same message you would get from a custom made fully owned video.

But, you can get something done quick and inexpensively and that's in and of itself, part of the challenge. So here's what I did.

I really like the Envato marketplaces and a particular favourite is the VideoHive site. Predominantly, these are Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4d templates with some stock footage and motion graphics resources. 

There seems to have been a surge in explainer type templates, so worth checking out what's available., but also great for logo stings, openers, video slideshows and lots of others things.

I found a template which fit my style - bright, colourful, clear text placeholders, optional use of screencasts and I also liked the default music which I had to buy separately via AudioJungle.

Here's the video I chose and here's the result.

The key to these templates is that they need to be put together properly and this one was, so it's easy to dig in and change the easy things like colours, logos, text.

I wanted to customise mine  bit further, so I tweaked the timing to kind of fit the voiceover, added additional compositions and effects. This is where hacking away at a pre-existing template starts to get messy - because it flies in the face of best practise. 

1. You're trying to fit the voiceover to the video until that sounds too false, so then reverse engineering the video to fit the butchered audio... and so on...

2. Depending on how the originator structured the compositions, applied effects and used the original assets, it's difficult to manage since you didn't create it, so your knowledge of where everything is maybe counter intuitive.

So, if you're going to use a template, my advice is spend time finding one that's as close as dammit to what you want and avoid over customising. Any customising you do, make sure it's key to what you're trying to get across or because you're having fun practising playing with someone elses project.

Take that understanding and move on to perfecting your own process and make the video of your dreams from scratch, which is what I'm now doing but safe in the knowledge I have a half decent fall back in the meantime which cost me £20 and half a day of buggering about with it (and a lot longer rendering it).

Creating an Explainer Video: Voiceover Recording

Why I hate my own voice and you will hate yours too.

That's just the way it is, you have to be Craig David (who was reportedly pulled over by police and was listening to his own music) not to shudder at the sound of your own voice. So, when deciding to go about recording your script as a voiceover, on a tight budget that doesn't stretch to expensive studio and professional VO artist time, I can really see why people get stuck here.

For the MySpareBrain explainer, of course, I wanted to persevere with the process on my own - warts and all, you might say. So, as a first step at least, I was planning to record my own voice speaking the script I mentioned in my last post.

Once you get into the audio part of the project, you realise that's a whole other world of jargon, tools, technologies, processes, effects and skills. I did some reading and collected some useful resources, which I've added to the Explainer Video Research chart on MySpareBrain.

Ultimately, this was an exercise in getting stuck in and seeing what I could cobble together, what worked, what didn't and frankly, just trying to make the best of it.

I started by recording the voiceover just using my iPhone voice recorder app. It was a method used by Authntk and talked about on their blog. They seemed to a really good job with it, so I thought, why not?

Here's a sample:

Actually, the result was surprisingly OK, considering. The main issue was actually getting the files into a format that I could use easily. By default, the iphone records the audio files into an .m4a format (read more about m4a and MPEG-4 here). I found that to get the files onto my computer without an active iTunes account setup and synced (I'd just got a new PC), the only way is to use the direct sharing options - email or SMS, which is a bit of a pain.

Then, for some reason, I couldn't seem to get Adobe After Effects to import the raw .m4a  files into the Project Panel. I didn't look into it too closely and maybe completely wrong, actually, come to think of it, it may not have even been an After Effects issue, but anyway, the point I want to make is that felt I should convert the files to a different format, so I chose .mp3 - Audio guys please do let me know what I should / could have done via the comments below.

So, I used this very nifty little audio converter app to do that.

When I put this audio into After Effects with a rough cut and placement to the animation, it really wasn't working. If I'm going to cringe at my own voice, I at least want a better quality recording to cringe at.

Since I was going to need to do a fair bit more voice recording, and eventually get over the fear of hearing my own voice, I decided it would be a good idea to invest a little bit in a half decent microphone setup. When I say half decent, that is raising my standards from the £4.99 Argos special that I also had in my armoury (and preferred the iPhone recording results).

After doing some more research, I called the guys at Sound Exposure, who I found had some great reviews. The sales guy there was really helpful and enjoyed chatting about what I was up to. I settled on a Sennheiser E835, a Tascam US-122 MkII Audio Interface, and a Konig and Mayer 23200 desk stand.

It took a little while to get it setup, mainly because the audio interface drivers were a little outdated in their support of operating systems past windows XP. The experience was all a little clunky, but eventually got it working and figured out what th knobs and dials were for on the unit.

So I set about this time, recording in the free open source audio software Audacity.

Now Audacity is actually really easy to use and it's very flexible and quite intuitive. It's not the sexiest looking piece of software, but it's free and it works. The only problem was, I still wasn't happy with the end result. Now, it's most likely that the problem is totally down to me, operator error, but I didn't have time to dig in more thoroughly and figure it out.

Instead, I dug into the Creative Suite a bit further and took a look at Adobe Soundbooth. To get acquainted, again, I did a bit of research for the usual blogs on the why's and wherefore's. I also did this Soundbooth CS4 course on which I thought was very well constructed, sufficiently in depth but not too technical or boring.

Initially, I imported the audio from the Audacity project into Soundbooth and it was OK, I found working with Soundbooth (as a result of the course and my recent surge of interest in other CS applications) really easy - possibly more so than Audacity, since I was already used to many Adobe conventions and UI elements.

The first thing I tried to fix was the persistent hum in the background of the Audacity audio, when played back in Soundbooth and other software, which was the predominant cause for my dissatisfaction with the result. Soundbooth has a toolkit for this, in the Tasks panel, under the "Clean Up Audio" heading. Using the Noise reduction filters, I found that I could reduce it, but I still wasn't happy with the result as the amount I needed to apply started to audibly distort the voice audio.

So I tried a do a direct record, again, using the Sennheiser mic setup, direct into Soundbooth. This cleared up the humming noise completely and I was much more happy with the result (bearing in mind personal prejudices). 

In the course, I learned about compression, reverb, EQ and other effects (of which there are many) and the temptation was to go crazy, but for now, I've decided not to apply anything and keep it as is. The danger is I'll go crazy and completely lose the point of using my voice, which is to be a raw, natural, passionate explanation of what we're upto at MySpareBrain, from the voice of the CEO.

Creating an Explainer Video: Research

Everyone Wants an Explainer Video

This is the first of a series of posts I'm going to do on the subject of creating an explainer video. To kick things off, I want to share with you all of my resources I've collected on the subject, including:

  • Providers of video explainer production services
  • Loads of examples
  • Pricing (where available)
  • My thoughts and notes
  • Freelancers and independant providers
  • Tips and Techniques
Click to load the MySpareBrain viewer, and find the Video Explainer Research Tab to load the chart.

Click to load the MySpareBrain viewer, and find the Video Explainer Research Tab to load the chart.

It has to be said, this is a very interesting area of video production, digital communication, motion graphics, marketing - whatever you want to label it.

The rise of the Explainer Video is quite staggering, and has become necessary for anyone with a technology startup to have in their basic marketing toolkit - for new customers, for potential investors, for prospective employees. But, not just technology, real worldy, traditional companies like builders, accountants, solicitors, hairdressers and estate agents are getting in on the act too.

With a very limited budget, every startup entrepreneur will face similar challenges:

  • How to communicate my complex idea in a simple, entertaining and compelling way?
  • How do I afford to get this actually produced - prices and quality in the marketplace vary hugely?
  • Where do I start? - Script, Music, Sounds, Graphics, Animation, Production, Copy, Effects?
  • How do I know the end product will be what I want?
  • I want a viral video - how do I get that? (ha)

I asked myself all these (sometimes dumb) questions and more, and then decided that it was such an important thing to get right, I repeat

to communicate complex messages in a simple and entertaining way 

I would go ahead and learn to do it myself, since the investment I make in myself would stand me in good stead for the future.

So armed with my relatively new found passion for Adobe After Effects (yes, I'm taking this very seriously), some ideas and a new microphone I'm embarking on a mission, and I hope you'll join me in figuring this stuff out...

Creating 3D Objects in After Effects using Element 3D and the Mask Tool

I was intrigued when I saw some sample videos posted on youtube by burnsius, who created a whole bunch of gun models using Element 3D and they look pretty amazing. From traditional shotguns, revolvers and pistols to space age blasters and "noisy crickets".

But what was more amazing, was how these guns were all created using nothing but the bog standard mask tool in Adobe After effects, Element 3D's extrusion capabilities to create and render multi-layered, multi material, fairly complex looking objects. Oh, and a bit of planning to go along with the imagination.

I never even considered I could do this kind of stuff using Element 3D and After Effects, it's pretty mind blowing actually. Fortunately burnsius also pulled together a neat step by step tutorial as well, to completely open up a whole new can of creative little worms.

Element 3D - The best After Affects Plugin Ever

Element 3D is a new plugin for Adobe After Effects, which enables you to render and animate 3D objects right within After Effects itself. I just bought this plugin myself, as a relative newbie, but am having a lot of fun playing around with it. It's easy to get started, even with someone like me, but I've barely scratched the surface of what it can do.

This is a great intro to the plugin by Schoolpost2009

This is also a great example of how it can be used. StellarLensProd skilfully pulls together a 3D model rendered via Element 3D, some real-world action footage from VideoCopilot's Action Essentials product (which I also recommend) and some dramatic colour correction using Red Giant's Magic Bullet Mojo. I think you'll agree it's pretty cool.

And to top it off, if you're interested in how the Helicopter scene was created, then check out this breakdown tutorial so you can create your own version.

The Bootstrappers Manifesto

More After Effects tomfoolery. But under the Who-Framed-Roger-Rabbit-Judge-Doom-style voice, there's a clear message for all of us early stage entrepreneurs.

Original text by Seth Godin (King of Marketing-World)

After Effects: Controlling Movement with Audio Keyframes

Playing around with After Effects again, this time along with Andrew Devis and this Creative Cow Tutorial

Using the convert audio to keyframes, then using that keyframe data, setting a range and mapping it to, in my case (the tutorial does something different) rotation and position data for various objects I can kind of animate them to the music.

The result is kind of freaky.

After Effects: Compositing with Real Footage

Look, ok, I know I'm not very good yet, but I just can't help myself. I'm really enjoying messing around in Adobe After effects, so get used to it. It's an addiction. I'm sure you'll look back in years to come and say "hey look how shit he was, and now he's collecting an oscar for best special fx, damn we were wrong to mock"....

Anyway, I bought the Action Essentials product from the very talented Andrew Kramer at, since the guys at Film Riot bang on about it all the friggin' time.

And then a little trip to the seaside with my wife, mum, son and brother resulted in a dark and all out warfare epic.

I used this Tutorial for the colour correction tips

Here's a clip.