Today, I found myself making this
let me tell you why…
Learning new software used to be a simple process. You flipped though the thinly sliced dead tree product that came with your software until you knew what all the menu options did. Nowadays, software is so big and complicated that you could spend a lifetime with some packages and never know all the features, and of course the paper manual is a thing of the past.
My strategy for learning software nowadays is twofold: Firstly, I try to get to know the mindset of the programmer, so I can guess where he or she would put the thing I need (or if they would even include it at all). This works very well for a product designed by a single programmer, such as U&I Software’s MetaSynth, an absurdly powerful toybox of audio trickery that I really should blog about more. This approach doesn’t work so well on big collaborative programs, or ones with a decade-long long legacy of leaving things where they made sense in version 1.0 and that’s where our old customers expect them too be rather than putting theme somewhere sensible. As it’s now 20 years since Company of Science and Art (later to be swallowed up by Aldus, who in turn were eaten by Adobe) launched version 1.0 of After Effects, it’s gained its fair share of cruft over the years. While Adobe have polished and refreshed the interface over the years to good effect, so it is a package with a manageable learning curve, the sheer complexity and power of After Effects coupled with an ever expanding range of powerful plug-ins makes complete mastery of all it’s functions well nigh impossible. Of course knowledge can be acquired piecemeal, by learning from the ‘how do I do this’ questions that are inevitable when producing work, but what of the things you didn’t know it could do, or the things that haven’t cropped up in any brief yet? I employ my second strategy to learn these things: getting creatively lost.
After an evening’s relaxing and doodling at the digital piano (actually a tiny Korg Nanokey 2 coupled to Logic Audio), I found myself in a creative mood, with 48 seconds of music, and an hour or two of my evening still to spare. I decided to play with After Effects, and see if I could come up with a quick ‘music video’ that would suit the music. If this was a paying job, I would be leaping for the plug-ins that deliver the best ‘wow factor’ per click, and there would be 3D, bokeh, depth of field and lens flares everywhere. Instead, I set myself a rule of working with effects I had never tried before. After Effects has a long any mysterious list of effects built in, and while ‘fast blur’ or ‘generate grid’ are self explanatory, effects like ‘CC Power Pin’ or ‘Beam’ are apt to fall into the category of ‘things I never use, because I can’t guess what problem they would solve’. The way to learn these things is to explore with no goal in mind, to step into uncharted creative territory, and when you find yourself in an unproductive place, be liberal with the undo button. I found a creative place I enjoyed exploring, and emerged an hour later with the video you see at the top of this post, and a solid understanding of how to use and abuse ‘CC Flo Motion’ and ‘Color emboss’ that I’m fairly sure I would never have obtained any other way.