Motion Graphics (written by Jennifer Taylor)

The superstar of animation software is After Effects, an application published by the Adobe Corporation, a  longtime leader in computer graphics. After Effects is a powerful creative tools that allows artists to produce professional-looking 2-D animation and special effects on a desktop computer. In the few years of its existence, After Effects has achieved a preeminent position within the animation industry – from advertising commercials to broadcast graphics to title sequences to animated show on TV. So pervasive is the impact of this software program that it has single-handedly relaunched  an entire animation technique: motion graphics.

The roots of motion graphics go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when Hollywood turned to a group of graphic designers like the legendary Saul Bass and asked them to design title sequences for feature fulms. Movie titles, of course, consist mainly of words: the name of the film, its stars, director, producers, and other key talent. The skill set of the graphic design profession was new to the feature industry: typesetting expertise, logo design, and, in particular, familiarity with a wide variety of photographic techniques such as solarization, audio screens , koldaliths, and duotones. The enriched visual vocabulary of graphic designers began showing up in feature film opens, an in Hollywood a number of title houses established themselves – post-production labs/animation studios that specialized in design and use of technically demanding 35mm production tools like the optical printer.

In the 1980s the television industry began to develop very expensive digital tools that made it easier and faster to do the same kinds of animated graphics effects refined in feature titles. Machines with exotic names like the Paintbox, the Squeeze-Zoom, and the ADO (for Advanced Digital Operations) cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and rented out at $500 per hour and up. In the 1990s a new generation of such machines (with new names like the Harry and the Flame – and new, higher price tags!) continue to give frame-at-a time control over image making. With these high-end digital tools, live-action, animation, and special effects are all composited into a seamless whole. The results are found in most often in feature films, television advertising, and, more recently, high-budget TV series.

After Effects brings to the desktop computer almost all of what was until recently the exclusive province of those expensive, super-high-end digital compositors. It is, in effect, both the 35mm optical bench of film technology and the Flame of digital composition technology.

It’s useful to think of After Effects as a place where the basic raw materials – picture, story, and sound – are fused into a final piece. You can, for example, important artwork created in Photoshop or Illustrator, along with sound created in SoundEdit 16, and marry them into a single digital file that can become a QuickTime movie or be exported to video – or even film. Another way to look at After Effects if to see it as an all-in-one animation camera stand, non-linear editor, and post-production facility where you add titles, sound, and special effects. That’s one cool package!

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