I recently had the awesome experience of being in Seattle for the 2nd annual After Effects World Conference, put on by Future Media Concepts and focused on motion graphics, visual effects, and animation design in Adobe After Effects. I’ve been working in the software for nearly four years now, but I’m mostly self-taught and was really looking forward to the opportunity. These were my three most significant takeaways:
You reach a certain level in a creative discipline where your own development is less about tips and tricks (though these are helpful) or even specific techniques (though you should always be learning more), and more about finding the motivation and inspiration to keep trying new things. One of the keynote speakers was Andrew Kramer, whose "Basic Training" tutorial series launched the careers of a lot of current After Effects artists, myself included. I found myself having a difficult time deciding which sessions to go to because I wanted to meet everybody and learn everything. That’s the kind of creative momentum that sticks with you after you leave a conference – that continues to inspire your work afterward.
There were a lot of sessions that didn’t so much teach techniques or ideas that were new to me, but rather showed me a different way of thinking about how to approach design problems in general. Jayse Hansen talked about his UI and screen design. It's amazing to me how patient and dedicated he is to taking simple techniques and pushing them as far they’ll go. And it often results in a finished product that looks way more complex than it really is.
As the only dedicated Motion Designer on our team, I’m used to doing a lot of technical and application-specific thinking on my own. I have coworkers who also know After Effects, but they’re not in it every single day. At AE World, I had the new experience of being surrounded all day long by After Effects nerds who were there for the sole purpose of geeking out on the software, and learning as much as possible in three short days. The opportunity to talk shop with people from all different flavors of the industry – with different styles, approaches and ideas – was absolutely invigorating. Plus, I came away from the weekend with a few more Twitter and LinkedIn contacts, which is always nice.
Meeting the Adobe team
The first day of the conference was dubbed “Adobe Day” and featured presentations and discussion groups with the guys on the After Effects development team. My first big surprise was in learning just how small the team actually is. As it turns out, this is a huge advantage for users, because it means After Effects is very personal to them, and they care deeply about seeing it (and its users) succeed. It’s really quite the paradigm shift when you stop seeing it as a product being sold by a giant, faceless corporation, and instead as a project that’s actively and passionately worked on by a handful of real people interested in what people are doing with their creation.
Guys like Todd Kopriva and Tim Kurkoski spent a lot of time browsing various forums to answer peoples’ questions, as well as gathering information that will help them take the product to the next level. Steve Forde, the Product Manager for After Effects, gave a presentation where he basically ripped open the hood and provided us a fascinating glimpse into the future of the software. I can’t talk specifics because we all signed an NDA just to be in the room, but it’s very, very exciting.
I came away from AE World 2014 feeling inspired and refreshed, with a notebook full of scribbled keyboard shortcuts and techniques, ready to fire up the software and produce better work than I ever have. After Effects has always been a “deep” program, one where someone can work in the software for 20 years and still find new ways to accomplish an effect. Adobe continues to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible, and I’m really excited about what’s still to come.