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Aetuts+ Book Review: Creating Motion Graphics

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Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects, Fifth Edition for CS5 is an essential guide to After Effects, convenient comprehensive, authoratative, and designed for learning at all skill levels. It's oriented towards features rather than tasks or tutorials. This 5th edition adds sections for new features of CS4 and CS5 like Roto Brush, Refine Matte, and Mocha/Mocha Shape, adds a chapter on the "Parallel Worlds" of 3D layer types and interactions, and reworks sections on text, color management, and cameras, lighting, & reflections.

CMG helps you maintain and sharpen your tool skillset and at the same time it explains "how After Effects thinks" so you can leverage tool strengths and shortcomings appropriately. The book's design is punctuated by numerous graphic examples and highlighted tips, gotchas, factoids, and other sidebars. Some features have step-by-step tutorials and many don't -- but they do have example projects to demonstrate important points, quirks, and obscurities hardly found elsewhere. An example of this is the phrase "Adjustment Lights" in the 2008 edition (a term not found in AE Help), which later was propagated in popular video podcasts.

After a brief introduction to AE's user interface, the book's chapters are arranged in a sequence honed through years of teaching. Here are the highlights:

  • animation, mastering the Graph Editor, frame rate manipulation, motion blur, motion tracking, Puppet Tool
  • layer control, masks, mattes, Roto Brush, keying, paint, cloning
  • working with Text and text animation, Shape layers
  • 3D space, lighting, cameras, reflections, 3D layer types and interactions, working with external 3D renders
  • effect plug-ins, compound effects, presets and variations, special round-up PDF
  • working with audio, bonus PDF on audio effects
  • expression basic, bonus PDF chapter on deeper modes of expressions and PDF overview of scripting by Dan Ebberts
  • videosyncracies and video issues, import & interpret, color management, proxies, rendering

There a few gaps, even in a book running over 750 pages! You may find yourself flipping around for information on functional tasks like making 3D text or multi-plane animations and camera mapping. Some may miss a dedicated section on color correction instead of looking at plug-in descriptions in the Effects Roundup PDF (the Exposure effect is explained in the chapter on color management).

A theme that runs throughout the book is "how After Effects thinks" under the hood. The render pipeline now has too many exceptions to fit in a single chart as in early editions. Now render order explanations and tricks are conveyed in charts and sidebars in sections on mattes, modes, parenting, nesting & precomposing, collapsing geometrics & continuous rasterization, and compound effects. You won't see the render pipeline explained with such clarity and detail elsewhere. In all, CMG is easy on the eyes, pleasant to wander through, encyclopedic, and probably the best reference to After Effects. Most of the questions on e-mail lists and forums could be answered quickly with this book.

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