Click on the image above to watch the animation
This month we get to talk with Brian Maffitt of Total Training. Brian created a fantastic animated opening for his Adobe CS5 training DVDs using the Zaxwerks 3D Reflector plug-in. In this interview he talks about the decisions he made when working out the design and why he did it all in After Effects and not a 3D program.
ZW – What was this animation done for?
BM – This is the opening animation for our Total Training for Photoshop CS5 Essentials series. It was designed as a template… so far we’ve made fifteen of these openings all with the same look and feel as this one, but each covers a different Adobe product like Flash, After Effects, Dreamweaver, etc. The color tone and text changes but the geometry and camera moves remain the same.
ZW – What gave you the idea to build your intros for CS5 training to look like a stack of blocks?
BM – The animation had to solve two basic conditions. First it had to have a visual connection which would be evocative of the Adobe package design without being a direct copy of it. If you look at the packages they are basically white with 3D planes, some blurring and reflections. I started with a couple of cubes, but then needed more surface area so I could get more words on the screen. As I added cubes it grew into its final form.
The second condition was that we weren’t doing just one graphic. We had to make an opening animation for each CS5 series that we release, plus a dozen or so animations for the chapter titles–again, for each series. That’s over 150 animations so far. So the design of the template had to be able to handle lots of different titles yet all keep the same look and feel.
ZW – So you decided to do this project in After Effects?
BM – Right, the entire thing was done in After Effects using 3D layers, a few blur filters and the Zaxwerks 3D Reflector plug-in.
ZW – Why not a regular 3D program?
BM – This project would have been a real challenge to set up in a 3D program. It may look simple at first, but notice how the titles slide over the surfaces and wrap around the corners. Sometimes a piece of text slides down a vertical column of blocks but ends up on the same surface as a piece of text that slides in from the side. If you looked at the project from overhead you would see that elements move at right angles to each other in ways that would be extremely difficult to map out using traditional 3D textures. Doing it just once would have required some serious planning and a deep knowledge of texture mapping… but more importantly, I don’t know of a 3D program out there that is capable of handling the changes needed to quickly implement 150 additional versions, at least not with any degree of efficiency and speed. Because my texture map is a live AE composition, changes are very quick to make and don’t require any pre-rendering. Basically I change the text on one layer, and everything else propagates throughout the nested comps that make up the project.
ZW – How fast can you make a new version?
BM – Honestly? It took a couple days to set up and tweak the first project, but now that I have it, it takes about half an hour to set up all the graphics for a new series. That’s an opening title animation and on average about twelve chapter title animations per series, each one with unique text. And really the only reason it takes that much time is because some of the titles have long words that don’t fit nicely on the side of a cube so I have to tweak it, change the size, squish the font, things like that to get it to fit and still look right.
Doing these small tweaks and changes in a 3D program would have been very painstaking… tweaking, remapping, rendering, remapping again, rerendering again, over and over, but having everything inside of After Effects makes it very simple and the feedback is immediate.
ZW – And the 3D Reflector helps with that?
BM – Oh definitely. Zaxwerks’ 3D Reflector plug-in makes the work look tremendous because the reflections reinforce the 3D effect. Actually, once I saw the Adobe packaging had reflections in it, the 3D Reflector plug-in is what made the project possible. There are other reflection plug-ins out there but I needed one that would handle 3D camera moves as well has handle real reflective surfaces. If you look at the movie again you’ll see that as the text wraps around the corners, intersects and overlaps, all of that motion is appearing in the reflections too. Only the Zaxwerks plug-in can do that.
3D Reflector makes it look great, and ongoing revisions are really easy. As you make changes to the comp you’ll see immediate changes in the reflective surfaces. If you need to make more changes you’re still in After Effects so you just work normally; nothing different. There’s no pre-rendering of maps or hoops to jump through, and when you’re done 3D Reflector makes it look like a high end 3D render. I’m very happy with it, and I think the results speak for themselves.