I didn’t learn After Effects in college. In fact, like most aspiring motion designers, my training came from online tutorials created by guys like Greyscalegorilla, Andrew Kramer and Evan Abrams. If you work as a motion designer, you probably owe your career to one of these guys.
I spoke with Evan Abrams about how he got started doing tutorials (you’ll never guess how), what he really thinks about Andrew Kramer, the mystery behind shape layers and if you should ditch school and just learn from him.
Let’s get to it.
How did you get started creating After Effects tutorials?
A long time ago, we were doing sketch comedy. I used to be a lot funnier than I am now. We would put up a silly video online with some effects in it. Later, I would do a video explaining how we did it. The tutorials were about 10 times more popular than anything else that we were putting out. So, I kept going. I never thought about teaching people as a calling.
A lot of it was people saying, “I’d like to know this.” Let’s say, I used the wiggle expression in one tutorial and someone says, “I don’t understand the wiggle expression.” So, then I thought, “I should do a tutorial that explains the what that’s all about.” So it kind of grew organically from one project to the next.
How would you compare yourself to Andrew Kramer at Video Copilot?
The only model for someone making tutorials, for me, was Andrew Kramer’s stuff at Video Copilot. He’s pretty much credited for free tutorials with bad jokes. The main criticism of his stuff is that his tutorials are like a recipe to teach people how to do a very specific thing. So, I tried to make tutorials on things that were a little more open ended. Hopefully, people get the information from it that they need to solve some of their challenges.
Do you develop the technique yourself or are you breaking down popular techniques?
When I’m looking for what tutorials I’m going to teach next, I have to think, what trends are people excited about or going to be excited about? About a year ago, one of the big things I noticed was this low-fi movement, hipster aesthetic thing.
I also answer a lot of questions. If I respond to every question, I would have tutorial content for years. It’s non stop. For every one tutorial I make, there are three requests coming back. A lot of times, I can see trends developing in the request. There was a time when a lot of people were asking about shape layers because shape layers are very new and very strange. And, they are still very new and very strange.
When you are working with shapes, do you make out the shots to go from one shape to another?
I start out with a script. At this point I ask, what visuals ideas convey these words? Are there rectangles or circles where one thing can turn into another thing?
If the script talks about security equals profits, we need to see a visual representation of security turn into a visual representation of profits. Let’s say we make a lock out of a square and a curve. Then we can have a key go into the lock, the lock opens and while that’s in motion we have a curve already, we take that curve, continue it into an “S” curve shape, then we throw in a couple of bars, dissolve that box and now we have a dollar sign. It should flow logically from what we are saying.
I get a lot of people who ask (the number one request for tutorials) could you do a tutorial about transitioning between shapes? The reason I don’t do these tutorials is because each one is as unique as a snowflake. I can show you how to go from an airplane, to a circle around the Earth, to a robot, whatever, but that’s not going to help you if you don’t have any airplanes or robots in your project.
A tutorial can’t do everything. It takes imagination.
I can’t teach an art style. A lot of how you transform from one thing to another is how you draw them. If I were to do a tutorial on this subject it would be more of a lesson on exercises one can do to expand their mind in this way. A classic one is just the circle study. Draw 100 circles. Draw each circle as a different thing so each one of them has the base geometry of a circle. That circle can be an eye ball, it can be a balloon, a wheel… the circle is found in so many things in nature. That helps you think… what can I turn that into? You can turn it into anything you’ve drawn, just by adding and subtracting a few lines.
How do you feel about templates.
A freelancer must learn to adapt to these trends. Templates offer the designer the ability to make income on sites like Videohive.net. I don’t post my stuff on these sites because it’s too dense. It’s too hard to be noticed for this kind of work.
I can’t tell you how many times people have asked, ‘I’ve been looking on videohive.net and I have these 3 motion graphics templates that I like, however, none of them do exactly what I want. Can you modify it for me?’ There will always be a need for custom work.
So you don’t think motion-templates are bringing down the industry?
The first thing I wanted to do, as a career, was to be a world champion taekwondo fighter. I was pretty close to making the national team when I got a pretty bad knee injury and my life irrevocably changed. The question is, are more entrants into your competitive space good or bad for the space you’re in? In the case of fighting, no. Having more opponents, it’s always good because it will elevate you to adapt to new things. Your style will change to overcome them. Are having hard opponents a bad thing? Definitely not, because your game will be elevated. It’s going to force me to do better.
When we get to things like templates, we see a sea of sameness. If anything, I think it’s accelerating how fast trends come and go. For me, it’s fun because that means people are asking for new things all the time. If someone were coming into the space today, they would probably be daunted by it. I’ve talked with a lot of people who thought, if I can’t beat them, join them. So they started making templates and they lost a lot of hours down that rabbit hole.
In this day and age, is it worth going to school for motion graphics?
If you’re getting out of high school, you want to get into motion graphics and you’re questioning whether to get a post-secondary education or not… always go to post-secondary school. If only because you’ll meet cute girls (or boys) and you may want to date them. The point is, you will meet people you have never met before, in an environment you have never been in before, and you will be learning skills you have never seen before. I can’t stress how important school is for the rest of your days. It is not that easy to go to school at any time in your life. When you’re sitting there and you say, “I hate my job. I wish I could go back to school.” That’s a difficult place to be. It’s easier to do it when you are young.
Are you born a motion designer or can you learn it?
A lot of people think, ‘Oh you must have been born with so much talent.’ I have to tell them the bad news that when I was a child, I was a tragically bad artist. Everyone starts out pretty bad at first. Sure, you may have been born with a certain taste level. Then, all we have to do is try and make our ability match our taste level. Hopefully, your taste level also continues to grow.