Angie’s software favourites of the month

There are a few nice pieces of software around at the moment that I want to share with you. The first is Beauty Box from Digital Anarchy. An incredible plug-in for video applications (like After Effects, Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro). If you shoot interviews or wedding videos and don’t have a good make up person on hand to fix their spotty complexions, you can simply do it in post with this plug-in, it works miracles! Here’s an example where I’ve used it on a particularly blemish-ridden shot of me! This was a one-click job but Beauty Box offers you a multitude of fine controls to really perfect results, and remember this works across frames too, it’s pretty damned amazing!

Angie, before and afetr Beauty Box treatment

The next app I want to feature is Red Giant Software‘s amazing Plastic Bullet. It only costs a couple of dollars for your iPhone and does an amazing job of randomizing fantastic Holga-esque effects on your pictures. It’s addictive and makes nearly every photo a masterpiece in the click of a button. Those who want to apply similar looks in Photoshop or video applications can check out the more mature sibling applications, Magic Bullet Looks for Photoshop, After Effects and Final Cut Pro. Here you can see a range of effects that I applied to the pictures above.

Oh, and before I forget, just a note to remind my blog readers of our very own special software offer this month! We have recently released a new version of GridIron Flow 1.0.4, which is compatible with Adobe CS5 applications. To celebrate this release we’re having a very special launch offer on pricing till June 4th 2010. you can pick up a copy of Flow for the incredible price of $99.99 (MSRP $299.99).

I’d love to hear about your own apps of choice so please chime in with comments.

Creative After Effects 7 Reviews

“Today’s software is so creative and seductive that it is easy to think that’s all there is to creating engaging content. Angie Taylor’s book shows the other side of the story: the visual techniques and design principles that underpin digital moving image making. In this comprehensive guide she has assembled a wealth of tips and exercises in topics such as drawing, composition and typography that will be required reading for all up-and-coming motion media artists.”

Birgitta Hosea, Artist and Course Director of MA Character Animation, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London.

“Of all the After Effects books I looked at whilst trying to learn it,
I found Angie’s was the most user friendly and creative.”

Chris Cunningham, Director of music videos, commercials and video art.

“…a worthwhile investment for animators and artists who want to
focus on creating their designs and not get bogged down in
technical jargon… Angie has a knack for demystifying the intricacies
of After Effects and coming up with creative uses of the features.”

Steve Kilisky, Senior Product Manager, After Effects, Adobe Systems Inc.

“Angie Taylor’s work is inspired. She is a highly creative animator – inventive, witty and naturally sympathetic to individual programme styles”.

Carys Edwards, Director, Children’s BBC

“Angie Taylor is the best After Effects teacher I know. She goes beyond technical descriptions of features, and shows you how to best use them in real world projects.”

Bruce Bullis, Senior API Engineer, Adobe Dynamic Media, Adobe Systems Inc.

“This book takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the world of creating animation and special effects with Adobe After Effects. It is much more than just a software manual, Angie Taylor seeks to stimulate the creative use of computer animation. Complex technical issues are clearly and concisely explained, making it suitable for beginners as well as the more advanced users”.

Birgitta Hosea, Course Director, London Animation Studio, Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, London.

“…one of my favorite demo artists in the industry. Her tutorials
are always compelling, well-designed, and worthwhile.”

Brian Maffit, Creative Director, Total Training

“Angie is an outstanding guru of After Effects…her seminars
brings gasps of awe from seasoned and beginner audiences
alike… you will enjoy this book immensely.”


John Keedwell, GBCT, GTC. British Cinematographer

Blog on Blogs – Part 01

Recently a few people have been asking me about my blog. “What is it?” “Why do you do it?” “What is it for?” The funny thing is that most of these questions come to me via my Facebook page. This made me realize that there’s an ironic ignorance surrounding blogs by the general public. Ironic because Blogging is basically what everyone’s doing when they post information on their Facebook page.

The definition of blogging, according to Wikipedia, the free, collaborative online dictionary is this; “A blog (a contraction of the term “web log“) is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.”

People’s first experience with posting content online is often with the ubiquitous Facebook (or other social networking website). Hardly surprising, they provide users with simple methods for getting stuff online easily, no programming involved! You can create your own free account, upload messages, links, pictures and videos. Everything’s taken care of for you, you don’t have to do any site maintenance and most of the latest web technologies are implemented as and when they become available. But all this comes at a price, it’s a double-edged sword. These sites don’t provide all this for nothing so how do they make a profit by providing you with all this free stuff? (I’ll use Facebook as an example from this point on as it is currently the one most people will be familiar with but all these sites operate in similar ways.)

The simple answer is advertising. Facebook has built up a huge number of users. At the time of this blog there were more than 400 million users with an average of 50% active each day – a captive audience of sitting ducks just waiting to be sold stuff! As you can imagine this is extremely attractive to advertisers, they can hit millions of people very easily.

Facebook’s database must be one of the biggest and most lucrative in the entire world. By posting stuff on your Facebook page, you allow them to build up a detailed profile of you, so that advertisers can target their business towards your individual preferences and interests. If you’re not careful with your privacy settings, these personal details can also be passed on to other businesses making even more profit for Facebook and it’s affiliates. This may, or may not concern you. After all, when you sign up for a Facebook account you sign a Terms and Conditions agreement to agree with all this, you did read it before signing it didn’t you?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use these sites, quite the contrary. I have a Facebook account and think it’s a really great platform but I am very careful about my privacy settings and about the information I include. What many people are unaware of is that it’s not only you that can share your information. If you don’t customize your privacy settings your friends can distribute information about you to other applications that you may not want to join. Take a little time to read the terms and customize your privacy options, make sure you understand what you’re doing. There are websites that offer help with this, for example allfacebook.com

I’m aware how easy it is to express yourself via social networking, I think it has a place for sure. It’s a great means for sharing information quickly with a large group of people that you know will share similar interests. But if Facebook dissolved today, or if they changed the rules, forcing you to close your Facebook account, you’d loose everything, your whole profile would cease to exist. All the photos, contacts and messages that you’d built up over the years would be gone. (But Facebook would already have all the information it needs from you about you, your friends, shared likes and dislikes etc.) I find it scary to think that all the effort I put into my Facebook profile could end up being a complete waste of time. Imagine if Facebook continues to grow and achieves it’s rumored ambition of controlling the internet. They could start charging for the service, effectively holding your memories and communication to ransom. This may seem like an unlikely scenario but I’m just trying to illustrate to you how non-permanent and insecure your profile contents could be.

So, what’s the answer? Blogging! You own your blog. You control what’s included and you can host it wherever you want, making sure it’s secure and backed up forever. It provides you with a great platform for uploading your thoughts, pictures and links, you can even feed information from it to your Facebook page, giving you the best of both worlds. All you need to do is set up a free account. My favorite is WordPress but there are others including Blogger. Once you have your free account you can begin writing. Some people use a blog like a diary, adding to it every day. Others only blog when they have something specific to say. Many great authors have been produced as a result of blogging. One of the most famous was the case of Julie Powell who wrote about the recipes of food writer, Julia Child. This story was eventually made into a hollywood movie.

Blogging really is a great way of expressing yourself, I think everyone should have one! Next time I’ll talk more about the benefits of blogging. I’ll give you some tips and techniques and show you how you can use RSS readers to build up a network of your own favorite blogs to take inspiration from.

Angie’s shuffle track of the day; Express Yourself – N.W.A. – Listen free on we7.com

Creative Constipation:

I was describing a friend ofWaiting for ideas mine as suffering from creative constipation recently. It’s a common complaint, many designers suffer from it and it can be the result of multifarious causes; tight deadlines, the distractions of every-day life, worrying about friends and families, an untidy desk. All of these have been my obstructions at one time or another, preventing my creative juices from running freely.

Fear of failure is the main culprit though, not just failure in the eyes of others but more importantly, failure to oneself. As a creative I’m cursed by the desire to create, it’s a necessary ablution – required to purge my brain of the incessant busy-ness it experiences on a daily basis. I have important things to say, I need to communicate!

But it’s not just a simple case of drawing, designing or writing just any-old-thing, it has to be good, to mean something, to make sense and, most importantly, to inspire and evoke reaction. This pressure I place upon myself is enormous, it’s enough to make me seize up into a foetal ball – like a anally-retentive hedgehog.

Luckily I’ve discovered ways of dealing with this potentially crippling condition. When  a bad case of CC kicks in, the natural response is to sit in front of a computer screen in a frozen state of panic, waiting for that elusive “idea” to formulate. This will never happen. OK, I lied, it might happen but chances are that, if it does, it will be a crappy idea.

In order to free your mind and to come up with the best ideas you just need to get working. If you are a writer, just start writing! Any old rubbish that comes to your mind will do, whether it’s related to the subject or not. The exercise of writing will free you up and you’ll find that eventually you will start to incorporate the subject at hand and little gems will appear amongst the sentences. Once this happens, go over it again, delete the rubbish, elaborate on the good stuff and craft it into something positive.

If you’re a designer or artist, get away from the computer! Pick up  a sketchbook and start drawing. If you can’t draw then go out and take some photographs or even Google images for inspiration by typing in key words. Drag what you find into a a document to create a mood board (I use Curio for this as it maintains links to the original files).

If you’re working on a design think about the individual components separately as this can be less intimidating than thinking about the job as one, huge, insurmountable project. Spend an hour playing with fonts, not just fonts on your computer but looking around at shop signs, magazines, anywhere you see type. Tracing letter-forms from magazines can be a great way of “feeling” a font instead of just liking it. Spend another hour with some paint, playing with it, experimenting to find color combinations that please you or convey the feeling you want to get across.

From these experiments your ideas will grow, some will be awful but elements will shine through that you can use in the current, or future projects. The ideal is find time to do creative exercises like these on a regular basis, even when there’s no deadline. Modern life and work pressures make this very difficult but a good employer knows that to get the best out of creative talent, employees need inspiration and time for experimentation. Most creative agencies make sure their staff are looked after fairly well with generous time off (compared to other industries) and a good working environment. (Why do you think most production companies have fridges full of wholesome food, drinks and the odd bit of alcohol?) 🙂

If you’re a freelancer, remember that you are your own employer so don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow time for experimentation and inspiration. Avoid stress, look after yourself and don’t forget to have the odd bit of fun. Finally, once the ideas start coming, enjoy it but don’t get too cocky or over-confident. You want to be freed up by these exercises but not to the extent where you’re producing nothing but a vast quantity of digital diarrhea!

Angie’s track of the day – Free Your Mind – En Vogue

Copyright or wrong?

I apologize for my recent silence in the blog-o-sphere but I’ve been busy putting the finishing touches to my forthcoming book, “Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist“.

It’s funny, I’ve written books before. Software books, teaching people how to use Adobe After Effects to be specific. I was commissioned to write these books, at the time there were very few books on the subject and there was a growing demand for them. I must say, I hated writing them, the process was so bogged down with technical checking and they had to be written in a very standard, linear way which I found stifling.

I’m pleased to say that this book was different. It’s about the principles of art and design, a subject very close to my heart, something I live and breathe so writing it was very hard work but also, a real pleasure. That is, till it came to illustrating the book. Creating my own images and diagrams was fine, no problem. But when it came time to adding photographs of famous inventors, artists, artworks and examples of motion graphics, the nightmares started.

I tried my best to get clearance for the images, but to no avail. First of all I had to find out who the copyright owners were, this is not as easy as you may think. In some cases several people claim to own copyright so how do I know which one to believe? Even after finding out and writing to them, I’d often get no response. One day I rang the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Italy to ask for permission to use a reproduction of The Flagellation by Piero Della Francesca, I greeted them in my best pigeon Italian (which admittedly is pretty poor!) I asked if there was anyone there who spoke English and they promptly hung up on me! This happened three times!

This was an extreme example but fairly typical in that nobody seemed interested in my offers to pay for written permissions to use their work. It seems that everybody wants to protect their work but nobody wants to sell you the rights to use it, so what’s the point in protecting it, what are they protecting it from exactly?

I have no intention of stealing anybody’s work, using it for any obscene publication, claiming that it was mine, all I wanted to do was pay tribute to some of my favorite pieces of work, and their creators. I presumed that copyright was intended to prevent the creators from losing revenue but if they’re not making it easy for people to pay, how do they expect to make any money? It seems very sad that the creative outpourings of artists and designers are surrounded by a cobweb of bureaucracy that prevents them from getting exposure, making money, providing inspiration for others and being shared, loved and developed into the art and design of tomorrow.

Since encountering this situation I have read up on copyright and want to share a couple of really interesting articles on the subject. The Abolish Copyright website explains why this system is so antiquated and has some great links to other articles. Anyone who is planning to provide web content in the UK should read up about the Digital Economy Bill which is being pushed through parliament as we speak. It’s likely to make matters a whole lot worse by propping up and supporting bad business models by giving unprecedented power to private entities to impose sanctions based on suspicion rather than due process. They can even take away your internet access if they suspect you of having copyright items on your website, it’s crazy! But, it’s not too late to act, The Open Rights Group will help you fight this insidious and draconian bill before it’s too late!

Finally, as a celebration of those brave individuals who stick two fingers up at copyright law, and as a tribute to Malcolm McLaren, a true eccentric Englishman who helped change the face of music. Bow Wow Wow‘s fantastic “C30, C60, C90 – Go!” – listen free on Last FM.

Creative Video Workflow

Angie TaylorI’m busy preparing to leave on a mammoth journey to San Fransisco to speak at the Macworld 2010 conference for the first time.

I’ll be talking about production workflow, specifically broadcast production as that’s where I spent 12 years of my life freelancing as a motion graphic designer/ animator.

I’ll also share some of the challenges I’ve faced in the transition from designer to creative director, and my methods for overcoming those hurdles.

The talk is part of the users conference (session code: US964) and is titled “Creative Video Workflow – From Storyboard to Completion“. It’s taking place on Friday February 12th, between 15:00  – 16:15.

Of course I’ll be talking about the software I use in my everday work, and will share some top tips and tricks. But my main focus will be on my creative processes. How do I come up with ideas? What do I do to make sure my skills are up to date? How to I collaborate with others and manage remote working?

If you’re interested in finding out more use the priority code TWEETMW when you register to get a $15 Expo pass or 15% off of any conference package. Onsite expo passes are $45, so it’s a great deal!

I hope to see you there!