Course Instructor Mark Christiansen on the SOM Podcast
Industry Icon Mark Christiansen Talks Video Games, Movies, Compositing in After Effects, and His New School of Motion Course
Mark Christiansen on the School of Motion Podcast
Show Notes from Episode 79 of the School of Motion Podcast, Featuring Mark Christiansen
The Transcript from Mark Christiansen’s Interview with Joey Korenman of SOM
Joey Korenman: This is The School of Motion Podcast. Come for the MoGraph, stay for the puns.
Joey Korenman: We launched a new course. Oh yes, we did, and this one is a doozy. VFX for Motion will be open for registration starting with the upcoming winter session. We pulled out all the stops on this, producing a pretty large scale shoot to get elements for you to work with, bringing on designers like Nidia Dias, David Brodeur, Matt Naboshek, and Ariel Costa to provide designs and elements. We did not skimp on the instructor either. Mark Christiansen has quite literally written the book on doing compositing in After Effects. I mean that. He wrote the book, After Effects Studio Techniques. He has also worked at Industrial Light & Magic, LucasArts, the legendary studio, The Orphanage. He worked on Avatar. The guy knows what he’s doing.
Joey Korenman: He’s also brilliant and hilarious, which you are about to learn. In this episode, we go back in time to talk about Mark’s experience comping shots for Rebel Assault II, one of my favorite PC games ever. He did this using After Effects 2.0. We talk about his experience working on huge feature films and other assorted projects, and we talk about what he dives into in VFX for Motion. This episode has everything. It’s got nostalgia, interesting historical trivia about our industry, some celebrity cameos, and tons of practical tips for doing compositing in After Effects. Take out a notepad for this one.
Joey Korenman: We are going to talk to Mark now right after … You know the deal. Right after we hear from one of our amazing alumni.
Lee Williamson: My name’s Lee Williamson, and I am a School of Motion alumni. I had 17 years of experience before I did their courses, and once I had done the courses, I wanted to trash my portfolio and start afresh. I am now only limited by my imagination when it comes to animation. Because of that, I’m indebted to you guys. Thank you.
Joey Korenman: Well, Mark, we’ve been spending a lot of time together, and I actually realized when I was writing the questions for this that I have all these questions for you that I’ve never actually asked you, even having the opportunity to do so. I’m really excited. Yeah, I’m very excited about this podcast. I think a lot of our listeners have probably heard your name around the industry, because you’ve been in this industry in various capacities throughout your career. I looked at your LinkedIn, I looked at your IMDb page, and you’ve just got this really, really impressive resume. I thought maybe we could start by just kind of getting the brief history of Mark Christiansen. How did you find yourself working in this field doing what you do?
Mark Christiansen: I would love to say it was all part of some grand plan, but in fact, I was clueless and lucky.
Joey Korenman: Like most of us.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. You know, so there are different tellings of a tale like that, since it’s such a broad, open question, but going all the way back, it started with a second semester senior year internship at Disney Imagineering. That, after a while, led me to a PA gig at ILM through that intern led to LucasArts. When I say led to, it was never so straightforward. It’s not like, “Hey, cool. You did that, now you can do this.” It was a process of getting in touch with this person, waiting this out, going and doing this on the side.
Yeah, then my first real job was in the art department at LucasArts at a time when, honestly neither … I mean, motion graphics, it was a thing, but I don’t even know if anybody was even calling it that, particularly. Motion design, any of that. I don’t remember what we were calling it. We were basically doing a lot of stuff that was new. I was comping shots in After Effects before I knew what compositing was.
Joey Korenman: That’s awesome. What was going on at ILM when you were interning there? Or PAing, whatever you were doing there.
Mark Christiansen: I worked on some commercials. This is in the era when ILM, and LucasArts, and Lucasfilm had this huge brand, but were actually teeny companies. ILM, at that time, was probably 200 people. You know, this is the ’90s, so this is like Jurassic Park era ILM. I wasn’t working on that. I was pulled in for some commercials. Yeah, and LucasArts was right next door. It was all in this strip mall in San Rafael. It was really kind of fun.
Joey Korenman: That’s amazing. You know, when I saw LucasArts on there, I immediately thought of X-Wing and TIE Fighter, and all that stuff. Then, I read somewhere that you worked on Rebel Assault II. Now, I don’t know if half the listeners that are hearing this right now know what that is. Rebel Assault, I mean the first one, it was one of these early CD-ROM games that took advantage of the fact that you could now actually sort of have things that look like video in your computer games, whereas before, it was really hard to do that. It was just kind of fascinating to me to think about … It never occurred to me then, obviously, because I was a kid, but now it’s like, “Yeah, obviously some animator had to make that, and composite it.” It was sort of meant to look like Star Wars, so I’m sure there was sort of a mix of CG, and practical, and all that stuff. I’d love to hear about, how was that kind of stuff made back then? What was your role in that?
Mark Christiansen: You know, funny thing, I was hired specifically to do that game, which makes me sound super important. Actually, what had happened … I mean, working at ILM was fantastic, but I was a PA and I wanted to make things. Above all, I just wanted to make stuff, and create experiences. I didn’t know how to do it. On the side, I got a job in a guy’s basement in San Francisco in Bernal Heights, working on one of the early CD-ROM games that incorporated video. If you’ve ever seen these, they are really something to behold. I mean, in terms of the bare minimum to do anything like full motion video. They really make early Nickelodeon movies look pretty sophisticated, some of them.
Joey Korenman: What game was that? I have to know what game you were working on. Do you remember?
Mark Christiansen: Oh, that was Wrath of the Gods.
Joey Korenman: I remember that game.
Mark Christiansen: Really?
Joey Korenman: I used to be really into that kind of stuff. Yeah, like 7th Guest and all those early … Yeah, all that stuff.
Mark Christiansen: Phantasmagoria. That was a hilarious one.
Joey Korenman: Oh. Well, but that one, was like production value out the wazoo for the time. I mean, it was crazy. They had actual actors and actresses working on that. Ish. So you’re in the basement.
Mark Christiansen: Well, yeah. That suddenly got me … I had a friend at LucasArts who really wanted my connection at ILM to work for him, I think. He kept pulling me in and then finally I had a thing I could show them like, “Oh, here’s a thing I’ve worked on,” and they hadn’t done it. They had not done a game with video in it. Suddenly, I’m the one eyed king in the land of the blind. They wanted to hire me specifically because Rebel Assault had been a, for the time, somewhat photoreal game that blew up. I don’t remember even … This is early ’90s.
Mark Christiansen: The followup, they, of course, wanted to do one better. They sort of had these very barely moving … The way they got around it, I think in the first one, was they have the pilots always kind of sitting, and so their faces would move. Now they wanted the full experience. This was a big deal, because I mean, Lucasfilm hadn’t produced anything in the Star Wars universe really since Return of the Jedi, actually. I mean, there’d been other … Well, let’s see. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I think there were a couple other projects. It’s not like we were all that, but still. It was the brand. It was a big deal.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, so that’s how I ended up there, just because I knew about that.
Joey Korenman: What were you doing there? Yeah, what was your job?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, so I find myself in an art department, about 20 people, and there were some really gifted artists in this department. I mean, we had concept artists, and background artists, and people who, some of them really love games and were focused on that, and others could’ve equally worked right next door at ILM. In fact, there was one guy in the art department whose twin was in the ILM department. You know, at first, it was like, “What are we doing here? What is this?” Then, I got a copy of After Effects 2 beta. Yeah, and I started messing around with it. I was like, “Oh damn. Check this out.” I could add parallax to shots that didn’t have them. I really got into the key frame interface.
Mark Christiansen: Then, when it came time to do some tests for what we were going to do with Rebel Assault II, we had on our team this guy, Hal Barwood, who was a friend of George, and actually is in … I don’t know if he’s in any of George’s movies, but he’s in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was buddies with Steve Spielberg, and George, and all these guys, and himself, did some directing. He was part of the DGA. And had written Steven’s first film, Sugarland Express.
Mark Christiansen: Anyway, so Hal knew a lot about filmmaking, and he had this idea of how we were going to make the ship battle dynamic. That was the whole deal with Rebel Assault, is it’s ship to ship combat. That’s basically the game. The deal was we shot a test on a green screen in this little room down in Mill Valley, like the smallest green screen stage I think you could possibly actually shoot on. We had a little rig with an inner tube, like a big tire tube like you’d go down a river in, on top of a platform with some two by fours that grips could hold onto to rock the thing. Then, he would direct it like, “Okay, now you’re flying. Okay, now you’re taking heavy fire,” and they would rock it really hard when the ship’s getting blasted.
Mark Christiansen: Out of that, we got a lot. We got motion, we got motion blur, we got all this dynamic stuff, right? Actually, we were looking at reference of Top Gun as well, because since Star Wars had finished, Top Gun had come along and kind of upped the game in terms of dynamic cockpit action. It was almost like Star Wars now, the way they had done it, felt a little slow. Like in the original movie, it’s almost like they’re driving around in Cadillacs, right? Rather than sports cars.
Mark Christiansen: Anyway, so then, I had to comp this stuff into these backgrounds that were created in 3d Studio, and I had secret weapons. I did not have any match move, any camera tracking, nothing like that. Not even the tracker. I did it by eye. I got to know key frames really well this way. Turn on the motion blur, and matched the color, and made it look a little bit cinematic with some deep blacks. I crushed that cockpit a little bit, which was the opposite of what people were doing. I mean, most people were like, “No. Come on, you got to show off the GG. It looks so great.” I was like, “No, the CG is not the star of the shot.” It blew people away.
Mark Christiansen: There was a guy in our department who’d come over from ILM, technical guy, who I fooled him. He came in and saw the shot, and said, “Well, of course, you took all that on the set.” I’m like, “No, look.” I showed him the before on the green screen. It was really satisfying.
Joey Korenman: That’s amazing.
Mark Christiansen: Then I got to do like a half hour’s worth of it.
Joey Korenman: So you were using After Effects, like super duper early After Effects I’m imagining.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, literally After Effects 2 and 3 to get that job done. Yeah.
Joey Korenman: That’s crazy. I mean, do you have any recollection of like … I’m sure there are things that are in it now that would have saved you days of your life back then. I mean, you know, you mentioned there was no motion tracker. There was a keyer built in? What was even it at that point?
Mark Christiansen: Oh, yeah. No. For keying, oh man. I think maybe … Gosh, were we using the ultimate plugin? There was a plugin that was helping us out with that. No. Actually, you know what? The ultimate plugin was just for Photoshop. I think there was a built in keyer, but it was not Keylight. It was whatever it was. It was a linear color key that I don’t think is even still in there. The keyframe interface was really good, and the motion blur was really good, and levels tool was in there. A lot of the things we needed to pull this off were there.
Joey Korenman: That’s amazing. Actually, we’ll talk about this in a little bit. I mean, that’s one of the things that’s been really fun for me to kind of see through your class, is just how feel tools it actually takes to do compositing if you understand it. We’ll get into that. Okay, so you go from ILM to LucasArts. I know at some point you end up meeting Stu Maschwitz. For anyone listening who doesn’t know who Stu is, go to Prolost … It’s his blog. He also is an author, and a teacher, and sort of a legend. There will be an episode of this podcast where you’ll get to hear Mark talk to him. That will be launched in an upcoming episode. When did you meet Stu, and how did you end up working at The Orphanage?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. Well, like I said, the companies were really small back then, and we all kind of knew there was this thing going on over at ILM where there were two sets of guys on beige Macs working over at ILM. One set of guys on beige Macs was the Digimat department, and this was six incredibly gifted matte painters who were doing everything from photography, and building practical models, to painting, painting in real life, painting in Photoshop, and they were using After Effects. They were doing all kinds of really clever stuff. The guy, Doug Chiang, who’d been blown away and fooled by my shot, really wanted me to meet them.
Mark Christiansen: Then, not long after that, this thing got going on. Let me restate that. Not long after that, the Rebel unit got going at ILM. That was all the brainchild of John Knoll. Really, John Knoll is the answer to all of your following questions about what happened, because John loved After Effects. He was all really into shots that you could quickly pull off, effectively on a beige Mac that would’ve gotten bogged down other ways, if they were doable at all, believe it or not, at ILM.
Mark Christiansen: This, of course, went way against the grain. It was not typical mentality, but he’s a very confident and respected guy. He managed to get himself a department of which Stu was one of the earliest members, and he ended up leading it by the time Episode I rolled around. I was doing stuff with 3D models on the … 3D animation on the game side for Episode I. I had this pipeline to Stu, and we were sharing assets and stuff like that, which actually had very little precedent, and George was really in favor of it, but it was complicated. Yeah, so I knew Stu from that era.
Mark Christiansen: Then, not long after that, he founded a spinoff company with a couple of other guys, and their mission really was to be filmmakers. This was right at the turn of the millennium, so this was a good time for indie filmmaking. You know, so it was partly using the cache of being from this renowned company. I know doing visual effects was part of the mix, but it was going to mostly be like, “We’ll work on our own films and other independent filmmaker stuff. That’s how it’ll go.” Of course, that didn’t bring in a lot of money, and there was all this expertise increasingly to leverage in visual effects, so it evolved from there as The Orphanage.
Joey Korenman: I remember reading about The Orphanage, and I can’t even remember where. Probably Post Magazine or something like that. Was that at the time, I think Shake was probably still the compositor used on lots of feature films, and I’m assuming still, Flames, and Infernos, and things like that. I’m assuming that even then, After Effects was not very widely used on feature films. Or maybe I’m wrong, but I’m curious, if you’re going to be doing feature film visual effects, why not use the same stuff as if … Why stick with After Effects?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and that’s a really valid question that got bandied back and forth in the hallways of The Orphanage. You know, there was a time when a lot of these tools were up for grabs. I mean, there was a time when 3D was up for grabs until Maya kind of came along, and sort of became the de facto standard. In comping, ILM had their own tools, like in-house tools that they had made. Yeah, Shake was kind of the Nuke of the day. It was a little independent company. It got acquired by Apple at some point, when they wanted to show off what their laptops could do, and they wanted that cache of just being the supplier of tools to the film industry, which they really hadn’t had.
Mark Christiansen: Shake, though, lacked a lot of the interactivity that you had in After Effects. Mostly, there was a really strong core knowledge of After Effects in The Orphanage because of guys coming out of Rebel Mac. Stu was just a big proponent. He was throwing down for it.
Mark Christiansen: Also, After Effects in those days, believe it or not, it was a relatively bulletproof tool. It was odd. It had things, pipeline-wise, you had to do. To Shake people, it’s like, “Wait, why do I do it that way?” Just in terms of something basic like applying a matte, you know? It’s like, “Oh, really? What?” It was not that easy to break it, which will take people by surprise maybe now. Really, there was no obvious other choice, for a long time. I actually remember at The Orphanage we got a Nuke demo when it was still a Digital Domain project. It was like, “While that’s interesting, it doesn’t really look finished yet, but okay. Maybe.” It stayed up for grabs like that for quite a long time. Yeah.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, a lot of shops were using Flame and other … There were alternatives.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It’s interesting, because I guess I wasn’t really working in the industry at that point, or at least not the way I was later in my career. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like it’s very rare for a visual effects shop to be based around After Effects, right? It seems like it’s almost entirely Nuke, you know?
Mark Christiansen: Well, the other thing is at The Orphanage, the original model was one artist, one shot. I had a discussion with Kevin Baillie from The Orphanage for the course, it’s in one of the podcasts. We talked about this quite a bit. It’s a wonderful model if you are a multi-talented artist and want to make amazing shots, and have them be your own. Otherwise, visual effects, it’s really more of an assembly line approach with good reason. It just doesn’t scale with the one artist, one shot. I think if you had a staff even of all supermen and superwomen who could just pull off what, say Kevin can do, it still would be challenging for a number of reasons.
Mark Christiansen: Anyway, that was the initial model. After Effects actually facilitated that really well. It’s a subtle process sometimes of talking about this stuff, like why one tool or another. It was really kind of there in the zeitgeist of that place to get away with After Effects.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I love that idea of one artist, one shot. It’s actually pretty fascinating because if you think about how After Effects is used now in the context of visual effects, and especially the way this class is design around how visual effects techniques are used in motion design. That is generally how it works in this industry. Obviously, when you get into the quote, real visual effects industry, Avengers movies and stuff, I bet that almost never happens. You just have one artist doing a shot from start to finish, because at this point, the scale’s gotten so large, I don’t see …
Joey Korenman: Even when we were making your class, Mark, I remember at one point we wanted to provide the students with a match move, like a tracked camera that they could just import to use for a lesson. You know, I know how to do match move, and you know how to do it, but we brought in a specialist, that that’s his thing. It’s so we could really get that unbelievably precise track. At that level, that’s what it takes. After Effects really is perfect for someone that wants to do the whole thing.
Mark Christiansen: No, and that’s exactly right. I mean, things will get bogged down, and it has to be on somebody’s back burner to be like, “Yeah, I still got to solve that.” It can’t be hanging up one shot because the match move isn’t working yet. I mean, that just isn’t practical. There are people who do get to do a substantial amount to a single shot. Matte painters, again, come to mind, where often, I mean, good matte painters can really put a personal signature on a shot and truly create something that would not be the same had they not been the one to do it. You know, and sometimes finishing the shot from there, there’s not a whole lot left to do.
Joey Korenman: Let’s talk about this then, because I think you’re definitely right about that, but what about roto? What if that matte painting or set extension first had to have the subject in the shot rotoed out. I’m assuming the matte painter probably isn’t doing that. At least today, I’m sure that’s outsourced or something like that.
Mark Christiansen: Sure. You’ve got production coordinators hovering around wondering if this is the best use of your time, if you get bogged down in anything like that nowadays. It still is the case, though, that … I mean, John Knoll himself, who now runs ILM would still probably take whatever project he’s got … I mean, a recent one for him has been recreating the Apollo landing, and do everything on it. It’s kind of like the pride of being in your workshop, and being able to point to everything and say, “Yep, I did all the craftsmanship on that.”
Joey Korenman: This was like a guilty pleasure thing for me, and I told you this. One of my wife’s favorite movies, for whatever reason, is The Day After Tomorrow. If you haven’t seen it, if you’re listening to this and you haven’t seen it, I think it was one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s first big sort of starring roles.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, it probably was.
Joey Korenman: You know, it’s funny because we watched it, I don’t know, probably a couple months ago. I was actually surprised how well some of the shots hold up. The movie’s, I can’t remember, like 15 years old at least. I know that you worked on that, and The Orphanage did a lot of those shots. I know that there’s some interesting stories there. Does anything stand out in your mind when you remember doing that movie?
Mark Christiansen: Oh yeah. Yes, definitely. That movie really is why I’m sitting here talking to you today in many ways. I have this book in mind when I came into work on Day After Tomorrow, but that show really was such a tour de force. There was so much I learned about pulling off shots in After Effects on that show. We were taking a very heavily matte painting approach. We were on a heavy deadline. It was a 911 job for us. The prior efforts to get shots done in 3D were now getting done by just bringing in some amazing matte painters who could make a scene basically look finished rather than needing to be modeled. Then we compositors would then bring that to life.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. I mean, I agree. I think it holds up really well.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and it’s interesting. I think what you just said is probably why it holds up really well. I just looked it up. That movie came out in 2004. Some of the other movies that came out in 2004, just to kind of place it for people, Troy, starring Brad Pitt, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Van Helsing, The Notebook came out in 2004. In terms of effects movies and things like that, I think the first Hellboy came out. There was a lot of 3D being used even back then. A lot of 3D animation that doesn’t hold up. Using a 2D …
Joey Korenman: There’s kind of this maxim that … I think I’ve heard you say it. I’ve heard other compositors say it, that you stay 2D as long as you can. You know, you think something’s 3D. No, it’s actually just a couple of layers, two and a half D, hand tracked in there. You can fool the viewer pretty easily. If you do it in 2D, you have an ability to add much more detail to it than you often do in 3D in a much shorter amount of time.
Joey Korenman: I mean, was that ever a consideration for some of this stuff at The Orphanage when you were doing that movie? Like, “You know, we could build this whole post apocalyptic New York scene in 3D and do some crazy camera move, or we could have this amazing matte painter make it just gorgeous, and we just put a little two and a half D, a little fake camera on there and call it a day.”
Mark Christiansen: It was a mixture. There were cases where we had lidar scans of the Empire State Building, and the camera tracks down the building, and we use the lidar to basically create that building, and that move, and the surrounding city, and everything. I mean, there were shots that were not going to get solved purely in 2D. There’s quite a dark backstory to what happened on that movie, where without going into too much detail and gossip, Digital Domain had been the lead house, and then the supervisor wanted them completely off it in the middle of production. They had a bunch of their shots unfinaled, some of which had been done already in the 3D way you’re saying, and then had to be redone.
Mark Christiansen: It’s like, “Well, there’s no time left to redo them that way, and we have them as reference, so I guess we’re going to approach it this way.”
Joey Korenman: That’s really fascinating. Oh god. All right, well, I could talk about that movie for too long, so we’ll move on, but everyone, go check out The Day After Tomorrow. It’s a good throwback action movie. The story, a little cheesy. Dennis Quaid, he really chews the scenery in that one, but anyway.
Mark Christiansen: Global warming in a day.
Joey Korenman: Exactly. I don’t know what happened between that and you working on Avatar, but I definitely want to hear about what it was like to work on that movie, because that was obviously one of the first times that a 3D movie really was mainstream sold as, “This is a 3D movie.” It’s a James Cameron film. It’s one of the highest grossing films of all time. I don’t think it is the highest grossing film anymore. I could be wrong. In any case, how did you get hooked up on that gig, and what was that like?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, that job was going to come in to The Orphanage, and then The Orphanage shut its doors just as it was being awarded. It apparently didn’t happen right on time. That wasn’t the only thing that sank The Orphanage. It was apparently close to bankruptcy 17 different times, and they finally just gave up. Terrible [crosstalk 00:30:36].
Joey Korenman: Tough business.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. So yeah, that show ended up being scaled way back from what The Orphanage was going to do. Originally, it was pivoting off how the original Iron Man in graphics had been done by a team at The Orphanage. That producer wanted that team back, and wanted The Orphanage to execute all the 1,000 shots with screens in them in Avatar. You may not watch Avatar and see it as a movie about screens, but believe me, I do. Instead, when the company shuttered, it was no longer possible to bid the … I don’t know how many artists were going to be needed to pull off those shots, but let’s say 100. Instead, one of the founders of The Orphanage, Jonathan Rothbart, and [inaudible 00:31:29], the designer, reformed a company just so they could bid the design of the screens.
Mark Christiansen: The job that we had ended up being to just create the kind of lookbook that would be executed by a couple of other studios to then … So what does the 23rd century UI look like, and how does it work? Basically, setting the look and feel of that. It became my only motion graphics credit on my IMDb page. Other than that, I’m usually credited for visual effects. It was a little weird. It was a weird experience in that nothing we did actually ended up directly in the film. It was an amazing experience. It’s also the job where I kind of saw the writing on the wall. My favorite company had gone under, and a lot of the people from that company were leaving San Francisco, leaving the Bay Area, to go pursue jobs where they were showing up, and subsidies were starting to happen to make visual effects move from California to Vancouver, and to London. People were moving there. I knew that wasn’t going to be me.
Mark Christiansen: It was still possible to stay in town and work at ILM. That pretty awesome opportunity. Except for me, for someone who’s already worked for a Lucas company, it’s really rare that anybody would loop back to that company, for different reasons. It just didn’t make sense to me either to do that.
Mark Christiansen: I shifted gears after that into working on more smaller independent films for a while, which was really fun, and led to a couple of my favorite projects that I’ve ever worked on, but also inevitably meant I was taking a risk each time on what was I getting myself into? I also faced a problem a lot like the original Orphanage had, where it just wasn’t … At least the way I was doing it, it wasn’t lucrative enough to really make sense for how much work it was to carry a feature kind of on my back, you know? Pulling in a few other artists. It certainly wasn’t substantial enough to found my own studio or anything, to do it.
Joey Korenman: I want to ask you about some of the things that you kind of hinted at. I know that in the class, there’s entire podcasts almost dedicated to this, but the thing you just mentioned. You saw the writing on the wall. Your favorite studio had closed. Since then, countless others have closed. You know, the most famous was after Life of Pi, was it Rhythm & Hues? Every once in a while a discussion pops up around, can that happen to our industry, to motion design? You know, there’s a lot of overlap between visual effects and motion design. Obviously, the techniques are sometimes identical, and the software sometimes identical. The final format is different.
Joey Korenman: It seems like the business models are still very, very different, and the client sort of artist relationship is different. I’m wondering, what do you think about that? Is what’s happening to visual effects something that could happen in the motion design world?
Mark Christiansen: You know, it’s funny. Visual effects as a business, and web design as a business came about around the same time. They had a lot in common. They both had very valuable intellectual property that … I mean, it has real value. You could sell to a client like, “We know how to do X or Y, and you want that. Therefore, pay us for that.” Somehow, in the web design … I’m using web design, and I’m going back to the roots there. This probably will end up being analogous. Web design, somehow they figured it out, and they didn’t start competing with each other in a predatory way to take the margins down close to zero or even below it to land jobs. The value of the IP remained. It somehow didn’t get commoditized in the way that visual effects did.
Mark Christiansen: Life of Pi was really, the director of that movie, Ang Lee, saying, “You know, I like the visual effects, but I’d like them to be cheaper.” Effectively saying, “I’d like them to be a commodity, that I could just say, ‘I want a tiger over here. Put one in there.'” Motion design, I think is somewhere in between the two, perhaps, where I think that the more you can offer a client something where it’s like, “This is uniquely ours, and this is what we do,” and make them feel like they’re getting that rather than, “Well, you could go to us or you could go to a shop down the street, and it’s probably going to be the same movie at the end of the day.” Which is kind of how the Hollywood studios tend to treat it.
Mark Christiansen: That is a vast difference in the business model. Beyond that, this would be a discussion between you and me, because you, I think, know a lot more about the inner workings of financial structures in some of the motion graphics companies.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I think you basically nailed it. The reason I think motion design’s a little less susceptible to something like that … I mean, maybe even a lot less susceptible, is because everything … First of all, the projects are way, way smaller in scope than a film. The stakes are usually much lower from a client perspective. When Marvel is going to invest $300 million to make an Avengers movie, they’re not going to give you that much rope, right? As a vendor. If you’re a studio like, I don’t know, Buck’s the example I always use, and you’re a client, and you want what Buck has, there’s not really anywhere else to go get it. Likewise, if you want what Gunner has, there’s not really anywhere else to go get that. It’s not that one is better than the other. It’s just that they’re so different.
Joey Korenman: I mean, there’s just a 50 times order of magnitude of amount of work out there that a motion design studio can do versus a feature film effects studio. I think it’s a little insulated. I also noticed, too, there are those VFX houses that seem to be immune to this because they are known for a thing. Like Lola VFX. They’ve been around forever, and that’s the visual effects studio no one talks about, that they de-age people. Sometimes it’s very obvious that they’ve done that. Most of the time, you never hear that they worked on a movie. I don’t even know if they’re credited on some of the stuff they work on de-aging pop stars and stuff.
Joey Korenman: I would say Perception is another studio. They’re known for fake UI kind of stuff. Weta. They’re known for creature, and mocap, and fully virtual characters and things like that. I think that differentiation’s kind of the way to survive that. In the world of Rhythm & Hues, and Digital Domain, and companies like that, that are not really around anymore, I don’t know if they did have enough differentiation. Also, I know that there were also business things going on behind the scenes that contributed.
Mark Christiansen: Well, yeah. That’s what I mean. I’m not going to assume that MoGraph companies are immune to that.
Joey Korenman: Of course not. Yeah.
Mark Christiansen: I mean, sometimes creative companies are not always run by business people. Yeah, Lola, that’s a fascinating example, because in a way, visual effects is asked to be spectacular, and flashy, and is the one putting butts in seats for tent-pole features. At another level, it’s meant to be invisible, and they’re the kings of that. So much so that they’re like mother’s little helper for the studios, and certainly for talent that does not want it known that they were de-aged or otherwise beautified.
Joey Korenman: Exactly. Yeah, one of the people that you interviewed for the class, Sean Devereaux, he runs Zero VFX in Boston. They’re kind of known for the seamless visual effects, the invisible stuff. They have some case studies on their website. I recommend everyone go. We’ll link to it in the show notes. It’s incredible stuff. It is interesting how there is kind of two different types of visual effects shops. There’s the ones that are known for, “We can make New England look like Alaska and you’ll never know the difference,” or, “We can make New York now look like New York in 1950.” Then you’ve also got the big shops that do Iron Man, and The Hulk, and stuff like that.
Mark Christiansen: Yes. Yeah, and I’m a fan of both. It’s a lot more fun to work on the first one, in my mind. You know, the kind of shops you’re talking about, working on historical stuff, or things where, on the one hand, you look at it and go, “I believe it,” and then you think about it like, “Wait a minute, but that’s not what that place looks like at all.” I love that stuff.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it’s so satisfying, too, when you finally get it. I want to talk really quickly, too, about some of the teaching you’ve done. I mean, you’ve been pretty prolific there. Just off the top of my head, I know that you’ve taught for Lynda.com, now LinkedIn Learning. I’m sure you’ve done more than one class. When we were talking about doing the School of Motion class, I checked out one of your classes there, and you clearly have a lot of experience teaching and explaining this stuff, and you’ve written a book, and I think you also did stuff for FXPHD. How did you find yourself in this world, in teaching visual effects?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, so it happens that my parents are both college professors, so definitely the idea of being a teacher was always part of my world. The books, I was an English major in college, and one of the ways I made my way up early on was just writing for magazines. When I worked at LucasArts, I was also writing for DV Magazine, just articles about how to do some of this stuff. People were hungry for it. You know, this was before YouTube or anything else as an outlet.
Mark Christiansen: A book allowed me to really get into the nitty gritty in a way that I didn’t feel I could do in a movie. You know, if I were to die today after this podcast, and I had a moment to reflect on my life, the books would be right up there in terms of where I made a real difference in the world. Something I actually offered where people come back to me and say, “You know, I have a career doing this because of your book.” That was my catapult into doing this stuff. I mean, Jayse Hansen was kind of embarrassing me in the podcast we recorded earlier this week, with how much that he was laying on me, and his work is incredible. My kids would also be on my mind, of course.
Joey Korenman: Right. Sure, yeah. It’s a close second, of course.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. The rest of the teaching, I’ve always enjoyed it. I mean, FXPHD, I love what they’re doing over there for the VFX business. Lynda and LinkedIn, for a while, I kind of held out doing there, and I didn’t so much like what they were doing, and then I realized all the authors were heading that direction, and I did end up making a series of courses for them as well, and I taught at places. I taught at Academy of Art. You know, again, it’s an opportunity to make a difference, which I love. Working at an art school made me a little restless. More than a little. I think you can relate to that, Joey.
Joey Korenman: Oh, we could spend some time there.
Mark Christiansen: I wasn’t there for very long, but my inner entrepreneur did not like being in that classroom. I really liked the kids, and I really loved the enthusiasm, and just working with people who really want to make a thing. Those have all been environments to help people do that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Well, let me embarrass you a little bit. I don’t remember what year it was, but I remember being in a bookstore and seeing the book. By the way, the book we’re talking about is Adobe After Effects CC Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, it’s a mouthful, because they made me take that Studio Techniques title. It was supposed to be part of a whole series, and then it ended up being kind of the book.
Joey Korenman: Well, you know what? It was probably-
Mark Christiansen: Don’t get me started.
Joey Korenman: … prescient that it was named that, because that’s a very SEO friendly title in the age of Google.
Mark Christiansen: That’s true. It’s got all the words.
Joey Korenman: It really does.
Mark Christiansen: That’s true, yeah.
Joey Korenman: I remember picking it up, because I think I was probably only three or four years into my career and I was trying to get a grip on After Effects. I remember seeing the book and opening it, and the first page I opened it to was the page where you explain how to use red, green, and blue channels, and levels to match two pieces of footage.
Mark Christiansen: I love that.
Joey Korenman: I remember reading … I just stood there in the bookstore. I read three or four pages of it. Then, at some point, maybe a decade later, I had to do that, and I remembered, and I knew exactly how to do it, and I impressed the hell out of my business partner. You know, and it’s funny, because you kind of have this … I think students and everybody has this, I don’t know what it’s called, recency bias or something, where it’s like, “Well, that tutorial is 10 years old. It can’t still be useful.” It’s just not true.
Joey Korenman: I know you’ve updated the book. The book came out, I think originally in 2005, and the latest edition’s from 2013 or 2014.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, yeah. Before the publisher kind of went under.
Joey Korenman: There’s a lot of good stuff in there.
Mark Christiansen: I’ll tell you a thing about that book. At the time I wrote it, there were a couple books on doing this stuff out there, but they were very academic, high level, they kind of assumed you were using Shake. They didn’t use any real examples, and they stopped short of ever saying in an opinionated way, “Here’s how you do this type of shot.” It was almost like the visual effects business was all secrets. It was like the magic castle. Like, “You don’t tell people how to replace the sky, for god’s sake. That’s our craft.”
Mark Christiansen: Stu and I felt really differently about it. It’s like, “No, screw it.” He’s at The Orphanage trying to hire people who know how to do this, and it’s like, “Well damn. If it’s all a secret, and it’s just bread and butter, why are we not sharing this information?” He actually helped me a lot. That particular technique had come out of Rebel Mac at ILM, and there was a guy in there who literally was colorblind and could color match using that methodology. It’s definitely still one of my favorites because you can kind of pull off miracles with it. Honestly, I think a lot of people out there think, “Well, the computer just matches the foreground and background for you, right?”
Mark Christiansen: Not only does that really rarely work, but then it’s like anything where you take out the artistry … You know, if you’ve ever sat there and worked on a shot, I remember on The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, which for the millennials and Gen Z-ers out there is a real … It’s the movie they are most impressed that I worked on. We had a little competition among the compers to get the skin tones for a given sequence. We were trying to make them all match. It’s like, “Okay, who’s got the best recipe and look for the skin tones?”
Mark Christiansen: If you’ve ever sat there and done that, you can appreciate that just leaving that to the machine is no different than just going to Adobe Color Cooler, or whatever you call it, to pic out the palette for your website. It could help a little bit, but at the end of the day, it’s not your artistry.
Joey Korenman: Well, we’re going to link to the book in the show notes. It really is the kind of definitive After Effects compositing Bible.
Mark Christiansen: Well, and I will say, the book led me to be able to do the other courses, but this opportunity, with School of Motion, is really like a whole other thing that’s actually combining the best of both worlds, where I’m able to get really into depth, to where I can teach you both the principles and how to actually do it without shortcutting that. It’s an awesome opportunity.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the class a little bit. Prior to this episode, we reached out to our alumni and to our audience and asked what questions they would have for you, and we got some amazing ones. This is the part of the podcast where I’m going to start reading off questions. Some of them, the wording’s a little weird, so I’m going to try and interpret your question. I apologize if I interpret it incorrectly. Yeah, so let’s just start here. Is this a VFX course for feature film type of special effects? What would you say to that?
Mark Christiansen: Well, I’m going to surprise you here Joey and say yes, but with one correction. When it’s feature film, we call them visual effects. The reason I say that, if it weren’t for feature films, there wouldn’t be an outlet for grandeur for motion graphics artists to be inspired by. I love this word cinematic, you know? It means something. It is both a standard and a set of principles about how the camera sees the world, especially if the camera is operated by somebody who knows what they’re doing. There are a bunch of principles and looks from that that have to do with optics, and light physics, and things that even the untrained eye can spot, like, “Ooh, look at that.”
Mark Christiansen: It’s like the difference between using a real music sample and one that you just kind of got off your Casiotone or whatever. That was dated. That was a dated little thing I just joked about.
Joey Korenman: Definitely leaving that in.
Mark Christiansen: That was even dated for me. I love the ’80s. Yeah, so an astonishing number of feature film caliber effects can be created on your ordinary computer. Andrew Kramer showed us how to do it.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, totally. On the other hand, I will say no, because features do have a certain baggage that we don’t really need to bring with us when we’re working on design centric projects. In feature film compositing, the tool of choice is Nuke, and it’s perfectly designed to do just that job, but the most ubiquitous compositing tool in the world is After Effects. That actually does a lot of things you can’t do, and those are the things we do. It’s like two great tastes that taste great together, what we’re doing.
Joey Korenman: I love it. I love it. Yeah, so just to elaborate on that, I mean, when I was still doing client work, and especially when I was freelancing, one of the reasons I stayed so busy was because I was a generalist. I would do just straight design and animation jobs, and then I would get called in for a couple of weeks to do some cleanup stuff and remove logos from things, all kinds of stuff like that. Then, once I was running the studio, almost every job, it seemed like, had both in there. You know, we would do a lot of Subway commercials where we would have to first remove logos from background plates, and clean things up, and remove that pimple from the talent’s face. Then, also composite in …
Joey Korenman: I remember doing a commercial that was tied in with the Green Lantern movie, and so I had to do all this cleanup, but then I also had to recreate the Green Lantern ring energy effect, and make a sandwich appear out of nothing. It made me realize that visual effects and motion design are cousins, and there’s so much overlap.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so the class is really focused on that intersection. It’s how do you become a generalist? How can you be called to take some green screen footage, key it out, match that talent on even a completely virtual background? You’re still going to have to match them to it, and make it feel like they’re really there, and maybe add a little reflection, a little light rap. Then, what do you do if there’s shot practical elements? There’s camera moving, camera match moving and tracking.
Joey Korenman: It’s geared towards that, and I think you’re right about the baggage of feature film. I’ve been told that you’ll have VFX supervisors making sure that the grain matches down to the pixel. You know, that kind of thing, which you can get away with in our world.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. Well, I will add to what you’re saying, though, that an astonishing majority of visual effects shots, even at the high end, still come down to the same stuff that we’re covering here. Really, when you see the end result, it can look like magic. I mean, again, Andrew Kramer produced a bunch of material that’s like, “Holy crap. I want to be able to do that.” He’s really good at giving you this thing like, “I want to do that,” and then showing you how to do it. An amazing number of shots that are like, “Wow, that was incredible,” actually come back to they might have a little secret sauce in there, or they might have one element that was super expensive or what have you, but getting them done is going to use a lot of the same stuff that we’re getting into here.
Mark Christiansen: It’s as if you can basically start doing this at that same level, and then it just comes down to what are you actually trying to make?
Joey Korenman: Exactly. All right, so next question … Actually, the next few questions are really specific about sort of what’s in the class. The first one is, will the course cover linear composition workflows, HDR, OpenColorIO, and all that freak stuff? I love those words, because that is freak stuff, let’s be honest. Yeah, what do you have to say about that?
Mark Christiansen: I love and hate that question. It implies this intense curiosity about deep technical knowledge of visual effects, but it also kind of makes it sound like the tools and the bleeding edge are all that matter. You know, we do get into some topics that are considered freak stuff. A lot of us have never really even looked at how our screens work, and how light, the way it works on a screen, and in Photoshop and After Effects, compares to how light works in the real world. We’ve just kind of learned to live with it. Meanwhile, over on the Nuke side, they’ve been doing what’s called linear light compositing since that tool came about. You have access to that in After Effects, but a lot of people don’t know that. That’s what this question is referring to.
Mark Christiansen: At the same time, the likelihood that you’re going to be asked to work in linear HDR with color managed comps is kind of low, in my experience, and it would probably occur in an environment where you would be with a bunch of technically knowledgeable people. It would be like the experience I had at The Orphanage where you would be meeting them halfway. You’ve got the knowledge and a broad understanding of it, and then you plug into how they specifically want to implement it. That’s kind of how it goes.
Mark Christiansen: You on your own probably don’t need to prioritize knowing all the freak stuff.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that’s a good answer. I’ll say that in the course, Mark does sort of explain the difference between low dynamic range, high dynamic range, 8-, 16-, 32-bit. I can also vouch for what Mark said. In my entire career, I have never once had to use color management, thank god, honestly. I have composited in 32-bit mode from time to time in After Effects, just because you can sort of get more realistic glows, and blooms, and things like that. Mark touches on that stuff, but like he said, in the world of motion design, that’s just not really that common, and so we don’t go too deep into those things.
Joey Korenman: The next question, does the course go in-depth into multipass compositing? Will this cover comping layers from 3D render, Z-pass, cryptomatte, shadow passes, et cetera?
Mark Christiansen: Cryptomattes. I love that someone managed to coin a technical term for a matte that has the word crypto in it.
Joey Korenman: Well, and it’s so funny. It’s just funny, because that’s a really, really specific thing, too.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, right. Yeah, well, you and I just had a meeting this week with EJ about this, didn’t we?
Joey Korenman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark Christiansen: So the answer’s we do get into this, and also that a lot of people who say they want the most technically complicated setups haven’t yet mastered the more fundamental ones. I mean, we all love the space race, and like, “Oh, what’s the most technically advanced thing I could learn?” But meanwhile, do you really know how to Mocha AE that’s built right into After Effects? How are you doing with your color matching?
Joey Korenman: Right. Yeah. I mean, you know, there’s a lesson. Just so everyone knows, every lesson and exercise in this class … This is just every School of Motion class. There’s a project. One of the lessons has to do match moving a camera, but also 3D compositing, exactly what this question’s asking about. We actually had my buddy, David Brodeur, he’s this really kooky 3D artist who lives in Florida, does amazing stuff, and he gave us some sort of alien creatures to track and composite into these shots. It’s really interesting because you’d think that having all that control, and 15 image passes, and cryptomattes for every … and AOVs, and all these other things, that that would just be helpful.
Joey Korenman: It turns out, you just don’t actually need that much to do a really good job of compositing. You sort of learn what you need to know, and then we do have some bonus material that touches on all that other stuff, just so that you’re aware it’s there, and you can kind of see it. I think Mark nailed it. You almost never need that stuff unless you’re doing something very, very, very specific. That stuff will be covered in future classes, too.
Mark Christiansen: I’ll add that the stuff we do cover is going to make you much more capable of making use of the more refined versions of the same thing.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, exactly. We do actually, in the lesson and in the exercise, talk about doing shadow caching and casting shadows from a 3D object onto your video, all that kind of stuff. That’s a fun one. I can’t wait to see when the students start getting into that. Next question, looks like another fun course. Thank you. Will Silhouette be covered at all or just Mocha plus built-in AE tracking/rotoscope options? Just for anyone listening who doesn’t know, Silhouette is another app, just totally separate third part thing that is really, really specifically made to do rotoscoping.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, so again, just Mocha implies that everybody out there is already making maximum use of Mocha AE, and what it can do, which they’re definitely not. I had to learn a bunch of new stuff to teach this course, and I wasn’t even able to go to Boris, Imagineer to learn it. There were things I’m like, “Wait, they’re not even covering how you do that. I don’t think anybody’s got a video on what I’m trying to do right now.”
Mark Christiansen: As far as Silhouette goes, a friend who’s one of the most respected roto artists I know, told me when I asked about it early in the course that nobody was actually even upgrading to the latest version. Basically, they’d had a version everybody was happy with, and then they decided to turn it into a compositor to compete with Nuke and Flame. The general feeling is, “Man, they wrecked it.” Nobody wanted to upgrade. Now, the latest development is Boris FX bought them, so they’re going to be right alongside Imagineer and Mocha as a tool.
Mark Christiansen: It’s almost like Boris is on their way to becoming a powerhouse of doing all of this type of work potentially. We won’t see the fruits of that for a while. I mean, as we record this in late 2019, it’ll probably be … I don’t know. If past track records are holding, it might be a year and a half, two years before we even see anything.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I think you’re right. You know, again, like what you’re saying about first master the tools that you have. You know, I thought I knew Mocha and I thought I knew how to rotoscope. There’s actually a lesson in the class, and I’m just going to warn everybody. I mean, this would be the lesson where you’re going to pay your dues. Where you have to roto talent out of one shot, and place her in another shot, and match it, and do all those things. In the lesson, you see Mark do it all. He uses, I don’t know, 15 different techniques to rotoscope this yoga instructor out of a shot, including getting the hair … I mean, it’s really, really fascinating to watch and to see where you can cheat, where you can track, where you can use these things.
Joey Korenman: I mean, frankly, having watched you do that, and then watching the lesson, I can’t really imagine a motion designer being asked to roto something so complicated that they would need a specialized tool for it, like Silhouette. I mean, Mocha AE, nevermind Mocha Pro, which you can always upgrade to, but Mocha AE is incredibly powerful, and especially once you learn how to use it as a rotoscoping tool and not just a tracking tool. Yeah, we mention Silhouette. We actually have some bonus material about other roto options, and we sort of talk about it there, but we’re not teaching Silhouette in the class.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and Mocha, by the way, is the go-to third party tool of choice for Nuke users as well. None of these tools are perfect. None of them is. Proper English. None of these tools is perfect? It doesn’t sound right, does it? But that’s how it’s properly said. None of them is perfect, but in the course, yeah, we do … For example, we’re doing organic roto of a human moving with Mocha. You know, that’s got its trade offs, but on the other hand, it’s better than the alternatives at this point.
Mark Christiansen: The other thing is if you can do this work right in After Effects, there are jobs for you. If you’re trying to work your way in to a bigger studio, this is a traditional inroad that still is valid. You know, if you can turn around shots well in roto, and it’s not like you have to spend years doing it to learn to be … If you have a knack for it, and the patience, that’s a really good skill to have in your back pocket.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, roto also, incidentally, is the only thing I was ever able to do while listening to something else.
Mark Christiansen: Oh yeah. Absolutely. You just bliss out with your podcast.
Joey Korenman: Just veg. All right, next question. Any tips on how to prepare before the course begins for someone new to VFX?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, sure. Be comfortable in After Effects to where you’d consider yourself at least an intermediate to advanced user depending on how humble you are about your skills. We don’t go through a lot of stuff, and sometimes we move pretty quickly. The beauty of this format is you can go back and re-watch stuff if it’s kind of dense. Beyond that, think about why you’re taking the course and what you want to add to your skillset, or portfolio, or what you’re able to do, and be ready to be surprised.
Mark Christiansen: Actually, in the middle of this, I was able to pick up some roto work for a luxury electric car startup in the Bay Area, because my chops were so good, and they had these shots they couldn’t get done. It was actually pretty fun.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. This is not meant for the true After Effects beginner. You should definitely be comfortable keyframing, and making masks, precomping, and doing things like that. All of the specific visual effects stuff, like separating a foreground element out, whether that’s through roto or keying, doing any kind of tracking, color matching, effects integration, effects building using effects stacks and stuff. All of that, Mark walks you through step by step, but he’s not going to explain what a precomp is or how to render something and that sort of stuff.
Joey Korenman: All right, so this is a good one, actually. We probably should have led with this one. What will I be able to do after completing the course?
Mark Christiansen: I think you’ll be able to go after jobs that look just like the ones you see in the promotion that we’re making in the course. Not only that, once you’ve done them, they can be part of your reel. They could be bumpers and idents that are centered on a combo of live action and some design. They can be more conceptual pitch videos that use future tools, future UIs. We have one that’s an AR mock-up. Integrating those realistically into moving footage. Or, it could be a design-centered campaign. Something that looks like something expensive that centers around edited shot footage.
Mark Christiansen: You know, and if you’re new, or if you’re changing roles, we can give you these other skills like roto and keying to add to your skillset and offer to potential employers.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so this class, the way I would describe it, to anyone who’s taken, say animation bootcamp. Animation bootcamp is one of those classes where I get this reaction probably once a week. I took the class. I thought I knew how to animate, and I realized I didn’t actually know, and now I do. That’s how I feel after watching some of these lessons. Like, “I thought I knew how to key.” Like, “I know Keylight, I’ve used it.” Then you watch how Mark uses it, and there’s a process that he goes through to key. You realize you didn’t know anything.
Joey Korenman: I would say what you’ll be able to do after the class that is very, very marketable, and in my experience, as a studio owner trying to find artists, also kind of rare, is you will know how to key better than 95% of After Effects artists out there, because you’re learning from someone who learned in a visual effects setting. You’ll learn how to break a key apart. There are things about Keylight I didn’t know. There were effects built into After Effects that work with Keylight I didn’t know about. I mean, just the keying section is probably worth its weight in gold.
Joey Korenman: Then, also, tracking, getting really comfortable with Mocha is such a game changer, because it’s not just for tracking A onto B. I mean, we use it for cleanup, we use it for roto, you can use it to have adjustment layers stick to things. Then, match moving is something that I find most After Effects artists don’t really know how to do it. There’s a camera tracker built into After Effects that, when it works, it works, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There’s nothing you can do. It’s actually surprisingly good if you know how to prep shots, and you know how to roto out the pieces that don’t need to be there, and all of that, and then learning how to composite things back on top of like GoPro footage, is kind of the worst example. It’s really hard to track that stuff. We show you do that.
Joey Korenman: It really, it turns you into a true generalist. Like Mark said, there’s this entire universe of work out there, Post House is doing finishing, clients shooting … I mean, I remember we used to a lot of this kind of stuff with food footage. For Subway, they would shoot their sandwiches, and there would be a stray crumb, and we’d have to paint that out, or the bread would have a crack in it, so we’d track a patch over it. There’s all these other things you can do. More interestingly is you can now use these techniques in motion design, and broadcast packages, ads, all of that stuff. I mean, it’s a really powerful tool set. That’s kind of how I would look at it.
Mark Christiansen: Right on.
Joey Korenman: Next question. We kind of touched on this already, but you could elaborate a little bit more if you want. Why is this course in After Effects and not Nuke or Fusion?
Mark Christiansen: Well, believe it or not, and me saying this is a little bit like when John Lennon said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, After Effects is the world’s most ubiquitous visual effects compositing tool by far. Now, you say that, and people like, “What? Wait, no. Nuke is all you see when you go into any first tier studio in the world doing visual effects.” It is the most respected. It’s also the most expensive. Fusion is not expensive at all and really similar to Nuke. They both share that they’re really oriented solely around doing visual effects work.
Mark Christiansen: After Effects has prospered by not only being very available, but also being more flexible. It’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife, and sometimes that means it doesn’t fit in your hand as comfortably as a specialized tool would for certain things, and yet, if you can put up with that, you get all of the other stuff that you already are benefiting from if you work in After Effects, including some of your favorite plugins that those same high end studios actually pull out After Effects to get access to.
Joey Korenman: Yep. I think you kind of summed it up. Yeah, as motion designers, we use After Effects. If you are freelancing, and you go into a studio, and you’re working on a motion design thing, it’s After Effects, 99.9% of the time. Having done actually a fair amount of projects in the past where I would go from Nuke into After Effects, I can tell you that while Nuke and node-based stuff are really great for compositing, they are terrible for animating. You know, I’d rather have just a slightly more difficult time getting a composite exactly the way I want, but a way easier time animating than vice versa. That is why.
Joey Korenman: Just also, something to point out is that in all of our classes, but in this one, too, there’s a ton of bonus content. One of the lessons is actually me walking you through a shot that Mark did. It’s like a keying thing he did in a lesson. I do it in Fusion to show you what the difference is between After Effects layer-based kind of way and Fusion’s node-based way. Just so you’re aware that this is a thing, and if you do go deep into visual effects, and you’re ever working on an Avengers movie, chances are it will be in Nuke.
Joey Korenman: All right, next question. This one I have to interpret a little bit. I’m going to read some tea leaves here. The question is, “What the hell are all those camera settings for?” Now, I assume that this person’s asking about the After Effects camera settings. There are a lot. I thought you might like this one, Mark, because actually, the very first lesson during the orientation week is all about cameras. What do you think of this?
Mark Christiansen: Actually, I saw that question and I thought it meant all those comp settings for different pixel aspects and all that stuff, that’s already almost … Well, it basically is already obsolete. If you want to talk about camera settings, yeah, those settings are for things that otherwise we talk about, “Oh, can I have a wide angle or telephoto?” So I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the … I don’t know what the gist of the question is, but in the lesson you’re talking about, we go into how the camera operates. It’s a little different than thinking about how your eye looks at the world.
Mark Christiansen: Again, it’s kind of like what I was saying about linear light. You may never have really thought about it, how it differs, how it works for a camera, but I guarantee you, if you learn how the camera works, it opens the door to pulling off some stuff that looks really cool, and also looks, again, it’s this word cinematic.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, the way I kind of interpreted it was you open up the camera settings in After Effects, and you’ve got the field of view, and the depth of field settings, and then you can twirl down even more and set the aperture on the camera. Really, one of the things that I thought was really cool about the way you approached the course was pointing out that a physical camera is sort of like a rough approximation of a human eye, and then the After Effects camera, a virtual camera, is a rough approximation of a real camera. Once you learn about the relationships between these things and the way cameras work, all of a sudden, a lot of visual effects tasks start to become intuitive, and you understand the reasons for things like chromatic aberration or lens distortion.
Joey Korenman: Sometimes even just knowing that those are things makes problem solving a lot easier. In the class, you actually talk a fair amount about real camera, and the relationships and certain tools in After Effects. There are lessons that actually use After Effects cameras, and they’ve even been match moved to match a real camera. You learn about a bunch of those. Some of those, I probably have never used in my 20 years of using After Effects. Really, it’s all there to mimic a real camera, I think.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, I think you put that really well.
Joey Korenman: Well, thank you for saying that. It’s what I do. All right, so next one. What are best methods for color grading?
Mark Christiansen: Okay, so you know, at most places that would be a whole course of its own, but I think I want to break down what color grading means. Some of the most popular third party plugins for After Effects allow you to do color grading. That includes Colorista from Red Giant, which mimics color pots and the wheels that you would see a high end colorist using, as well as looks, which is a more metaphorical way of doing that. Again, on the podcast with Stu, which I don’t know if it’s going to precede or follow this one, we got into that one, and how it reflects his design sensibility.
Mark Christiansen: What those do is allow you to create the look and feel of the final thing. It’s almost like the color’s being used to pull out the emotion of the shot. That’s different than matching shots together. That’s color grading, and that’s different than color matching or matching foreground and background.
Mark Christiansen: The answer to your question is the best methods are first to know how to balance what’s out of balance in an image, i.e., fix it. Not neutralize it, but if something’s drawing our attention, or is actually really bad lighting, you deal with that. Then, you add the emotional feel that the shot’s meant to have. That’s really the art of color grading. That’s where that’s a whole career of its own.
Mark Christiansen: Lumetri in After Effects lets you kind of try this on. It’s based on what was a professional tool before Adobe acquired it and integrated it do this stuff. I don’t know, anyway. I hope that explains a little bit about color grading and the distinction between that and parts of the process that are more like composting, where you’re just actually getting the contrast and all of the balance and intention of the shot working.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so I’ll say that in this class, we don’t get into color grading the way Mark’s talking about. That’s exactly how I think of it, too. If you ever work on a 30 second TV spot with a big budget or something, the last step is often going to a colorist. The colorist may use really specialized software, Baselight, or DaVinci is actually, it’s now an editing app as well, but it used to just do color and really, really well. The tools in those apps are very similar to After Effects or Nuke.
Joey Korenman: I mean, there’s trackers, there’s keyers, there’s blurrers, there’s overlay modes. It’s all designed around very precisely picking colors, and making sure the skin tones are exactly what you want, making sure … You know, if you want it to feel like The Matrix, maybe you add some green into the blacks. You don’t want that to mess up the skin tones, so you pull a key on the skin tones and make sure that those don’t get as much green. That’s kind of the process of it. It is an entire career, and definitely entirely separate class. Also, a very useful skill to develop, by the way, if anyone’s looking to.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and it goes quite a bit deeper than that, even. At the end of the day, the colorist is also helping show you where to look. In a given scene, by taking down, putting a certain part of the shot gently into the shadows, and then by maybe creating what’s called a power window. That’s like an old-
Joey Korenman: That’s a very old term, yeah.
Mark Christiansen: … color grading term around a face to bring that up, to just give the face maybe some glow. Just take it so it’s just slightly, surreally illuminated. You know, you can make your talent very beautiful that way, or you can give them … if they’re meant to be inspired in that moment, in that shot. There’s all these things you can do to the shot beyond just choosing the color look of it and applying that as well.
Joey Korenman: Yep. All right, so the next question. I don’t know, it sounds the same. It’s not really related, though. What are the best methods for color matching clips from different sources? This is the story of Joey walking through a bookstore and learning how to do that by reading Mark’s book. Yeah, why don’t you talk about that process a little bit?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. It’s one of my favorite things to introduce to people. We definitely get into it early in the course. Digital color’s pretty complicated, but digital black and white, not so much so. Color images turn out to be made up of red, green, and blue channels, and when we look at them, we see them as black and white images. Effectively, if you can make a convincing black and white image, in terms of how the foreground and background are holding together, and you’re usually using the background as the basis, because then all the color look we just discussed would happen after this, then you do your three channels. Especially when you’re learning, you literally do this, but I still sometimes do it this way. Then, you step back, and you’re like, “Whoa, check it out. It actually worked. Yeah.”
Joey Korenman: It matches. Yeah. It is magical, and I mean, yeah. I mean, this is something everyone should do this right now. If you have After Effects open and you’re listening to this, just do this. Go, make sure you have an active timeline, and there’s something in the comp viewer, and hit option one, two, three. You will see the red, then the green, then the blue channel. This is something that I think most motion designers that just animate never do, because you just don’t have to. When you’re compositing, you must do this often.
Joey Korenman: There’s a lot of reasons to start getting comfy with those discreet channels, and there’s other uses for it, too, that you talk about in the course. Matching each one of those one at a time using levels set to the appropriate mode, I mean, it really is like a magic trick when you do it.
Joey Korenman: Next question. Do you need to composite in 32-bit? What does that even mean?
Mark Christiansen: Yes, you do, and if you are not, you’ve been doing it wrong.
Mark Christiansen: That’s another great question. No, you don’t need to. There are three bit depths in After Effects. You can access them by … Since we’re using Mac speak, opt-clicking on the little BPC indicator at the bottom of the project panel. Everybody knows 8-bit. We seem to be even comfortable calling something by its 8-bit or hex color value. People who are really good use hex. People will say, “Oh, it’s 128, whatever.” That’s harder to do in 16-bit, which has a lot in common with 8-bit. It’s just more precise. Those numbers get up into the five figures, and essentially, 16-bit is really there to solve one problem, which is banding.
Mark Christiansen: Your eye is not so good at distinguishing such fine distinctions in color, for the most part. That said, people also will say like, “Oh, your OLED screen is giving too much definition and your eye can’t see it.” Your eye can see it, and you do appreciate it when you see something that looks really good. That’s not really why it exists. It exists because if you adjust something really fine gradient, like a cast shadow that’s fading from mid-gray to slightly lighter gray, and you push on it at all hard in 8-bit, it’s going to break, and you’re going to see banding, and it’s going to look bad. The workaround for that back in the day was add some noise or something. 16-bit just gets you out of that.
Mark Christiansen: 32-bit, on the other hand, is like being on another planet. On planet 32-bit, it’s not double the amount of color, it’s exponentially more color to where the color latitude is effectively limitless. If you try really, really hard, you could destroy an image so hard in 32-bit that you couldn’t bring it back. Effectively, it’s giving you all of the latitude to either take your image to being as bright as the sun to being barely visible at the back of a cave. That’s a metaphor. That’s obviously not actually what it does. That kind of hints at what it does, and with great power comes great responsibility, so there are things that go along with that, like the way light works in the world, which is linear, which is not what we’re used to.
Mark Christiansen: That sometimes will make all this feel really complicated, and it is, but like we were saying earlier in the podcasts, there are simple advantages that you can also just leverage out of having that 32-bit option.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Yeah, the example that, I think you do this actually in one of the lessons, and it’s a really good example, is if you are working in 8-bit more or 16-bit mode and you put an image in your comp, and you apply levels to it, and you crank the black input that’s sort of on the top part of the levels effect, you crank that back all the way over to the right, really darken that image, and then you put a second levels after that, and you try and bring that detail back, it’s gone. In 32-bit, it actually maintains that information. You can push things past the white points. It’s called super-white. Then you can bring them back.
Joey Korenman: You can get interesting artifacts by doing that, especially if you’re doing glows, and blurs, and things like that. For the most part, as a motion designer, it’s pretty rare that you have to composite in 32-bit.
Mark Christiansen: Well, and to make this less esoteric, we’re all used to that. We’re all used to, “If you dim down the whites, they’re going to go gray.” It’s part and parcel of working on a computer. If you are in your room, and you dim the lights, you don’t expect the room to go gray. If you can imagine it, it’s a real limitation of the computer that we haven’t found an easy way to get around. This is offering it in a not entirely so easy way, but at the end of the day, it’s just as natural as that. Would you like to be able to dim down the lights a little bit?
Joey Korenman: That was a way better way of explaining it. I like yours better.
Mark Christiansen: It’s tag team. It’s like the whole course.
Joey Korenman: We’ll both get on the board. All right, next question. I’m going to combine this question with a few other ones, because the question is, “How do you get compositing on point?” Then there was a question about, “What are the signs of good green screen keying?” I think that it might be more interesting just to hear, what are the things that when you see a visual effects shot tell you that that artist knew what they were doing versus didn’t quite know exactly what they were doing.
Mark Christiansen: Right. Well, my answer to, “How do you get your compositing on point,” is dailies. What broke my head open and made me able to do visual effects at the world class level back when I learned to do it was sitting in a room of other really gifted artists and having my shots broken down by people with a trained eye. I mean, the people who are good at it, Dennis Muren at ILM only needs to see your 16 frame shot one time, and he’ll break the whole thing down for you. It’s kind of scary.
Joey Korenman: That’s terrifying.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and so that will almost … Working in that place almost rewired my neurology. The pressure was intense, but the acuity was just amazing. Some of us are not able to do that for ourselves, and so dailies was a way to put it in front of other people and break it down. You know, you can subject yourself to that as well. I wanted to throw that out. I don’t know that that really answered your question, though.
Mark Christiansen: Let’s see, so getting back to … Can you just restate what else I didn’t address right there?
Joey Korenman: Sure. Yeah. Well, I think that’s really interesting to bring up the dailies. That’s something that I think it’s easy to take for granted when you’ve been doing this for a while, that you just develop an eye for, “Is the composite good or not, and if not, why?” That’s something that in every class we sort of preach to students, is like, “Develop your critical eye, develop your critical eye.” In this class, you’re developing kind of a different critical eye, and our teaching assistants are looking at your work and sort of serving that role.
Joey Korenman: You know, I’d like to get a little more specific, Mark. You know, we can use keying as an example. This is actually interesting. The very first thing we do in the class is we give the students something to key, and it’s sort of like, “Let’s see what you’re coming in with. Let’s see what you go.” Almost everybody who’s used After Effects has at least played with Keylight at one point or another, right?
Mark Christiansen: Does it exist? Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. You know, it’s pretty obvious when they just tried to do it all in one key, that kind of thing. What are some things you look at?
Mark Christiansen: Sure. I mean, there are things that are hard to do, that you can tell if somebody didn’t know what they were doing. Compositing fire is one of those bread and butter things that, if you do it wrong, it’s going to look bad. We’ve all seen cheesy fire, cheesy pyro, you know? We’ve all seen it. It still is out there. That’s an example, and your green screen example, or with roto, it’s more like either they’ve kind of sacrificed the nuances, and you can’t really appreciate the shot because a lot of the detail is missing, or there’s an actual mistake. There’s a matte line, or a mismatch, or something else fundamental is catching your eye.
Mark Christiansen: Another classic one is if you put a still element in a scene and there’s no grain on that element. Unless that scene was created by Pixar, which is making movies with effectively no grain in them, you need to add some. I mean, cameras to this day, still create a little bit of grain, and it’s your friend. It keeps the shot humming. It can, to some extent, hide some sins, the details. Although, usually, you’re going a little harder on it if you’re trying to do that these days, because in the era of 4K, there’s nowhere to hide.
Joey Korenman: Right, yeah. I always look at … I think the classic thing with keying is hair. If you’re keying some talent that has frizzy hair or light colored hair … I’m kind of a keyer’s dream, to be honest.
Mark Christiansen: Yes, you are.
Joey Korenman: If you’re keying someone with hair blowing in the wind or something, which you have to do in this class, it’s really hard to get that right if you don’t know what you’re doing, if you don’t know how to separate edge matte, core matte, break things into pieces, use some of the effects in After Effects that aren’t as common and not many people know about. You have to combine 10 different things to get one good key, and then you have to match it very precisely. That’s another thing, too. Color matching.
Joey Korenman: Just to come back to the color matching thing, what’s cool is after you do it channel by channel for a while, you kind of don’t need to do that anymore. You kind of start seeing, “Ah, there’s too much blue.” Then you can just remove the … You kind of develop a sixth sense for it. Yeah, I think it’s really just the details that always give it away for me. The edge isn’t quite right, the foreground doesn’t match the background. Lighting direction’s another one, although as an After Effects artist, you may not have that much control over that, but that actually leads us to another good question, which was, “What are the best methods for green screen filming?”
Joey Korenman: We actually have a bonus lesson. In the course, we did a pretty big large scale shoot for this class, and shot a whole bunch of different stuff. Yeah, and one of the concepts was on a big green screen sound stage.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, we did.
Joey Korenman: We shot some bonus material there, put together a bonus lesson talking about what Mark was looking for on the playback monitor and stuff like that. Yeah, can you talk a little bit about what makes for a good green screen that you’ll be able to key?”
Mark Christiansen: Sure. I mean, it is one more thing that I can walk on a set with experience and see if there are problems or not. Fundamentally, it comes down to lighting and what you’re using as a background. The lighting you’re going to put in the hands of your DP who hopefully has done it before and knows, for example, to match the intensity of the background to the foreground. That’s usually the way it’s done these days. Ideally, you’re also making some good decisions about the lighting beyond functionally what it needs to do so that dramatically, it’s working and not putting you in a corner and so on. Again, that’s what a good DP will do.
Mark Christiansen: For our shoot, we used really the ideal setup. Sometimes, courses will monkey wrench things and give you something really difficult. We did this pro and went to a nice stage with a coved cyc, all painted green cyclorama. That’s one of those backgrounds where there’s no corners, there’s no edges in the floor. You can see why that would be really important. So yeah, and then in the course, I think we did some on set. I haven’t even seen it yet. Where we talk through what we were looking at in that scene and in those setups.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, one of the things that I remember … I have done this professionally, but even being on that set with you, there was a lot of other stuff that I learned. One of the most important things that I knew, but I think this might’ve been the biggest shoot I’d ever sort of played a role in like this. The separation between whatever you’re shooting and the green screen, you know? It’s like the more the better. We were shooting a car with talent in it, and it was supposed to be nighttime. Yet, that green screen is blasting bright green, so it has to be far away. Otherwise, it spills green light all over your subject. The size of stage was really, really important.
Joey Korenman: So that was one thing, and then like Mark said, learning how to look at scopes, so you can make sure that the levels are going to be at a place where the keyer’s going to work well. Another thing, too, that I thought was really cool we were able to do, was add interactive lighting. As the car is driving, and obviously the car’s not driving, people, it’s sitting in a green screen, there was this crazy light rig that the production company brought that made it look like things were flying by the car. It’s just such a simple thing to do when you’re shooting. It would’ve been hell on Earth to try to mimic in post. And it adds so much to the final product.
Joey Korenman: Anyway, so those are just some of the things I picked up personally, and I know there’s like a million more.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah. Well, that’s part of the reason we did a car shot. That’s another one where you and I have all … You and I, we have all. You, and I, and everyone listening have seen shots that are in a car, and it’s like, “It doesn’t really look …” I mean, I’m trying to suspend my disbelief. You have to remember everybody is always trying to suspend their disbelief. They want to be engaged in the story. Sometimes you’ll see a shot, and you’ll be like, “Okay, it’s not really right, but I can still go with it.” Sometimes you’ll see a shot, and you’ll be like, “Wow, they really … Is this … This is real. Did they … Man, they nailed this.” You know, there’s part of your mind that is actually giving that appreciation, and it just helps you even stay that much more in the story.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, yeah. You know, what I love about that particular lesson and exercise is that the footage that we ended up capturing, which also, by the way, features Design Bootcamp, and Design Kickstart instructor, Mike Frederick, and one of our teaching assistants, Traci Brinling Osowski, the background that you have to put in is not a real background. It’s almost like a cartoon world. Almost like a Who Framed Roger Rabbit kind of thing. It’s all done in the service of this broadcast tune in that the students have to put together.
Joey Korenman: I’ve had to do that exact thing so many times. This is the talent from a new car show, and it’s tune in Tuesdays at 8:00 PM. I mean, god, there’s just an endless amount of that.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and we had fun choices to make, like, “Okay, the shadows in the illustrated background look like that, so how do we make the ones from our real talent match that?” That was fun.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and I have to push the color correction on the talent a lot more, I think, in a situation like that. Even though there’s no way they’re going to match the cartoon background perfectly, if the colors don’t work, it will look like they’re floating on top. It has to sit in there.
Mark Christiansen: Right, and at the same time, the other thing to remember when you deal with live action footage is the bottom line is always make the talent look good. Yeah, in a case like that, if the whole set was orange but you don’t want your talent to look like a Cheeto … I think we did a pretty good job with it.
Joey Korenman: Maybe you do. I don’t know. All right, only a couple more questions. How do you use motion tracking to integrate 2D and 3D animation?
Mark Christiansen: There are a number of ways to do this in After Effects. Mocha is, as I said, a tool that’s equally popular among Nuke users, and After Effects also has a camera tracker that, while designed to be easy to use, Dave Simon said he wanted you to basically be able to click one button and be done, and they kind of achieved that, although we all know how to hack it, or in the course we learn how to hack it to do a little bit better. Yeah, both of those can deliver surprisingly good results, just those two. Then there are more. Is this addressing the question?
Mark Christiansen: I would say fundamentally, if you have a camera that is handheld or otherwise moving on a dolly, what have you, that’s where camera tracking generally comes into play, and if you have a surface or even anything that could in some way be seen as a surface, which most things can, then Mocha can allow you to place things on that surface. I guess, I mean, Lockdown for example, is a tool that just came on the scene that’s really pushing the edge of what you could do with that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It’s pretty amazing. Yeah, I think what’s helpful to learn about as far as motion tracking is just the different options that you have, and in the class, we use everything from the built-in After Effects point tracker, which is really good at the things it’s really good at, and it also has the advantage of being just instantly accessible, and easy to experiment with, and stuff like that. Then Mocha, which is just kind of unparalleled as a planar tracker. Then understanding when you’d use one over the other. You know, using a planar tracker, there’s actually a way of using it that we teach in the course that is not the way it’s used most of the time, that’s insanely powerful for things like cleanup, or irregular surfaces.
Joey Korenman: One of the lessons is sort of a fake UI exercise, and you have to track … It’s almost like an iPhone that’s almost like a tattoo on someone’s skin. You know, with a talent, it’s like moving their arm, and rotating it. We show you how to use Mocha to track this and composite the FUI on.
Joey Korenman: Then, like Mark said, I mean, camera tracking is kind of the final frontier there. The built-in camera tracker, I got to say, when we were planning this class out, I was expecting to just have a really hard time using it, and I was kind of blown away by the tracks it was able to get, and using a little bit of hack and a little trickery, you really can use it … I’d say like 90% of what we needed it to do, it was able to do it almost instantly, and then you’d hack the last 10%. We do for one or two spots in the class where the intent is not to have you track the shot. We had a SynthEyes artist actually track them and SynthEyes.
Joey Korenman: There’s some bonus material in there about why you’d eventually maybe want to move on to a dedicated match moving app like SynthEyes, but those are really the three ways. Point track, planar track. There’s also mask tracking, which I think is sort of similar to planar track, but you really kind of want to know all three if you’re going to be a generalist.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and you want to know what to do when it seems not to be working. I think that’s maybe one of the most valuable things to learn is when to bale, or when to start over, and what are the symptoms, the common symptoms, because they are. Usually, once you get experience with this stuff, you can say, “Oh, well that’s not working because of X or Y.”
Joey Korenman: Yeah, you learn to recognize it pretty quick. All right, well, we’ve come to the last question. I put this one last just because … This is one of those ones where it’s like it’s a softball, but also I don’t know. I want to see what you do with this. I’m curious. The question is, “I’ve taken all your Lynda courses, Mark. Do I still need this one?”
Mark Christiansen: My producer at Lynda, going way back, Rob Garrott, had the-
Mark Christiansen: … best reaction when he saw the pitch video for the course. I’m going to quote him, “That looks incredible. You guys did such an amazing job putting all that together. So good, and the kind of thing we could never do here. Exactly what the market needs to close the gap between straight online stuff like we do and Full Sail.” I’m not even that familiar with Full Sail, but I think their model is a lot closer to art school.
Joey Korenman: It is, yeah.
Mark Christiansen: I don’t know, yeah. I mean, so the Lynda courses, also for me, I tried to do everything that we’re doing in this course, and people have gotten a lot of value out of them. Lynda, LinkedIn, really, is what we have to call them now. They’re designed more like, “Okay, I’m in a bind. I don’t know how to use this tool, or what’s the answer to this question?” It’s really designed to give you a five minute video to solve that problem. It’s not really a way to learn your skills unless you’re really stubborn. If you’re really stubborn, you can get a lot out of those Lynda courses. That said, they’re also now a few years old, and while we’re dealing with fundamentals, which themselves don’t change, everything we were just saying about Mocha, that’s all really … Mocha was there, but it’s integrated now in a way that lets you do stuff you could really never do.
Mark Christiansen: My own skills have kind of evolved. My skills at teaching this stuff and also me revisiting like, “Oh. Well, how could I simplify the keying process even a little bit more?” It’s all kind of in there. I’d say, really, the thing that Rob’s alluding to that we’re doing here is you’re doing actual shots. If you want to put them on your reel, great. If you want to just try it out and see if this is something you want to do, absolutely that. If it’s just, “I just want this set of tools in my toolkit to compliment my already awesome animation and graphic design abilities,” perfect.
Mark Christiansen: It’s there in a way where you are already working on the kind of stuff that you would be working on professionally. That’s the way we designed it.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, exactly. I mean, from the beginning, I mean, what I’ve always tried to do with our classes is make them as accurate to the professional world as possible. This class, I think is probably the most extreme example of that that we’ve ever produced. I mean, we literally wrote 10 or 11 scripts. Actually, more than that, because there’s an exercise and a lesson for everything. I mean, we produced this ridiculously ambitious shoot, and had to do edits, and sound design, and mixes. Then, it’s almost like, here I’m the client, and I’m giving you the student this project to do. I need you to take this 15 second spot and track my logo all over 10 surfaces, and I need it to look real, and I need it to look like weathered brick.
Joey Korenman: You know, one of my favorite things at School of Motion is being able to work with some of my design heroes. We have designed for the students to use from Nidia Dias, and Ariel Costa, and Paul Beaudry, and David Brodeur. Really, the intent is that everything you make can and should go on your portfolio. Ideally, with a little bit of a breakdown, so you can show potential clients, and companies, and employers how you were able to do this, and that you know what you’re talking about now.
Joey Korenman: You know, and like all of our classes, too, I mean it’s interactive. You’re doing homework, and there’s a teaching assistant critiquing you, and telling you, “Yeah, there’s too much red in that,” and all that stuff. It’s a full on experience. I mean, it’s Mark in your head for 12 weeks, you know?
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, I would add to that. I mean, as we were designing it, we really had it in mind, like, “Okay, let’s leave latitude to personalize or plus up what’s in here.” You know, with the Lynda courses, I really had to run and gun shoot my own material. I self produced those courses, and it was rough, and it took me a long time to get them done. This was so much fun. We had a lot of fun making these, and they, much better than what I was able to do for the Lynda course, reflect what you would actually be working with professionally.
Mark Christiansen: And if you want them as shots for your reel, it’s not necessarily like you’re going to have a cookie cutter shot. I mean, you could approach it that way, but you could also take it, in some cases, in whatever direction you want, based only on the fact that you’re dealing with these clips and this concept.
Joey Korenman: Exactly, yeah. For anyone who’s technically minded, we shot … All of the custom stuff for the class was shot on the red camera. In certain cases, we actually give you raw red footage to work with, so you’re working with really, really crisp 4K, in some cases 5K, footage. Then, we also partnered up with the Action VFX on this class, so there’s actually some lessons where you’re given some Action VFX sort of effects things to use, like explosions, and muzzle flashes, and things like that. There’s so many things that are just fun about the class, but all of it is actually based on real projects that I had to do broadcast promos, and cleanup, and rotoscoping … It really is supposed to mimic the real world, and hopefully we accomplish that.
Mark Christiansen: Yeah, and actually, Action VFX is a great example of that. Often, those kind of practicals are the answer to the question, “How’d they do that?” Once you’ve got some of those under your belt, you’ll know like, “Oh, I see. Well, the reason that I’m not able to make this really great looking explosion with my After Effects blankets is that I would be better off using … We need some actual debris in here, it’s got to have a source, this would be a really great case to go get this element as a practical and know how to integrate it.”
Joey Korenman: It has been an absolute bucket list pleasure to work with Mark on this course, and I also want to give a special shoutout to the School of Motion course production team who have been slaving away on this course for many months. Amy Sundin, Reaghan Puleo, Kaylee Kean, Jeahn Laffitte and Hannah Guay. It’s taken an army to pull this one off, and I could not be prouder of how it’s turned out.
Joey Korenman: If you’re curious about this class, or any other School of Motion class, head over to SchoolofMotion.com to get all the details. I have to thank Mark for being so great to work with and such an encyclopedia of compositing. I learned a ton from watching him put this class together, and it was also so much fun. That is it for this one. I hope you learned something. Peace.