Bill O'Neil helps celebrate 20 years of Adobe After Effects with his story. Bill reveals his secret, "I learned how to use AE by making promises to my clients I didn't know I could keep."
A Smithe Brothers Furniture commercial shot by Bill O'Neil, featuring Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.
I used to animate the Pillsbury Doughboy when he was a stop motion foam character with a ball & socket armature.
Bill animated the early Pillsbury Doughboy -- at that time, a stop motion foam character with a ball & socket armature.
Back in 1990, I remember supervising a Los Angeles Quantel Paintbox session where I sat in a $600/hour room, watching a woman paint out the rod attached to the Doughboy's back, one frame at a time. We would use motion-control cameras to add movement to the shot, shooting a "clean pass" of the background to replace the rod. We also had to smooth out his wrinkly, foam skin by defocusing and compositing a garbage matte that was created optically-one frame at a time.
This was just the way things were done, at least until a little software miracle called After Effects took hold. Suddenly we could create the same effects in our basements. I'm convinced that After Effects (and fast computers) are responsible for the closing of many expensive post houses.
I didn't discover After Effects until around 1998. It was the perfect solution to bring my creative compulsions to life without the $600/hour room fees. Over the years, I've steadied shots, replaced heads on bodies with better takes, removed light stands and mics from the shot, whitened teeth and placed space aliens in the scene. I even made a sick furnace sneeze fire. There seems to be nothing that I can't achieve with this mighty compositing program.
I learned how to use AE by making promises to my clients I didn't know I could keep. It's easier to learn when you're getting paid.
Every storyboard I shoot revolves around After Effects. AE has been there for me like an old friend and has even made me a more efficient director/shooter. I don't tinker with the shot as much because I know it's less expensive to correct something in post and keep the shoot moving along. Many of the effects I create in AE go unnoticed. Recently I added a painting to a scene because the wall looked barren.
Bill doesn't "tinker with the shot as much" because he knows it's often less expensive to correct something in post and keep the shoot moving along.
After Effects won't come up with ideas but it allows you the freedom to offer clients just about anything imaginable on a budget. My Chicago furniture client Walter E. Smithe suggested a talking babies spot with their voices. I convinced them that it would be funnier seeing their heads on baby's bodies. I shot two babies separately on green screen with an outfit change in between. I shot the three Smithe brothers next.
The babies offered some notable gestures that I used to inform some of the lines for the brothers. One baby was pulling on his pants so I told Mark Smithe to look down and say "Do these pants make me look fat?.
I took all the pieces into AE and after some extensive motion tracking and masking, I had seamlessly attached the Smithe Brothers' heads to the baby's bodies. It was kind of creepy looking but was funny enough to win an Emmy Award.
I'm too busy (or too lazy) to master a dedicated 3D program, so I try and cheat the 3D by pushing the limits of AE, most famously by creating an entire concert arena for some Big Ten basketball spots. I only shot a rapper, DJ, some props and a row of fans from a few angles. The entire world was constructed in AE from just these elements and some Photoshop pieces.
Last year I was challenged to create a spot where a spaceship beams down a cute alien into a mattress store to tell the startled customers about iMattress. I shot some practical lighting FX in the store to enhance the effects I would create in After Effects. I put the spaceship together and the interior entirely in AE with some Photoshop art and Trapcode's 3D stroke. We contracted Pencil Test Studios to create the Alien.
I am occasionally invited to speak to high school broadcast students. I show them my commercial work and tell them that nothing I do today was learned in college. As the teacher sinks in his chair, I also tell them to learn After Effects. I remind them that the cool stuff they saw in the spots was composited in AE.
Since my super 8 camera days, I've always been a one man band. I shoot, direct, edit and sometimes score my own spots. When I started out, I had a splicer and glue to edit my images. Today filmmakers have an arsenal of digital post production tools with AE as the centerpiece. With digital cameras, fast computers and software like AE, getting your ideas to screen is only constrained by good ideas.
I sometimes imagine what my films would have been like as a teenager in the 70s if I had After Effects and all the other digital toys of filmmaking that are accessible and affordable today. I have one foot in the "old-school" methods of filmmaking but I'm grateful for stumbling upon After Effects and the digital world to enhancing the storytelling.
It's the 20th anniversary of After Effects. My gratitude goes to all of those Adobe "oompa loompas" working in the background to improve the product every year and continuing to making me look good with my clients!
The Emmy name and the Emmy statuette are the trademarked property of The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences ("Television Academy") and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences ("National Academy")
You'll be surprised at how late Andrew Devis started with After Effects, but he's thrilled to be constantly learning new tricks. The excitement he finds in turning that knowledge into tutorials has clearly been reciprocated, as he has become one of the web's most popular trainers.
Feature, People / Interview
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