Review - Total Training

December 20, 2004

Total Training for Adobe After Effects 6.5

Total Training
Price: $549.99 Pro; $399.95 Standard Version
13 DVDs; 5 Project CDs; 47 Hours of training

By David A. Saraceno

If Adobe After Effects 6.5 is a buried treasure, then the 13 DVD-Video training set from Total Training is a detail-rich treasure map designed to unlock its secrets. Hosted by Brian Maffitt, long-time After Effects aficionado, and Total Training's Director of Animation Training, Steve Holmes, the DVDs provide a detailed look, within the context of real projects, at Adobe latest incarnation of After Effects, v.6.5.

The Setting.
These DVDs are targeted at beginner through advanced AE users, and there is something for everyone in each set. Each DVD commences with a "getting started" section with introductory material on setting preferences, composition settings, and window placement. Users can elect which computer platform they are using, and tailor the preferences accordingly. Then the DVD moves to the main menu detailing that set's topics. The DVD-Video format, of course, permits the user pause, fast forward or rewind to review materials as needed. And each set includes a paper index of the items covered.

The Plot.
The list of covered subjects is lengthy. Total Training provides a downloadable pdf file detailing the chapters, lessons, and instructions. Needless to say, the instructional DVDs are a cookbook of recipes from "introduction to interface" to "color correction" to "rotoscoping" and "3D space." And just about EVERYTHING else in between.

In Set 1, beginners are introduced to the application's interface, while more experienced users will learn short cuts, key commands, and other tips to improve workflow.

Set 2, which covers Animation and Special Effects, is both a primer on parenting and character animation for the beginner and a detailed examination of Maffit's favorite effects, Shatter, Card Dance and Wipe, Colorama, Radio Waves, Wave World, and the very versatile effect, Foam for all users.

The lengthy special effects section in this set introduces design elements are well as detailing use. This aids the intermediate and advanced user in project composition, and still provides basic instruction to the new user. There are preliminary and advanced discussions of the basic set of special effects in AE 6.5, and discussion of the newly released effects and re-released effects from CycoreFX.

In Set 3, the more advanced capabilities of After Effects are explored - 3D space and Expressions. Maffit sets the 3D "stage," initially, and then details the pitfalls a 2D designer may encounter when working in 3D space. Expressions, basic and advanced text and animation, design topics, and more advanced features, including AE's beefed up paint tools are included.

The final set examines keying, motion tracking, color adjustment, and rotoscoping -- topics that involve part art and part science. Maffit and Holmes reveal these tools within the context of real projects, such as adding a stationary sign to moving footage using motion tracking. Similar instruction is offered on how to use 3D Assistants to position multiple layers in Z space, and the versatile uses of fractal noise. A section on audio filters is included.

The Characters.
Both instructors have their own style in presenting the information. Brian Maffit is more whimsical, and a little corny at times. But neither presenter's style nor delivery detract from the wealth of knowledge presented. Maffit clearly shines when discussing the plug ins he authored -- as noted above. And he reveals some unique capabilities of these plug ins. For example, how to use Radio Waves to create locomotive smoke or Shatter to create a Matrix type revolve effect.

Unlike DVD-ROM, these DVDs can be played, stopped, fast-forwarded, and rewound on your DVD set top box. This approach frees your computer for the AE lesson plan, and facilitates self-paced learning using the remote control of your DVD player. Load the project files, and follow along with your DVD player. Replicated DVD-Video can be more expensive, but I like the idea of watching the instruction on television. On the downside, I experienced some play issues with one or two of the DVDs. Contact Total Training, and the company will replace the offending DVD.

If there is some flaw in the learning experience, it resides in what I see at times as excessive detail in the learning process -- and this is purely subjective. Maffit and Holmes, in my view, sometimes spend too much time tweaking the particulars of a project to illustrate techniques. This can be a frustrating to more advanced users, but perhaps a bonus to the beginner. You be the judge, but temper your opinion by your level of expertise in After Effects

The Review.
After Effects is a deceptively deep application. Total Training AE DVDs reveal that depth and more and provide an excellent general reference for AE users. On shear instructional content, these DVDs are a best buy.

Copyright ©2004 David A. Saraceno

David A. Saraceno is a motion graphics artist located in Spokane, Washington. He has written for DV Magazine, AV Video, MacHome Journal, and several state and national legal technology magazines. David also moderates several forums on


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