Visual effects: the framework for modern movies

by Michelle Gallina

posted on 07-11-2017

It’s a great time to be a visual effects artist. With demand for video across channels increasing exponentially, motion graphics and visual effects are essential to continually raising the bar on what is possible and fueling viewers’ passion for movies and storytelling. No one knows this better than Andrew Kramer, Founder of Video Copilot and arguably one of the most popular visual effects artists in the business. Where high-quality video and audio were once big differentiators, Kramer says that today editors need to embrace more intricate visual effects and motion graphics to create experiences that surprise and delight audiences.

Despite his allegiance to visual effects, Kramer is the first to say that visual effects alone are not what makes a movie or short film great. But they can help filmmakers tell more immersive stories that suspend disbelief and transport viewers to another time or place. From invisible effects that extend sets to create entirely new worlds, to over the top explosions and fire-breathing dragons, visual effects touch every facet of production, creating magical experiences that people can’t stop watching.

“You can’t really make a movie today without some type of visual effects,” says Kramer. “Even the smallest story or production has some sort of effects included, which creates more opportunities for visual effects artists because there’s more demand.”

The evolution of visual effects

According to Kramer, if artists can find a particular skill that they’re really good at, they can give themselves an edge. With even more advanced visual effects happening in blockbuster films, from holograms, FUI designs, and environment extensions to creature design, destruction, or 3D animation, he anticipates even more opportunities for talented artists.

I imagine we’re going to see more movies taking a traditional film standard and marrying that with visual effects,” he says. “We know we can blow up planets and create larger than life worlds. Now it’s time to begin the era where movies don’t just use that as a crutch, but use that to make a more crystallized vision of an experience that people will want to see.”

In addition to visual effects helping to tell richer stories, Kramer also sees the visual effects world going for more realism. Instead of precise, computer-generated camera movement, shots are becoming more photographic, with grain, distortion and tiny imperfections that make them look like they were filmed through the lens of a camera.

The value of experience

In addition to creating his much-loved tutorials and plug-ins, Kramer enjoys having hands-on involvement in all of the different visual effects disciplines. “For me, it’s extremely valuable to have a real expertise of all of the different areas,” he says. “I like getting into an area and realizing how incredibly complex and deep it goes. Whether I’m working on a feature film, developing software, or coming up with a new tutorial, I want to be able to understand and experience it.”

While working on films can be very intense, Kramer says it always leaves him with a much better sense of modern visual effects. “I become a much better digital artist after working on a big movie or a commercial,” he says. “That’s what helps me design software, create tutorials, and share information with people that helps them become better artist as well.”

Inspiration for new tutorials

After working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as producing trailer graphics for some upcoming movies, Kramer started developing some new tutorials that he says might be some of the best he’s ever made. There’s a precision to them and a desire to show a method that people might never have thought to use before.

“One of my favorite things is to take the toolset that exists and create something that people are surprised to learn was created with default plug-ins in After Effects,” says Kramer. “Some of the tutorials I’m getting ready to publish really get to that core. I’ve tried to break away from the intended use of plug-ins and features and combine them in ways that show people that there are an unlimited number of possibilities for creating high-end-looking effects.

“I’ve seen people use very expensive plug-ins and create effects that didn’t look as good as what you can create with the built-in plug-ins in After Effects,” he continues. “Really understanding the core principles of the toolset will actually help you when you do use a more expensive plugin, or when you get into some of these other toolsets. You’ll be able to take that deep understanding and create an even more intricate design or effect.”

Lifetime learner

To continue to build his own skills, Kramer has been working with Shape Layers in After Effects, as well as some of the new path options to create some high-tech design looks. “Shape Layers are such an incredible feature set for doing handcrafted, hand-animated designs,” he says. “It’s been fun to get in there and explore the possibilities.”

When he’s working on a video, he likes the ability to create After Effects templates for titles or lower thirds and open them in Premiere. If needed, he can still make creative changes, update the project file, and see the change cascade across the entire Premiere project without having to re-render everything.

Whether working on a feature film, developing a new tutorial, or sharing what he knows with his many followers, Kramer is excited about the future of visual effects. “Whether content creators and artists are spicing up news videos, publishing mini documentaries, producing different types of short form or informational videos, or working on a feature film, visual effects can add a layer of fun and complexity that will get their content noticed,” says Kramer.

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