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Review | Adobe After Effects CS5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques

Posted 3rd October 2011 by    email Email article     share Share article

Back in July I posted that over the summer I would be reading Adobe After Effects CS5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques by Mark Christiansen (Twitter @flowseeker) and when finished I would be reviewing it… so after a good read here is the review!

Book Description

The product description about this book stated that it is the only book on the market to focus exclusively on the creation of visual effects for After Effects users, and it is a one-stop resource for anyone who wants in-depth explanations that demystify the realm of visual effects and how they were created, thanks to veteran author Mark Christiansen’s friendly and accessible style. Wow! That’s some description and one that helped led me to buying the book… let’s see if it lived up to those words:


First off, this book is not a book for people wanting to learn After Effects or even for beginners new to After Effects… it’s a book for intermediate users upwards. The content of the book is split into 3 sections:

The first section of the book deals with user interface of the package, using alpha channels, masks & composite modes, and optimizing rendering with the main focus is on the timeline (including the navigation, graph editor, keyframes and time manipulation) Even though many intermediate users (and those above) may feel the need to skip this section I must say even the experienced users of AE should pick up something in this section.

The second section focuses on the essentials of compositing, colour correction with levels and curves, great coverage of colour matching, steps to creating a great key, rotoscoping, roto brush, refine matte, the puppet tool, shape animation, tracking, matching motion blur, rotation and zoom, nulls, 2.5D & 3D tracking, mocha, optics & lens matching, grain, camera mapping techniques, 32-bit float compositing, intro to HDR, colour management, gamma and expressions. As you can see this is a massive section and all a bit much to take in (for me anyway!) but it’s a great one for reference. You will be sure to go back time and time again.

The third section of the book covers best practices of common creative visual effects tasks involving light, environment matching, heat, and explosions.  I.e. neutralizing hotspots, colour looks, solution for light wrap, reflected light, shadows, multi-pass 3D composites, climate and environment matching for thick air, smoke, precipitation, sky replacements, pyrotechnics including firearms muzzle flashes, subtleties of heat distortion, energy effects like lightsabers & lightning, fire elements and explosions. Again this is a pretty big section with lots of great information.

Final Comments

This book is a jammed packed informative read with readers of all levels (though as said not for people wanting to learn After Effects or even for beginners new to After Effects) learning core techniques for compositing effects including colour matching, keying, rotoscoping, motion tracking, emulating the camera, and concluding with using expressions and much more. This book is really well written and easy to follow and as described at the start… it is the one-stop resource for anyone who wants in-depth explanations that demystify the realm of visual effects and how they were created!

About the Author

Mark Christiansen is a visual effects supervisor and creative director with a studio in San Francisco. He has worked with visual effects companies such as ILM, The Orphanage, and Evil Eye Pictures on Hollywood feature and independent films, and has served as a director, producer, designer, and compositor/animator on commercials, music videos, live events, and television documentary productions. His work has appeared in films such as Avatar, The Day After Tomorrow, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and films by Robert Rodriguez. Mark has done work directly for the Adobe After Effects development and marketing teams, is a founder at, and has taught courses at and Academy of Art University. He has been a guest host of popular podcasts such as ‘The VFX Show’ and has written all editions of Adobe After Effects Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques and co-authored After Effects 5.5 Magic.

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