My “Mentors” Part 1: Video Copilot

5 01 2012

Let’s talk visuals.
Specifically, VFX visuals.
More specifically, where and how to learn about VFX.

For the uninformed or blatantly ignorant; VFX stands for “Visual Effects”.

As an amateur film editor, I found out early on that eventually you’ll need to have some VFX skills, or else your video will look…lame.
Uninteresting.
Maladroit.

My first visual effect was a cross-fade. I did a shot of me just standing in front of the camera. Then I shot the room empty (about 7 years later I would learn this blank shot techinique was called a clean plate. I just used the template fade transition in Windows Movie Maker (XP edition!) and instantly had an effect that blew my 9-year-old mind.

Eventually I started upping my game with sound effects. But I didn’t have any cool effects like muzzle flashes, blood, and- most importantly- lightsabers. A young assistant leader at a church camp had once told me about a crazy little program called “After Effects” that could pull off magical VFX with ease! So around age 13 I googled it and downloaded the trial.

2 hours of installing later, I beheld the full power of AE on my screen. And I had absolutely no idea where to start.

Once more, I summoned the Google page and queried “lightsaber After Effects”. But it seemed as if all the tutorials I read simply told you how to build one from scratch.
All I wanted to do was make a simple lightsaber effect! But now it looked like this effect would take much longer than I expected.

And then I found… Video Copilot…

I’m almost completely certain that at least 85% of the After Effects community has in one way or another heard of Video Copilot. His presets are undoubtedly the most ripped-off in personal portfolios. And he has done professional work for JJ Abrams that you’ve probably seen, but never known who did them.

I eagerly downloaded the preset and installed it. Then I watched his tutorial intently, copying what he did, click-for-click. By mimicking him, I learned how to set and animate keyframes before I even knew what a keyframe was. I watched some of his other tutorials too for the fun of it. Gradually my skill set increased, including my technical vocabulary. I even bought the Action Essentials 2 pack and learned how to composite the footage onto mine using track mattes.

To this day I still find much to glean from his tutorials and oftentimes re-watch them to better understand an effect. I HIGHLY recommend checking out the Video Copilot website if you haven’t already!

Read Part 2!

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