Stinky Expressions

After my last post there was a bit of fallout (When is there ever not?) over my admittedly somewhat cynical comment about AEScripts and its, shall we say, ambiguous offerings. I have hinted on my thoughts in the comments to this post, but just so I get this out of my head, a few more points.

Let’s begin with the obvious. My biggest peeve with a lot of this is of course people selling rather lo-fi stuff for lots of money. I find it just weird when there’s like twenty similar scripts and all they do is apply some valueAtTime() expressions or create arrays of layers, be that 2D or 3D being sold at 50 bucks a pop. I can’t help but feel that some people get carried away and think they can make a quick buck with something they just found out themselves on their latest project. It’s lame and easy to see through like those ever same crime series on TV. In a way it’s no better than those millions of atrocious YouTube “tutorials” where people barely able to fire up a program are selling their latest discoveries as if they were the second coming only to harvest clicks.

This brings us to the other point: Seriously, does anyone actually care to learn their tools anymore? Half of those scripts and what have you would totally not sell and be superfluous, if more people actually knew how to do these things directly and understood how After Effects works. This by all rights also includes those workflow scripts that manage layers. Rather than trying to deal with 500 layers in a comp, perhaps people should embrace concepts like pre-composing as a means of structuring your work instead of fighting it just like they perhaps should not fill up their comps with unnecessary adjustment layers, Nulls and so on, because some wannabe smartass told them that a simple 3D camera move can’t be done directly.

Similar to the previous point, this also extends to actually learning the ropes for coding. When you buy a script that’s packed as a JSXbin, you learn nothing. You learn nothing from Expression Timeline‘s encoded eval() expressions, which, looking back, makes me think it isn’t that great, after all. One of the reasons I got into all this stuff over ten years ago was the ability to study other people’s code and projects and derive a certain satisfaction from it. Granted, not everyone actually wants to craft code or even superficially try to understand the inner workings of his favorite script, but, and this also returns us to the previous paragraph: Trying to understand some of that stuff can help you understand things on a more general level. When you have to structure your work and take care of trivial things like properly naming layers because your expressions require it, then you will come away with cleaner, more easily workable projects.

Ultimately those are also the reasons why I gave many projects of mine away for free and in editable form. I wanted people to be inspired by them, be able to modify them and in the process perhaps learn something that makes their life easier. Did I always succeed? Less than often, I would presume, because a lot of what I did was rather obscure and the code back then perhaps not as sophisticated as I would create it today, but I tried. In the end it is this pioneering spirit that on a broader level seems to be gone. People always seem to be looking for a canned solution first instead of trying to solve their problems on their own. The latter to me is also part of the definition of creativity. In addition to just come up with crazy ideas, you also figure out how to make them a reality.

All of this doesn’t mean that I totally object to using scripts, templates, presets and all that. When dealing with repetitive tasks a hundred times a day even seemingly simplistic stuff can be a great asset. However, I would just love if people developed a consciousness for if and when to use such stuff rather than have it running all the time, slapping together stuff and then not knowing what they actually did or how to make things created by different scripts work together. You can buy your heart out at AEScripts, but in the end it doesn’t mean that all your problems get resolved nor does it make you a better artist.

This also relates to some of the content on that site. Why would you even use it? Isn’t the whole point of being in a creative business being unique? Of course there are trends/ fads like kinetic type and everyone eventually does one of those things, but it’s really painful to watch some of that, when you just can see that it has been clicked together using a script. It’s like when you recognize the ever same stock photos being used on web sites and in advertising. In fact I even hate that with my own stuff and it just sucks seeing your projects used so uninspired. I still flinch every time I see one of my lens flare presets being used in the wrong situations. *grmpf*

So for what it’s worth: A lot of my objections are most of the time a combination of these things, not just because I dislike a specific person, web site or tool. In the end, that’s just my view, but apparently I do understand how to do a lot of this stuff in my sleep…

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