The more work I do, the more things I discover, the more skills I want to learn. I’m constantly finding out about new ways to do the things I love, and the end result is a growing list of things to learn, and a severe case of analysis paralysis.

Right now my learning list includes:

  • 3D modelling in Cinema 4D
  • 3D animation in Cinema 4D
  • Creating games in Unity (2D and 3D)
  • Creating visuals in Processing, especially audio-responsive
  • Learn JavaScript
  • Learn more about WordPress or even how to build a CMS from scratch
  • Practice drawing and illustration (physical and digital)
  • Practice general animation techniques and cel animation

And that’s just the visual stuff. I’d love to learn more musical instruments, and I could definitely improve my guitar playing even after all these years.

So where do I start with this? In the past few months I’ve started tutorials in Cinema 4D and Unity and they’ve fallen by the wayside. I pick up one thing then get distracted with work and the likes and just sort of forget about it. It’s not through lack of desire or lack of interest but a lack of organisation. I guess I should add that to the list too.

To help make a decision, I looked at what I’m doing in my professional work, and what would be most relevant right now.

By day I’m a humble 2D animator who spends a good 8 hours staring at After Effects. I pretty much taught myself how to use it — there was a need to create some animations in my last job, so I just got on with it. That was nearly 6 years ago so I’ve had plenty of experience by now, but there’s lots I still don’t know. I’m learning new keyboard shortcuts every day, and slowly I’m dipping into the world of expressions.

The first expression I created myself was originally for this animation, however I’ve found uses for it since. As the animation was mostly outlines, I needed a way to keep the line weight consistent as objects changed size. Adobe Illustrator has a simple tick box for “scale strokes and effects” — turn it off and your lines stay the same weight. But since this doesn’t happen in After Effects, you have to find another way.

The outlines around the hand and the button stay the same weight even as it changes size

The simple solution is creating an inverse link between the line weight and the size of the object that’s setting the scale. In my latest animation (shown above — its a bit tricky to see because of the speed) all outlines were set to 5px. The lines inside the video on the phone scale naturally, while the lines on the hand always stay the same width. Without the expression, the lines (like those inside the video) would only appear at 5px when the object is scaled to 100%. The expression uses some simple math to set the line weight to be it’s current value divided by the scale of the object multiplied by 100. So if it’s 5px and the object is at 70%, that’s 5 divided by 70, multiplied by 100*, which gives 7.14. Likewise if it’s scaled to 200%, the same calculation gives us 2.5. Easy! The exact expression looks like this:

It’s the little line of code on the right

One slight issue is that if the object is scaled down to 0%, then we’re trying to divide by zero and we get an error. There’s no doubt room for improvement, but this is pretty effective for a single line. Expressions can be huge though, even relying on external files to bring the code in. I’ve barely scratched the surface here.

So my mission over the next few weeks is to learn more about expressions, and ways to work more efficiently in After Effects, including keyboard shortcuts! I’ll be sure to share the things I learn, maybe even include some tutorials too…

*In programming, there’s an order of operations so no brackets are needed. Technically multiplication and division have the same order of priority, but in this case they’re carried out in the order that they appear.

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