Getting the most out of those fancy-schmancy online tutorials

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Isn’t it annoying these days that there seems to be a new “how to” or “tutorial” blog about the video industry popping up every other day? Places like SuiteTake.com, those guys think they know everything and are the Steve Jobs’ gift to mankind…oh wait….

But seriously, these days there are a ton of free and very useful sites out there that offer a wealth of education about all things audio and video. And ok, I’ll admit that here at SuiteTake there are a few things we don’t know. (One writer, who shall remain unidentified for now, was railed by readers for not knowing what the “extend edit” button does, sheesh.) Whenever we have some down time here at SuiteTake worldwide headquarters I always cruise the tutorial sites looking for new ideas and techniques. But, it’s one thing to watch a tutorial and just think to yourself “wow, that was cool. I should try that sometime.” and another to actually advance you skill-set and knowledge through the tutorial. Here are a few things I do when watching or reading tutorials to get the most out of them.

Read between the frames

To begin, a few of my favorite tutorial sites are: VideoCoPilot.net, CreativeCOW.net, and AE Tuts+. They all have a wealth of video and written tutorials on how to make all kinds of way cool stuff written by a wide variety of contributors.

After watching a whole mess of AE tutorials I realized that I was still creating the same old stuff project after project despite having seen so many new techniques. I wasn’t effectively putting into action the concepts I was seeing in the tutorials. So I began to watch them with a more critical eye determined to expand my skill-set. One of the first things I noticed is that the author would routinely apply effects or filters over and over again to enhance the look and motion of the animations he was creating but only mention them as an aside. For instance, Andrew Kramer at VideoCoPilot almost always adds a contrast curve (using the curves effect) on an adjustment layer at the end of every tutorial to just give the image a little more punch. However, he barely mentions it and usually just slaps it on there without saying much about it. If, the whole time I was focusing my concentration on the main lesson of the tutorial, like how to setup his Sure Target preset, it was easy to not pay any attention to those more subtle details. Furthermore, it seems as though the author is usually so accustomed to adding these effects and finishing touches that they breeze by it too, taking it for granted.

I learned to read between the frames and pay the most attention to the small details that they were blowing off. It’s these many small details and enhancements that distinguish the real pro’s from the wanna-bees and by catching these little tricks that usually sneak by you’ll lean a lot more from each tutorial.

Always follow along, but experiment too

Many tutorials provide the project file and sample media so you can follow along at home and it’s obvious that that is usually a good idea. In the past I have been lazy and a just sat back and watched them like a re-run of Three’s Company, but recently have made it a habit to fire up AE and follow along with the tutorial as it goes. I quickly found that just watching the tutorial and actually hitting the keys myself is a whole different experience. And, just as quickly, I found that it’s even better to not only follow along but to experiment with my own ideas as well.

When I’m watching something throughout the whole video I am constantly thinking “how can I apply this to the kind of projects I work on every day?” Sure, blowing up a 3D model of Mars and morphing that into a glowing image of Miley Cirus that evaporates into a cloud of particles is cool but probably not appropriate for my video of the keynote speech at XYZ corporation’s annual conference. So during the tutorial I’ll often pause it and first re-create what the author has done but then go on and experiment with the parameters to get a look that would be practical for the type of work that I usually do. But it is always fun to just crank up the parameters to see how far you can take something too.

Use it in a sentence

Your 3rd grade teacher may have told you this way back in the day. Whenever you learn a new word simply making an effort to use it in a sentence the next day helps a great deal with making that word a permanent part of your vocabulary. The same is true with tutorial techniques. You’ve watched the tutorial through and experimented along the way, the next step is to actually use the new technique in a real world project as soon as possible. By taking what you have learned and actually applying it to a real project where you’re on the clock and achieving real results will lock those new tricks into your video vocabulary permanently. On several occasions I have watched a tutorial one day and used it in a project the next, making real money with it.

Also by using new techniques in real world situations you’ll be forced to become more flexible and creative with them. Chances are that your client will have some thoughts about what you have created and you’ll be obligated to address them. This will likely force you to delve into the technique deeper and with more control to achieve the exact look that was requested. You’ll probably have to employ a lot of creative problem solving to get what you want because you’ve never done it before and are unsure of what parameters to change to get there. This will lead you to a much deeper understanding of the technique and allow you to apply it in the future to a much wider variety of projects.

It’s about the techniques, not re-creating the project

The ultimate benefit of tutorials are the concepts you take away from them. Just re-creating what the author made does little good but for practicing keyboard shortcuts. Remember that “R and D” stands for Research and Development, not Rip-off and Duplicate. If you see something you like it’s best to take it with you and make it your own, not just remake the project and change the text to fit your client. It’s ok to be inspired by others work, but it’s always best and most rewarding to add as much of your own unique creativity to your projects. Besides, there’s always that chance that you’ll be called out by a fellow editor. And that’s just embarrassing.

The SuiteTake:

The things I find most beneficial from tutorials is that they often show me things that effects are capable of that I never knew existed. Once I know an effect is capable of something in general I can then use that to make all sorts of new and creative projects. Also, as you watch more and more the knowledge accumulates. You can take ideas from one and apply them to the next and on and on. By reading between the frames to pick up all the little tid-bits, experimenting on your own, applying new techniques to real-world projects and adding as much of your own unique creativity – you’ll be getting the most out of every tutorial you watch.

And hey, it’s also a great way to pass the time on a slow afternoon.

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