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Useful Assistants

Helpful assistants a click away By Stephen Schleicher
Remember the story of the shoe cobbler who had little fellows come into his shop to cobble shoes at night? These assistants helped the cobbler when he was pressed for time. Having elves help with our After Effects work would be cool, if only we could lure them into our electronic sweatshops. If you were impressed with Profound Effects Useful Things, you are going to find their latest product Useful Assistants a blessing, and you dont have to worry about elf uprisings.

Profound Effects doesnt need to come up with some fancy name to describe their latest offering in short Useful Assistants is an add on full of useful items you will need in your After Effects work. Unlike Useful Things, which are a series of effects, Useful Assistants can best be thought of as a series of action/expression scripts to assist in long tedious tasks.

For example, suppose you want to create a cube out of a series of layers, but dont want to go through the hassle of making the layers 3D, moving them to their respective positions and orientations, and adding a null object to aid in animation. Apply the Useful Assistants Cube, and in mere moments, instant 3D Cube.

Instead of running as an effect, Useful Assistants show up under the Windows menu and as mentioned run as a series of action scripts.

Some of the 37 assistants available with Useful Assistants

While a 3D cube may not sound like the best example consider some of the other 37 built-in assistants that come with the application:

Clicking on a layer and having all the child layers of the parent selected at the same time. This is helpful if you need to delete parent/child layers without having to select each layer in turn.

Automatically create and assign layer opacity expressions to layer without the need for creating multiple keyframes.

If you have a rather long clip with many different shots, the Cut Detector will detect these changes based on user defined settings, and place markers at these cuts. You can then run Split at Layer Marker to have each of the shots split from the original layer and be placed at their own layer in the Timeline.

Whats more, with presets, you can run multiple assistants at the same time and make the detection and splitting of a layer an automated task. Sweet!

Ever wanted to aim a 3D light by pointing a camera at a layer? You can with Useful Assistants.

Speaking of 3D, suppose you want to arrange 50 layers in 3D space so they can fly past the camera, or even have the camera fly through them. Positioning these 50 layers could easily occupy an hour of your time. With the Useful Assistants Arrange in Z, those 50 layers automatically distributes the layers along the Z-axis in a few moments.

Useful Assistants also allows you to create simple and complex mask shapes with just the click of the mouse. While it may not seem that interesting, remember that you can modify many of these actions to create a mask shape of your choice.

Finally, what I consider the cherry on top, Useful Assistants comes with an Incremental Save feature. Thats right, you heard me, and Incremental Save. Run this assistant and your project will be saved with a number extension (Project1.aep, Project2.aep, Project3.aep, etc.). For those of us who like to save our projects at various stages, and dont want to go through the trouble of selecting Save As and typing in the name, this is a blessing. If anything this is the reason to have Useful Assistants.

This add-on does everything but make julienne fries out of your video layer. However, considering that new assistants can be created through python scripting, and with the growing number of user created assistants available on the Profound Effects website, I would imagine that by the end of the day, someone will have written an assistant that will julienne a layer.

But is Useful Assistants all that? From a general perspective, they may not seem that useful if you are the casual After Effects user. Many of the assistants seem to be one trick ponies that you may be hard pressed to find a use for in the real world. However, beneath the surface, lies a huge potential. As I mentioned, users can create and share their own assistants, and making modifications to existing assistants is fairly easy if you know the language. This makes Useful Assistants a great aid for those power users who dont want to or cant spend a great deal of time on a repetitive task.

To sum up Useful Assistants are powerful, simple, and will save time for those who use After Effects on a regular basis. I believe once you get over the general amazement of some of these assistants, you will find you are keeping the UA window open during your work session and finding it a great addition to your After Effects workflow.

When not working deep in the labs of the DMN Central Division testing the latest and greatest software/hardware products Stephen Schleicher can be found at the local university teaching a few courses on video and web production. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also visit him on the web at

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Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
corporate events.

Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.

He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (, where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Appleā??s Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.

He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadnā??t even invented the word e-commerce.

And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at [email protected]

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