By Brady Betzel
When I first arrived at college 10 years ago, I was all set to be a computer science major. Once I started to program using arrays, I realized quickly that I couldn’t do ones and zeros for the rest of my life. I needed to use my technical skills in harmony with whatever creative skills I thought (and still think) I have.
Eventually, I began to dive into the deep end of web programming and Adobe After Effects expressions to show off and complement my editing and motion graphics work. Luckily for me I remembered just a few if/then and else/if statements from my Java classes.
Lately I’ve been visiting www.aescripts.com daily in my search for interesting and topical post production-related nerdiness. aescripts.com is a site dedicated to After Effects scripts and plug-ins, namely Plexus, TypeMonkey and Newton2.
A few weeks ago Arie Stavchansky — the creator of Templater and founder of the company DataClay — emailed my editor, Randi, and asked if we would be interested in reviewing a script he wrote that will be sold through www.aescripts.com/templater. My answer was, obviously, an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Once installed, I saw Templater bringing my past programming knowledge and current motion graphics work together into one simple-to-use tool.
Templater is a unique After Effects plug-in that allows the After Effects artist to take data input from a spreadsheet, such as a set of tweets, and quickly create multiple instances of a visually similar composition but replace the data or even colors based on the input text… whew, that was a mouthful.
For example, let’s say you are working at a concert doing live infographics on a huge monitor and the director wants 20 different cards showing 20 different “live” tweets. At first you will be thinking, “Fine, buy me an HP z820 with an Nvidia K6000 and then give me an hour to find and type up these different tweets.” Lucky for you, you read this review and you now know about Templater.
A More Efficient Way
You quickly build a Google Doc spreadsheet that uses an add-on or script to mine Twitter for specified hashtags, tweets using a certain Twitter handle, or whatever info you want.
(As a side note Templater works through either Google Docs spreadsheets or tab-delimitated spreadsheets to filter its content, so it’s not Twitter dependent — it can work with whatever data you give it, but Twitter is a great example of how to use it).
So if you need to find 20 recent tweets about #Metallica, you can populate a Google Doc with the name of the tweeter, their Twitter handle, and the exact tweet, then once inside of After Effects (presumably after you built your template), you assign different text layers to have different categories based off of the spreadsheets column headers. You quickly assign Templater to run a batch render of rows 2-21 to create 20 unique infographics without having to personally adjust each composition — it will output the various versions to whatever preset you want without creating unique compositions). If you do want the various versions in individual compositions, Templater can create the unique compositions directly inside of After Effects.
Once I watched all of the video tutorials set up at http://templater.dataclay.io, read all of the accompanying info, I then tried it for myself — and it worked! Pretty easily I might add. First, I created a crude title card with a placeholder for a Twitter handle and another for the accompanying tweet. I then used the Templater window (directly inside of After Effects) to log in to my Google Docs account and point to a specific spreadsheet where I used the add-on “Twitter Curator” (a free add-on that I am not necessarily endorsing, but just happened to use), to find the Twitter info I needed: date of posting, name and tweet that had mentioned @postperspective. I don’t know much about Google Docs add-ons but from the tiny rabbit hole I went down, you could create a Google Doc that updates social media info, statistics, twitter info, weather reports, basically whatever you want.
At this point you might be overwhelmed but it’s really not that hard once you get Templater set up. It took me a few hours to dance around the videos and read the detailed walkthroughs, but eventually I was able to get my head wrapped around how to properly integrate Templater into my workflow, and I really see how important this will be to productions who integrate social media on a “live” basis with their After Effects work.
Who Would Want to Buy This?
I really think Templater is a beautiful product that is relatively cheap for what it can deliver. It typically $119.99, but is on sale for $89.99 through September 15. Whether you are working on a live production as I described earlier, or a live edit of a wedding montage, and you want to use social media hashtags and comments to populate your video, Templater will save you time and money while helping you impress your clients.
In fact, Arie has a great tutorial showing how he integrated Templater with a VideoHive.net After Effects project of a slide show. It was really interesting to see how you can set up a simple spreadsheet, preview everything before you render, then set the outputs to go unattended and in the end have hundereds of different outputs with only a few minutes of actual work.
One of my favorite practical uses for Templater is with language versioning. When building a graphic there may be a network deliverable requirement that asks for multiple copies of the graphic/video translated into various languages. This info will have to be put into some sort of organized document by someone (hopefully, the client), so with a little Google Doc spreadsheet organizational wizardry you could create multiple versions of your graphic in as many languages as necessary (as long as your font contains the correct glyphs).
Check out the “Localizing Text” tutorial on http://templater.dataclay.io — it even uses Video CoPilot’s Element3D in combination with Templater to create a real world motion graphics project! You all know how much I love me some Element3D!
Arie Stavchansky comes from a background in software development, interaction design and digital media studies. He’s worked for Digital Kitchen in Chicago and even taught at the University of Texas at Austin. Similar to me, Arie has the knack for technical but loves to help in the creative sector designing data integration platforms for mobile and web apps. In the future, DataClay is looking to further integrate self-updating data sets that drive the output of content by simply editing a spreadsheet — meaning videos that can edit and design themselves based off a spreadsheets input!
In the end, Templater is a niche After Effects plug-in that when needed could save you so much time that you might be able to take on more work or even take that much needed coffee break. It’s relieving a major bottleneck in post workflows that want to embrace live data inputs, such as Twitter updates, with beautifully constructed motion graphics projects.
After working on many shows where there is a huge need for integrating current social media content with high-end motion graphics, Templater is not only saving people time but allowing the actual content creators to spend more time on the story and finesse their design behind the idea, allowing for a better end product.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC, and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.