Regarding Resolution

Joe Clay | Nov 18, 2017

Why I record tutorials with full-size UI

I guess I write this at the risk of alienating some people—someone has already called me a piece of shit for making high-resolution, free tutorials—but I have reasons for making my tutorials the way I do. I understand that things may be hard to see on smaller screens—though I have no issue editing these at half-size on my 15" MacBook Pro. Anyway, what follows is my explanation.

I hate zooming in tutorials and I hate non-native resolutions

It might sound odd to you, but I don't like watching tutorials that have tiny resolutions. I abandoned 1024x768 screens more than a decade ago, so watching someone open and close panels throughout a tutorial really bothers me. And I hate working at non-native resolutions so I don't record that way.

I also find it incredibly distracting when people zoom in to specific UI controls and settings. Often, I'd rather them just work so I can immediately see how it affects picture. I think it might be important for beginner tutorials so they can see what they're looking at but that's not what I'm trying to do with Workbench. Eventually I might make a beginner-focused tutorial, and in that case I may zoom those. But that's not going to happen for our weekly tutorials. Plus I'd rather spend the time thinking up new ideas in After Effects than adding zooms to a ton of cuts in my edit. And while you might think that's easy, here's what a typical Workbench edit looks like in Premiere:


Focus is the most important reason why I make my tutorials as they are. It might also sound odd that I'd mention focus to you if you're having trouble reading specific settings while watching my tutorials on a laptop. But it is a matter of focus. I don't design these tutorials to be specific to a set of settings. If that's what you're looking for you're missing the point. If there's anything absolutely necessary for something to work, I call it out. I put expressions on our site and in the comments—when I can since YouTube refuses to use a single function to strip HTML. And I try to use Expressionist when going through expressions so that they're a little easier to see. Some of our older tutorials were done before I had Expressionist, and some of them were done before it was working in CC 2018. If there's something I think you should have specific access to or would benefit from, I publish the project file—and sometimes specific elements to our Patreon.

But I do that because I think screwing around inside of After Effects is hugely important as I've said numerous times. And sometimes having the setup or having the code gets you straight to being able to mess around with the concept. Concepts are the absolute root of my tutorials. They are what I am trying to teach. That's why I'll frequently explain how I got somewhere, or what I was thinking about that lead to a discovery.

I watch tutorials all the time on my phone. I've never had an issue, but I'm not watching for the settings. I don't watch tutorials to mimic something specific. And I don't build my tutorials so that you guys go out and do that either. I don't really want to see a thousand copies of the exact same thing I've made. What I think is dope is when someone comes back to me with, "hey man, I took your effect and modified it like this so that it does this now." That rocks.

Ask questions

That said, as always, if you have a specific question, or if you're lost on something I have no problem fielding questions. Maybe I overlooked something, or something was confusing. I'm not perfect. But if you're looking to see that I set a Gaussian Blur to a 2.4px radius, you're missing the forest for the trees.


Joe Clay | Aug 30, 2017

Artlist is awesome!

A couple of months ago I was watching an episode of Film Riot where they were talking about Artlist. It's an unlimited royalty-free music site. There's a ton of excellent stuff on there.

I paid for a subscription, and have been using it for a few months now and I dig it. And with a few projects a year you can pay off the subscription pretty easily—unlike a lot of the services out there—and there's not a lot of restrictions on use for video projects, and it even seems they allow podcasts. And even if you unsubscribe you don't lose your past licenses. About the only restriction on use has to do with hate content, so don't be racist—not just in your videos but always.

Referral program

This post isn't sponsored. It's my personal opinion. This post would have happened whether or not this program existed, but it's happening now because they just opened up a referral program last week—from what I can tell.

So if you use any of the links on this post to go to Artlist and you sign up for a subscription, we'll both get two months free, which is pretty rad. After ten referrals, you get a lifetime membership. I don't intend to cancel my subscription to Artlist, so that would definitely save me some money. So if you're considering this, and want to use my link it's win-win.

The competition

Before Artlist, I had been going along purchasing tracks individually, and I always hated it. Either the music was good and pricey—especially if you do TV for multiple markets—or you end up digging through cheaper sites to find good tracks that everyone else has already used.

So licensing through other sites means that if your budget doesn't allow it, you're kind of stuck with either junk music or stuff that's been everywhere. There are only so many indie ukulele tracks with hand claps, people. Sometimes you even find that great track and then find out that in the way you intend to use it, the licensing is 10x more expensive and the client doesn't have the budget.

Artlist makes that pretty easy. You just pick something and use it. Done. And since Artlist is still new and on the DL, you're less likely to run into music you've heard before, at least for now. But so far, I've found that there's also just a lot higher quality music on there. There's nothing I've passed over thinking, "who the hell would use that?"

I've found a lot of music that I just favorited because it didn't fit a project but I want to use it elsewhere. I need to cut more reels and work on more personal projects, because I've found a bunch of great tracks! The quality is closer to the higher priced sites, but the pricing competes with the lower priced, single-purchase sites, which is awesome.

Any downsides?

EDIT: When I made this statement, I was using Artlist on Safari. Safari is slow on Artlist. Chrome is nearly instant. Artlist on Chrome might even be faster than any other service I've ever used. Most of the time I could click anywhere in any song in search results and it would just play. So couple that with the amount of good tracks on Artlist, and it's quick to find music for any project.

Artlist's site is slow. It's not unbearable, but it's definitely noticeable going from track to track. However, on Artlist I tend to find a track that I like and that fits what I need a lot quicker. So for me, that offsets the slowness pretty handily. They also have curated items, and good categories. And their email blasts, if you choose to get them, spotlight new artists pretty frequently.

So if any of this sounds good to you, use my Artlist referral link to jump over there and get you some music!

Andrew Embury on Adobe Live

Joe Clay | Aug 25, 2017

I was on Adobe Live, kind of

The great Andrew Embury, friend of Workbench, was on Adobe Live with Paul Trani for three days. I've been busy, so I missed Day 1, but I caught up on Day 2 and Day 3. Go check them out! There's a lot of goofing around, but there's also a lot of solid stuff on there—that cat body with beam was a great idea! And you can play the drinking game every time Andrew says community, at the end of the day, and other great phrases. Sorry Andrew, I had to! Love you man.

Without intending to get a huge shoutout, I said just said, "HI. That is all. :)," in the chat on Day 2 and they actually pulled up Workbench on the stream! It was awesome! That happens at 58:05 in the stream, but be sure to check it all out!

Again, thanks to Andrew for the kind words! I really appreciate it. I also loved the expression in the frame above, so much so that I spent a little bit recreating it with Andrew and Paul a little larger in the frame.

Happy July 4th

Joe Clay | Jul 4, 2017

Shop Our 4th of July Sale

You don't even have to be an American, haha. Everything in the store is 20% off. If you click through it should automatically be applied, but if it's not for some reason, put in the offer code 'merica to get your 20% off.

And we're also launching StackIt today so be sure to check that out! I stayed up pretty late to get all of this out in time for the sale (it's past 6am now). I tested it out earlier this evening and added in a few things I felt were necessary after using it for a bit.

Also, if you've already purchased Layers to Grid/Layers to List in the past, you should've received an email with a link to jump to StackIt for free. If you didn't see that, let me know. Also, as far as I can tell, Gumroad puts a download button in every email for some reason. That one doesn't do anything. You have to click the other button to go through the gumroad process so that you can get notified about updates for StackIt in the future.

That's it. Have a happy 4th everyone!

JSplacement is pretty awesome

Joe Clay | Jun 17, 2017

Mmmmm, easy greeble

Yesterday, Sev sent me something someone (sorry, I'm not sure who!) posted to the Motion Design Slack Channel. It's an awesome, free tool for creating instant 8K displacement maps that's called JSplacement. Though you might want to tip them through Paypal (link next to their download link).

JSplacement offers three types of displacement maps—and an experimental fourth—you can generate. Each type is randomly created and there are sliders you can use to determine how they're generated. I built the image above using just one that I made in it. If you need any greebling, displacement, or time displacement, grab this program. It is awesome! And it's built in Electron, which is pretty awesome too!

The Bug that Keeps on Giving

Joe Clay | Jun 7, 2017


So I found another excellent reason to use this helpful tip that I wrote about last week. Remember that pesky bug that I keep mentioning that really annoys me? You know, the one where you try to save a preset in After Effects 2017 and it wants to save it in the 2015 location? Well it turns out that must be incorrect in the API too because that's also the location FX Console searches for your presets. I saved over a preset in my 2017 User Presets folder, but FX Console kept going to the 2015 version. So it must use a path provided by the API that is also incorrect.

So I symlinked my Dropbox User Presets folder over the 2015 folder and it still failed. I restarted AE and it worked. So either FX Console doesn't refresh or maybe it relies on AE refreshing the presets. And of course AE refreshes the correct 2017 User Presets folder, it just doesn't want to save to it. So if you rely on FX Console to quickly apply animation presets, be aware of this. And if you save a new preset, restart AE and make sure a copy is in the 2015 User Presets path too. Bummer.

New Patreon Tiers

Joe Clay | May 30, 2017

Bring the value

This is just a quick note to say that I've changed up my Patreon reward tiers a little bit. I didn't feel like I was providing enough value for my patrons, so instead of offering rewards that are time consuming but don't otherwise offer much, I've decided to switch to offering things like textures/maps/mattes, graphics and icons, and presets that I can provide on a more frequent basis since these are things I create all the time. I've expanded my offerings for scripts for the higher tiers as well, including possibly beta-testing new scripts through those Patreon tiers.

If you've checked out my Patreon page in the past and didn't see enough value in it, then perhaps you might want to take a look again. Some new content is already up for patrons, whether you're new or not.

As always, this is just something extra. If you don't want to or can't afford to become a patron, that is completely fine. There will still be plenty of free content for you to enjoy! Thanks for reading!


Joe Clay | May 30, 2017

Random preset locations are fun!

About a week ago, I was finally fed up with some setup issues with Adobe programs. Illustrator sparked it, but it's something I've wanted to do for a bit, and I did it. It's simple so I should've done it sooner.

I work a lot with Sev, and we share a lot of project files, presets, scripts, etc. If I want to save a preset out for him to use, I have to save it to my documents/Adobe/whatever directory then I have to put a copy in Dropbox, then he has to grab it and put it in his directory. And then we have an extra copy of all of these presets floating around. And then AE updates may or may not migrate that folder. And that preset location bug in 2017 means I also have to navigate to the proper folder just to save.

And what's worse, various Adobe programs install presets in all sorts of locations. And some—I'm looking at you Illustrator!—have you save your presets/templates to one location and don't even search that location! So rather than navigating through that entire mess I decided to solve this issue once and for all with an ages old method—symlinks.

What is a Symlink?

Symlinks, symbolic links, or aliases are basically a folder or file that point back to the original folder or file. Any changes made to either will affect the other. And to the filesystem, it appears that the linked files exist as real files in their linked location. It's like Portal, haha. This is a technique I use a lot with Dropbox to mirror folders outside of Dropbox. There are other ways to do this that don't even involve Dropbox, but this is my method.

The process is the same for every type of preset folder you want to move. For this example I'll talk about migrating the After Effects User Presets folder which lives in ~/documents/Adobe/After Effects CC 201X/. Symlinks exist on Windows, but you'll have to look that one up for yourself.

Symlinking Preset Folders

  1. Make a new folder with the name of the presets folder—User Presets—or copy the User Presets folder to wherever you want in Dropbox—I like to make my own folder so my user has all of the permissions on it, just in case, but it's probably fine to copy it.
  2. Open up a Terminal window and type ln -s, make sure to leave a space after the "s."
  3. Now you'll drag your new preset folder out of Dropbox and into the terminal window and its path should appear.
  4. Next, Drag the current User Presets folder into the terminal. Double check to make sure you have the correct order in your ln command—the Dropbox path should be first—and that you have all the files in the Dropbox folder.
  5. When you have verified that you have all of the files copied to Dropbox, delete the original User Presets folder—unfortunately, the ln command can't do that for you, but you can look up rm if you want to stay in the terminal.
  6. Go back to terminal and hit enter to run the command. The original folder should reappear with a small black arrow on it to show that it's now linked.


You might have to update this again when there's an update to your programs or something. You should only ever have to change the target or right side of the command—for example changing 2017 to 2018. Basically, if Adobe moves the folder location or overwrites it, you'll have to check the target path, move any new files to Dropbox, delete the folder and rerun the command. That's all you'll need to do to keep your folders in sync.

Since these commands should be very similar between versions, I've taken to saving them as a note in Notes so I can just copy them to the terminal, run them after an update, and be done. If you want to get fancy you can delete the folders through the rm command and then make your own script to update everything automatically. And then you can set it up so that you can run it by clicking something on your desktop. Either way, I can now save a preset to my Dropbox and it updates everywhere—including Sev's machines—so we don't have to stop working to move files around. And if you're running multiple versions of AE, you can link one folder to all of those locations as well so every version can have the same scripts and presets.

Adobe expects you to do this

When you save your first preset to your Dropbox folder in AE, it'll give you an error that you can set to ignore forever, talking about how the preset won't show up unless you've basically symlinked that folder, so they're kind of expecting you to get annoyed enough to do this too, haha. I've also seen some Adobe peeps suggest something similar, so there's that too.

Saving Presets...Again

Joe Clay | May 29, 2017

So, as I said last time, saving presets can be a real pain in After Effects. But it doesn't have to be—I think. I could be totally wrong. And well, I kind of was. It turns out that if you do as I suggested before, you might lose things when you select the main groups in a layer's properties, like Effects or Transform. Sure, it'll save the name. But if you apply the preset to a layer that already has effects, they'll be overwritten—aka removed completely and replaced—with the ones the preset has saved. This even happens with transform properties. If you save the whole Transform group in your preset, and you apply the preset to a layer that has any of the properties set or keyed, they'll be replaced.

So, we're going back to the old tip of having to save the sub-level items, like position, rotation, or an effect specifically. If you rename your effects and you click on it to save, it'll keep the name.

But what about shapes? You can rename them and save them by clicking on the shape/group. So basically, instead of selecting the major group—like Contents—you select the immediate sub-objects of each of those main groups that you want to retain. And unless you want to get really specific with certain keys, I wouldn't bother attempting to select them directly unless they're Transform properties—and in that case select the property itself and not the keys.

Also FYI, the latest update of 2017 still wants to save presets to the 2015 location by default. So that's fun.

Workbench Tutorial Style

Joe Clay | May 28, 2017

Every once in a while, I get a suggestion from a viewer about how I should show more of the basic build of my tutorials so that beginners can follow along. I've noted my reasoning in a few places—though certainly not frequently enough—and I've made a few individual responses to this suggestion, but I think it makes more sense to make a post about it that I can point people to so I don't have to explain it each time.

First of all, if you are having a hard time with something I'm showing, ask me, and I'll do my best to explain it. Hit me up @workbench_tv or leave a comment on youtube or our site for that specific tutorial. If you're trying to understand, I'm not going to shut you down!

Second, I actually originally intended to make more beginner-focused tutorials because that wasn't available to me when I got started. Video Copilot wasn't even around then. But by the time I got around to starting Workbench, a ton of excellent resources like Greyscale Gorilla, Lester Banks, Motionworks, School of Motion, Evan Abrams, Mikey, Mt. Mograph, CGI tuts, etc, popped up to cover that user segment. In fact, almost every tutorial I've ever seen teaches with beginners in mind. But there's nothing I've found for advanced users. So I decided to make the tutorials I'd want to see.

Streaming on Failbench is about the easiest way I can show the setup of projects. And I've only been able to do a few streams so far. So building the full setup into a regular tutorial is almost impossible for me—it's hard enough with my pre-baked style on some of the more complicated tutorials. Plus I almost always figure out my tutorials by exploring and building a project, so showing the setup would also require me to go back and rebuild, film, and edit more than I already do, and I just can't fit that in. So I focus on the part that interests me the most.

I know my tutorials are advanced and that they skip a lot of steps. But they are geared toward advanced users who know, or can figure out those steps. And those viewers have given me a lot of excellent feedback. A lot of them note that the reason they love my tutorials is because I skip right to the point and don't try to teach them what they already know—which is exactly my goal. I don't want to be the guy making 30 minute tutorials with 5 minutes of new content for advanced users.

To be quite honest, I still watch tutorials. I look for a little nugget—often not even related to the tutorial—that I can take and build upon in other ways. Sometimes my mind even wanders while watching someone else work, and I think of something completely different. And that nugget is what I'm hoping to show advanced users. My tutorials are less, "we're going to make this example" and more, "hey, let's check this technique out and hopefully you can find something cool to do with it." I'm not about making robots who can copy my tutorials. I want you to watch, learn, and exploit what I've shown you in other ways.

I know that I can grow an audience by catering my tutorials to beginners. But by doing so, I'd be destroying exactly what the advanced users love about my tutorials—I show them something useful as quickly as I can, and save their time because I assume a level of familiarity with the programs we're using.

Updated December 21, 2018