Tutorials vs. Art

I have heard a lot of talk lately about the misuse of tutorials. A lot of people have the same stuff in their reels because they are all following the same tutorials. Some feel it is the demise of an art-form, once everyone can do it.

Bullshit. When it comes to art, the question is never “how many people can do it?” It’s “how many people can do it well?”

For art, the answer is usually “very few.” If the answer is something more like “a lot of people” or “almost everyone,”  then there probably isn’t a lot of art in the process. It’s likely based almost entirely in technique.

Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this post: As trainers, we’re not in the business of teaching people how to be talented. We’re in the business of teaching technique, or how to get the job done. You know why? Because you can’t teach talent. Talented people use technique to enhance their ability to express themselves artistically. Non-talented people use technique to express themselves technically.

Folks, the price of the Mona Lisa isn’t going down because you can also find it in a paint by numbers book.

For that reason, I don’t have any problem with people using my stuff in their reel or on professional work, and neither should you – unless you are all technique, and of little (or no) talent. Then you should be afraid. Be very afraid. Because there is nothing special about you and what you do. Those who have talent and drive can use the training I, and others, produce to be creative. Their talent will be recognized for what it is. Those who aren’t talented, but technical, will use them to produce good-looking but unremarkable work that pays the bills (which I fully support), or copycat demo reels that are nearly useless (which I don’t).

Having made almost 200 video tutorials, I  get a lot pleasure from seeing my stuff used, and knowing I’ve helped someone do their job. And while it’s very nice to be credited as the source of training or inspiration for a cool animation or video,  I don’t sweat it, when it doesn’t happen. There is no legal requirement.

Just remember that what you create is a reflection on you. If you create the same thing everyone else is creating, you are saying that there is nothing unique about you – That you bring nothing to the table that can’t be found elsewhere.

As trainers, we are here to help you develop your skills. But you must take it beyond what we show you, if you want to stand out from an ever-growing crowd.

20 thoughts on “Tutorials vs. Art”

  1. While I agree with Aharon in general, I think the real problem I have with the “no talent all technique arguement” is that as obvious as it is to creative individuals, it’s not so obvious to those outside the business of motion design. The pretenders can set up a mind set in clients where they simply want to copy a popular look. I’ve actually been asked by clients to reproduce the “light streaks” and other popular effects seen on TV ads. They’re not interested in originality or art. Fortunately some clients are still willing to take some creative chances and there are gigs for the real artist. Guys, greatfully take the techniques that all of these sites offer and add your creativity and produce original content. Copying other’s work is just a cop out.

  2. A point I’ve been saying for a while now, but you took a moment to say it eloquently. Well said. Keep up the good work, Aharon. Truly appreciate all you do for the community.

  3. My problem is when there is just a tutorial overload.
    Take AK’s tutorials, once he does something, its offlimits to everyone else becuase they will just think its a copy of him.
    So no more earth zoom in, no more eye replaces, no more gun flashes and explosions, because as soon as anyone sees it, they think of AK.

    Thanks Andrew!

  4. Brilliant post – I wholeheartedly agree.

    Brett: I fail to see how costumers not asking for creative content relates to the topic at hand. If you were to delete every single tutorial out there, burn every book ever written on After Effects, that still wouldn’t change the costumers willingness to take risks.

    Overall I don’t really understand the complaints that everything looks the same. Was there such a period in time where everything didn’t? The 80s? The 90s? And is the visual effects business truly that different to other forms of art such as literature, film, music?

    That said I wholeheartedly agree that the theft of creative content is disgraceful. It’s quite sad to see how low some people will go.

  5. @ Brett – I understand your frustration, but that’s the point. The bulk of clients are not looking for original art. they are looking for an OK finished product that gets the job done as cheaply as possible. And there are people who deliver just that, at bargain prices. Why should they have to pay for top-grade beef when they want a MacDonald’s cheeseburger?

    The talented people get the insanely good gigs.

    This may not have always been the case, and you may be resistant to the fact that the industry has evolved this way, but like anything technical, it was bound to happen.

    There was a time where only the rich had cars or TV’s. Things change.

    @ Morten, @ Anon – the complaint is that all of the tutorial projects are showing up on TV or reels as is. We aren’t talking style. We are talking about literally the same imagery with different text.

  6. i’ve blogged it before and i’ll blog it again….nothing, i repeat, NOTHING anyone does (nomatter what field you’re in) is “original”! especially in the creative arts. it’s all been done (in some way) before! Aharon is exactly right. everyone uses the same brush / baseball bat / 7 iron, but not everyone can paint something incredible, hit a homerun, or birdie a par 3 hole! i, myself am not going to “starve for my art”! i learned a great deal by Aharon and the other great “AE gurus”, but they didn’t give me talent. they gave me knowledge so i can better use my talent, so i thank them!

  7. Nice post Aharon. I do agree. It reminds me of a discussion I had with others about the ability for a talentless hack to be able to create something with ease as technology advances and makes once difficult tasks (ie Roto / pixel replacement) rather easy to accomplish now. think CS5. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Adobe has produced and it helps for sure…but in the back of my mind I’m still saying man where was that when I spent hours on a roto job ?!?!? LOL

  8. Thanks Aharon for posting about this issue. I’m lucky enough to work at DreamWorks Animation as their primary After Effects artist. It’s a fun, but challenging task to use After Effects as a tool to help produce feature-film quality animation. From the animation world, it’s very easy and fun to see that motion graphics as an art-form is constantly growing, expanding, and becoming better and better.

    At the issue of tutorials “harming the art-form,” I shake my angry fist. I believe that tutorials are one of, if not the most excellent learning tools out there for the entire community. This shared knowledge gives everyone the same tools with which they can either accomplish the ordinary, or the extraordinary. Does it make artists out of everyone who views them? Of course not. Andrew Kramer and you have not rendered yourselves obsolete – and that’s almost implication of anyone who doesn’t see that the art-form doesn’t have anything to do with the familiarity of certain techniques, it’s the application. Like you said, not just who can do it, but who can do it well. Knowing that everyone and their dog has access to such tutorials shows me who is really standing out from the crowd.

    I can’t tell you how many demo reels I’ve seen that look exactly like an Aharon Rabinowitz/Andrew Kramer greatest hits compilation (also, you can always tell who followed the advice and built the project on their own, and who simply changed a text layer in the original tutorial file… shame shame). Now there are several things I can take away from seeing tutorial-following in people’s reels: First, I know that they, like me, are dedicated enough to learning the process that they’ve gone out and learned from some of the best. On the other hand: If their reel showed no further application of the many techniques they’ve learned from these valuable tutorials, I know they’re not the kind of material I’m looking for personally.

    These tutorials are being generously offered up by the top minds and artists in this field, and out of the daring kindness to share their techniques. I love sharing my techniques. I share with people knowing that it’s not actually a threat to me if someone else can mimic what I do. I know that if they’re just out to mimic, that’s fine. If they take my technique, turn it on its head, and dazzle me with something new or better or greater that I haven’t even conceived of… then I have a real respect for them, and know that they’re the kind of person we need to push the industry forward. Tutorials and passed on knowledge should do this. Of course they teach many people how to do a specific thing, but to a true artist, a simple lesson in anything should dare them to surpass it.

    I’m supremely happy that the After Effects community is growing and that more and more voices and minds exist that can help answer questions and bring us all up. After Effects is a much more recognized skill in today’s world, but no matter how many more skilled users are out there, in the end there are only a handful of memorable people who will be considered true artists. Every industry is made up of people just getting by, and a few who excel – but you don’t blame the handbook. Without the initial training, who would know how to try and surpass it? Tutorials don’t hurt the art-form. They make it stronger.

    Thanks Aharon for all you’ve contributed over the years.

    (Daniel Hashimoto)

  9. Hashi – Thank you so much for weighing in on this. The very idea that the tutorials I and my colleagues (like Andrew Kramer, John Dickinson, Harry Frank, Nick Campbell and many MANY others) create could help people like yourself, means we are doing our jobs as teachers properly. It brings me a lot of joy.

  10. I’ll add my little voice to this discussion… feel free to ignore it…
    I don’t work for any big companies or create dazzling effects for the latest film, but one day I hope to.
    Just over a year ago, I got the urge to get into AE. It really came suddenly. Anyway, I got me a copy and decided to put together a little video for my brother’s 40th birthday. What did I do? I copied a whole lot of Andrew Kramer’s tutorials for the motion graphics. I would say EXACTLY, except for the fact that my efforts were much poorer!
    Anyway, I was like a kid learning to read and write. When we learn English (or whatever language) at school, we read books by the best writers around. What teacher in their right mind would say to an eager student ‘Oh I’m sorry, I can’t let you read Dickens, because then your work will be just like his.’
    So why do they let you read all sorts of books? To fuel your creativity and INSPIRE you. And because there are simple techniques in there that you simply need to know.
    I have been GREATLY inspired by watching tutorials by lots of very kind people and I’m happy to say that I don’t just copy things now! Although, I can totally see a need for that sort of thing depending on what a client wants (i.e. the McDonald’s analogy). Basically, what people like Aharon, Andrew, Harry, John etc have done is increase the competition, and offered a helping hand to those of us who were completely clueless.
    When I was 18, I made the wrong decision about what to go and study. I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life. But that could have been it for me. The financial commitment to go back to uni to study this stuff would’ve been too great. Thanks to these guys, I at least have a chance to do something I love.
    So thank you, your work is greatly appreciated!

  11. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Jonathan. I made the wrong decision as well – I studied psychology. Took me years to find myself. I know how tough it can be out there. And I’m glad the work I’ve done has helped you find your passion.

  12. People like me that are beginners at AE and Photoshop deeply appreciate sites like this and VCP or Creative Cow… I download those templates and learn how they did what they did. I see how you use particular, or shine and etc. If it wasn’t for ppl like AK and others I would be a AE Retart. I watch it and learn… and take what I learn and do it in my own work.. So people that are not willing to share ideas and “secrets” are just selfish… Thanks Aharon for this site… helps me soooooo much.

  13. There was a period when everything posted in Photoshop galleries around the web was KPT filter # 6, so it should not be surprising that a number of effects get cloned. Having begun as a visual artist in traditional media I can tell you there are tremendous number of “technique painters” out there. None of them have work in the Vatican collection.

    @ Anon, I have to say that I see a lot of tutorials both at Video Copilot and the COW, that are made after a particular effect shows up on TV or in a movie. AK, for instance, came out with his tutorial on making a high tech HUD, after the release of the “Iron Man” DVD. But even in that respect, the stuff in “Iron Man” can be found, in a similar form, in anime works like “Ghost in the Shell”.

    There is very little that is new under the sun. The key to good effects work is making it believable to the audience and working with the client to make it serve the project. While the former might be within the province of good technicians, the latter requires creativity and imagination, even if the client asks for “exactly” the same effect.

    When I put together the season one credits for “Angelika 5”, the producer told me frankly he wanted “that Ghost in the Shell” look. Of course, he also wanted it to be unique to his project. In creating it, I borrowed from techniques in both Aharon’s and Andrew Kramer’s tutorials, but the final piece is not something off their reel, it’s my own.

  14. Exactly! I agree.. It’s like a school and the school just shows you the basics and some techniques.. Rest of it is belong to the artist. Thank you for all Aharon and all trainers…

  15. Puhlease, I saw this argument a few weeks back and was like so you mean that CREED would have existed if not for Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes if not for the 60s and 70s? AR U know all the real cats love you and appreciate all the work U cats do. I’ve bought 5 or 6 Cow titles over the last 5 years from U and the boys, been with AK from tut#2 to @ #40 and continue to say thank god for video. I must’ve read Chris & Trisch’s books for 4.1/5.0 around 5 times and still didn’t get AE (the way I did FCP in just 2 weeks) until U all started doing Ur tuts. I’m obviously a visual learner. For all the folks like me I say, thanx a million.

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