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by mamoworldmamoworld icon

Section 3

Squash & Stretch Pro

I just talked about avoiding preset systems that limit your creativity. Now I’d like to welcome you to our preset system for squashing and stretching animations: Squash & Stretch Pro (as an appetizer, there’s also a free version). I used it to create all the animations in this scene in just a few minutes.

Movie 10.9 Letters animated with Squash & Stretch Pro

Here's a one minute tutorial where we create a similar animation with the free version of Squash & Stretch.

Movie 10.10 Squash & Stretch Free - Overview

Working with Squash & Stretch Pro is incredibly simple: select a behavior, choose a sound effect (optional) and then apply it to your layer. To fine-tune the result, there are also some controls for the amount of squash and stretch and the ‘oomph’ of the movement. But the great thing about our Squash & Stretch extension is not just how quick and easy it is to use, but how clever it is at finding ways around all the limitations that preset systems usually have.

Why Squash & Stretch is hard to automate

Preset systems contain a collection of canned animations that you can easily apply to your layers. After Effects comes with its own Preset System, and there are also various extensions that provide more powerful alternatives. But if you look at these, you’ll notice they rarely contain any squashing or stretching behaviors. To understand why, let’s take a look at this example.

Movie 10.11 Ae presets vs Squash & Stretch Pro

I first created the animation for the ‘I’ by applying a Squash & Stretch behavior. I then applied the same behavior to a ‘W’ (result on the right). But what’s up with the ugly ‘W’ in the middle? Well, for this W I saved the animation of the I as a standard After Effects preset and then applied this preset to the W. As you can see, the animation preset isn’t aware that the W is much wider than the I, so it squashes it to exactly the same size. When I use Squash & Stretch Pro to animate the W, however, it doesn’t make the same mistake – it correctly preserves the size of the W. In other words, Squash & Stretch automatically analyzes the size of your layer and adjusts the animation as needed.

Movie 10.12 S&S Pro Behaviors adapt to layer size.

And in order to properly adapt to different layers, Squash & Stretch Pro does much more than just stretching the keyframes to the size of the layer. A very wide W doesn’t just deform more or less than a thin I, it deforms differently. When making Squash & Stretch, our behavior developers first keyframed the behavior for a square. After that, our Squash & Stretch engine applied the same behavior to layers with all kinds of aspect ratios - from very thin to very wide. When the developer wasn’t happy with the result, he started to refine the animation for individual aspect ratios. This process was repeated as many times as needed until the Squash & Stretch engine produced good results for all kinds of layers. In other words, our behavior designer trained the system how to apply a behavior to a layer of any size.

Bad Preset Systems Limit Creativity

A big problem with many preset systems is that they are designed to be applied fast, but not to be easily adjusted. It’s great to have an arsenal of ready to use animations that you can create with a single click; but what if your boss says ‘Can you make the second bounce a bit higher?’ and all you can answer is ‘Errr... maybe. First I have to understand how this preset actually works, maybe dive into the code of some expressions, and then see if I can tweak them to do that.’

We know how embarrassing it is when you have to admit that the project you created is no longer yours, like when some kind of preset system takes control over the project, adding expressions and changing all sorts of things you don’t fully understand. If the animation the preset system created is all that you need - great! But if you want to change anything, good luck with not breaking the project. This is particularly the case with expressions. Since there is no way (well, almost no way) to apply more than one expression to a layer, combining several of those presets is nearly impossible. Changing them also means changing the expressions code, which is generally very limiting. Fortunately, Squash & Stretch Pro doesn’t work that way.

Good Preset Systems Support Creativity

This is why Squash & Stretch Pro is different – your project stays your project. You can view the pre-made behaviors it includes as a starting point for your creative explorations. All Squash & Stretch Pro does is create:

  1. keyframes on the layer transforms (Position, Scale, Rotation, Anchor Point)
  2. a Bezier Warp effect (see the Distortion Effects section) with keyframes

Those keyframes are easy to modify - they look as if you keyframed them yourself. You can combine as many presets on a single layer as you like, and you can tweak anything. ‘Can you make the second bounce a bit higher?’. ‘Sure, let me just lift this keyframe here a bit - done!’. ‘Much better! One more thing: could it maybe do a somersault during the last bounce?’ ‘Sure, give me 5 minutes to keyframe that’. Squash & Stretch Pro is a collection of building blocks. It’s the beginning, not the (dead) end of your animation process. If you have a low budget project, you can use it to create cool animations in no time. And if you have a higher budget, you can invest as much time as you want to fine-tune every single detail and make the animation your own. It’s a clever keyframe assistant to support your animation skills, nor replace them.

The Bottom Line

Creating organic squashing and stretching animations is a creative process that’s hard to automate – but this doesn’t mean that you always have to start from scratch. You can leave a big part of the tedious keyframing work to the developers of our Squash & Stretch Pro behaviors. This makes you more creative, since you can experiment so much quicker. And since time is money, it also makes your boss and your clients happy.

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by mamoworldmamoworld icon