Pedro Lasch, a faculty member in the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, recently launched “Art of the MOOC: Experiments with Sound,” the latest Coursera course in his Art of the MOOC series. As the title implies, this newest offering explores audio art and ways we can creatively engage with the sounds around us. While a great topic for a course, it created an inherent production challenge. Previous courses focusing on visual and performance art provided plenty of images and video to pull from when putting the videos together. In the case of “Experiments with Sound,” many of the examples and ideas being discussed in the lectures had no direct visual representation. So, we created our own.
Research and experimentation early in the production process led to two extremely helpful features in After Effects that many may be familiar with, but I definitely wasn’t.
First, applying the “Audio Spectrum” or “Audio Waveform” effect to a layer and tying it to an audio track can create quick, simple audio visualizations. Second, audio tracks can be converted into keyframes using “Keyframe Assistant.” These keyframes can then be copied, pasted, and used to animate any attribute of any object or layer in time with the audio.
Like anything in After Effects, these features can be manipulated, combined, and complicated in any number of ways to create unique results. I found they were a good starting point, though.
This all sounds magical, and it is. However, in practice it was a bit more involved and experimental. Reaching the desired outcome inevitably involved a combination of keyframe smoothing, expressions, a lot of experimentation, and some trial and error.
We were also aided by the talent and expertise of Matthew Kenney who used Processing, open source coding software designed for the visual arts, to provide even more options to complement our work in After Effects.
Here’s a very brief sampling of experiments from throughout the production process: