In my corporate and factual work I often need to present numerical data. These may include budget and earnings numbers, survey results, scientific data and rising gas prices – anything that can be presented in a bar, line or other chart.
Typically, I receive these numbers from clients in an Excel, Illustrator, Photoshop or, shudder, PowerPoint file. I bring a still graphic into a motion graphics application and use animated layers to reveal the chart. The technique creates good-looking animations, but it’s time consuming and limited. And if (rather, when) I discover or get handed updated data, well I have better things to do with my time.
Data Animator, an Adobe After Effects plug-in set from Digital Anarchy, provides a better way. It works like most After Effects plug-ins, only your source material is numerical data, not images: Create a layer in After Effects, then apply the Data Animator plug-in that creates the chart type you want- bar, bubble, line, pie, polar, stock or timeline. Next, load a tab-delimited data file, as generated by database and spreadsheet programs. Display in 2D, 2D with Depth or Real 3D. Set chart animation properties (e.g., time, fades, grows) through presets or keyframes. Select type attributes, color and other visual properties. Render.
Every setting can be animated and customized. "Check for New Data" is one of several nice features and automatically updates the project and animation when the source tab-delimited file changes.
The eighth plug-in in the set, EasyChart, presents a custom interface with the parameters most commonly used to create an animated chart. You don’t get the flexibility the set’s other plug-ins provide, but you get enough to knock out a good preview or a quick final. As with the other plug-ins, you can save settings as presets.
Though Data Animator can generate 3D elements, the charts live in a 2D After Effects layer. Data Animator has its own 3D camera and rotation controls, but I’d like to control Data Animator’s 3D elements with the After Effects camera. I’d also like a version that works with other motion graphics apps and with NLEs. Digital Anarchy plans to address all these concerns soon. In fact, the company has already taken care of one- at the time of this review, there was no Mac version. Digital Anarchy has just announced that it’s now shipping.
While the current release covers most of my needs, I’d like more chart types, such as doughnut and area charts. But these are all just quibbles. The bottom line is, Data Animator lets me create better-looking animated graphs and charts with less effort.