Online with After Effects, Not Just a Flame

The tools I use are Adobe After Effects, Final Cut Pro and Automatic Duck, with a Power Mac Dual G5 and an AJA Kona 2 card. My workflow goes like this: The editors cut in an Avid and give me an OMF, rather than spit out an EDL. We use Automatic Duck to import the edit info into Final Cut, which saves a lot of time, because Automatic Duck translates a lot more information than an EDL does and saves me from having to recreate a lot of what the editor has already done. I just have to re-link the graphics files and digitize the footage.
Once the spot is digitized in Final Cut, I use Automatic Duck again to import that timeline directly into After Effects, where I composite, color-correct and add titles and graphics, just like you would in a Flame. Basically, I’m using AE as an online tool, rather than just as a graphics application. In my experience, I haven’t heard of many others using it this way. When looking for an inexpensive way to online, most people just use Final Cut, and some sort of uncompressed video capture card, and do what they can in Final Cut. Although Final Cut is a great editing tool, finishing like this can be limiting.
The tough part is selling it to the client. When people hear After Effects and Final Cut, they don’t usually think online. Often times, a producer’s heart will skip a beat when they find out what I’ll be using to finish their spots. But they’re always happy when all is said and done. With the speed increases in desktops and software, onlines go a lot faster than people think.
After Effects, being such a versatile tool, is actually a great way to get Flame-quality onlines in a much lower-cost package. It also saves the client money, since we’re not paying for the lease on a Flame. Not to disrespect Flame at all- there’s a reason it’s an industry standard- but you do have certain advantages with After Effects, namely its tight integration with Photoshop and Illustrator.
Since most files come from the clients as Photoshop or Illustrator files, being able to import them directly with all the layers intact really saves prep time. You don’t have to convert each layer to a pict or targa file (or whatever the file may be) with alpha and then send it over to an online box. Also, since I’m often working on graphics and rough comps during the offline process, much of what I’ve already worked on can be incorporated into the final online. All I usually have to do is swap out the rough footage for final shots.