Last Friday I took part in the first Layer Tennis match done in After Effects. My opponent was Jason Koxvold, who I had previously collaborated with in the first edition of PSST! Jason provided the hilarious but destructive ending to Easy Action, so I knew he would be a tough competitor.
Layer Tennis itself is a collaborative / combatative design event created by Coudal Partners. It used to be called Photoshop Tennis and was started back in 2001. But then it lay dormant for a while and was just resurrected earlier this year. So far they’ve had some great matches: Harrington v. Anderson Hansen v. Cordiner Bantjes v. Vit The previous week’s match had been done in Flash and it was really interesting to see the concept evolve when you could apply motion and story-telling to what had previously only been static imagery.
The invitation came late on Tuesday and the match was for Friday afternoon. Not a lot of time to think about it or worry about what I was getting myself into, so I just said “Yes.” I won the coin flip on Thursday, so I had overnight to prepare my “serve.” This was a file that had my first animation and several other elements in it that I was planning on using somehow in the match. I had decided to make a happy little tennis ball, because I enjoy the blindingly obvious. I also wanted to keep my side of the match pretty damn simple and try to just re-use my exisiting elements for each volley. Of course I made a few other elements that I planned to introduce over the course of the match and set them aside… I set the tennis ball up so he was jointed and very easy to animate. Sounds like a plan, right?
I posted the first serve for Jason a few hours before the match went live and he got to work on his “return.” The match then started in the late afternoon and the clock was ticking! We were supposed to be returning each other’s serves every 15 minutes. Behind the scenes the Coudal folks and Jason and I were all online using Basecamp to talk to each other and exchange files. 15 minutes is really not a lot of time. It was nerve-racking trying to get your serve done and then also render and post it. As Jason was working on his serves, I would start to work on my next move and hope I could figure out a way to incoporate or respond to his last volley when I got it. Then once his was actually posted, I had to scramble to finish mine up and get it up on the Coudal servers. I’m pretty sure we went over our time limits each serve, but we did get the match done in the usual 3-4 hour slot. Not a mean feat considering we made about a minute and fifteen seconds worth of animation pretty much on-the-fly.
Hopefully it provided a few of you with an entertaining way to spend your render time on Friday afternoon. Jason did a great job returning his volleys and reacting to my shots and the whole thing was really fun to be a part of. Big thanks to Matt Haughey for his commentary Jim Coudal and Adobe for making it happen. I lost the match, but my dignity is intact.