Templates & Presets: Budget and time saver or taking a shortcut to creativity?

January 13, 2012

By Michele Yamazaki, Toolfarm.com

Someone on one of the groups on Facebook was talking about using templates and how they make a great jumping off point for projects. I’ve heard of other people get really down on templates though, saying that they are cheating. So let’s play the little game of Pros and Cons for using templates and presets.

Sample: CrumplePop Crafty Titles

Pros of using templates and presets

  • Save money and time when budgets and deadlines are tight. A template is definitely a way to get something together quickly. Most templates and preset packages are very inexpensive too, so when the budget is so low and the deadline is so close, pulling from a template can save your bottom line.
  • Get over your creative hump. Sometimes you’ll hit a wall and can’t come up with anything you like. Using a template can spark your creative juices. You can also create effects that you don’t yet have the knowledge to build, which can often get in the way of creativity.
  • Work around problems and monotony. Have to create a cube with video on each side and can’t get the sides to line up or have to make a video wall that’s a falling apart? Try some LME templates. On the other hand, sometimes things are not so hard to build but repeated, such as titles. Use a preset or template to make tons of titles, which in turn, will save time and money.
  • Learn from templates by reverse engineering. Some templates, such as the Professional Video Templates from After Effects, are very intricate and complex.Reverse engineering can teach you valuable skills about putting comps together, order of effects, expressions and so on. It can help you learn a host application even more thoroughly than just training. I always thought it was interesting to reverse engineer other people’s effects to see how they were done and I must admit that it’s how I learned a lot about After Effects in the early days.
  • Tons of variety! The template market has exploded in the past couple of years for many different host apps.

Cons of using templates and presets

  • It looks like other people’s work. If you are not careful and don’t modify the design much, you can fall into the trap of having your work look like someone else. Let me give you an example. I watched a video at a fitness club that was very slick and straight out of the Video Copilot box. I did mention this to the owner of the gym, who did not make the video (it’s a franchise) and they’re not using the video here anymore. The look of some of the Video Copilot tutorials is very recognizable to someone like me (and probably a lot of you out there). Maybe your client won’t know, but your peers will know!
  • You depend on them for all of your work. There are some “artists” out there who don’t know the software and will just use templates. I have seen this a lot in wedding videos and I think its fine in that case. Brides and grooms often don’t have the budget for custom graphics. But, if you use it as a crutch so you don’t need to learn the software and are getting by, you’re only cheating yourself.
  • Templates can stiffle creativity. Yes, I know I said it can get you over the creative block, but take this example: I have a friend who works for a major television station network which shall remain unnamed. The entire franchise of tv stations across the US is now forced to use the same templates for all of their news graphics. The artists at the station have lost creative control. That blows.

Template and Preset Ettiquite

I’m sure you all know Aharon Rabinowitz of Red Giant Software. We were talking a few years ago about how people copy his work and the work of Andrew Kramer’s crew at Video Copilot. Their work is great, right? Indeed. He had told me that someone he talked to had lost out on a job because someone else had turned in a reel that was full of Video Copilot tutorials and templates with their own content. Now this, in my opinion is unacceptable.

  • Do not include templates on your demo reel. Passing off someone elses work as your own is unethical. Now this area is very gray. If you’re only using a small portion of a template, like a video cube, I think that is fine, but if you’re using full blown templates with your own text and video, without major modification, that is just wrong.
  • If you’re using a template in commercial work, modify it so that it becomes your work, not the template creator’s. Yes, this is sort of a repeat of the last statement, but it’s important.

Sample: Professional Video Templates Frames & Roses for After Effects

To summarize my views, think of templates and presets like a seamstress uses a pattern. The pattern may be from Buttrick, but the seamstress chooses the fabric, the trim, and makes modifications to suit the person who will wear the dress. Another analogy, a cookbook. Sure, following a recipe to the T may give you perfect results but how many times have you swapped pecans for walnuts or ground turkey for ground beef? You change the amount of spice, salt and sugar to suit your taste, too. You can learn techniques and flavor combinations by reading cookbooks. Looking at recipes is also a great way to give you inspiration in the kitchen and but in the end, the dish is usually unique. The same thing should be said for templates and presets. Get inspired, learn from them and make them your own.




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