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When I saw that James Curran – also known as SlimJim – had released a brand new course – promising to share the techniques he uses to create his popular looping animations, I knew my curiosity was going to get the better of me before long.

As a freelancer who works primarily with travel industry clients, I like many people currently, have a lot more spare time on my hands than I was expecting at the moment – there’s never going to be a better time to work on some fun new skills.

I was excited to see that Nottingham’s own James Curran had created a course on Motion Design School, having been a fan of his work for some time.

He makes fun, colourful looping animations that are deceptively simple. They have a beautiful, hypnotic rhythm to them, and the course promises to show you the secrets, and help you to do the same, using Adobe After Effects as the main tool.

In a world where there is an overwhelming amount of free and low-cost learning material on YouTube, to justify charging, a course has to be good. At $250 (currently discounted from $500) the course is quite a significant investment (especially with the current dire financial warnings) – but is it worth it?

It’s worth mentioning that you can get another 10% off if you sign up to the website’s newsletter. Using the discount does seem to mean that you sacrifice the website’s money-back protection, however.

Why the hesitation?

On the course’s sales page, there is a fun promo video, and a write up of what to expect each week, but as Animated Loops With James Curran only launched last week (May 15th) there’s not really any information elsewhere as to what to expect. The page also says it has 4+ hours of content – which didn’t seem like a huge amount to me.

This was the reason I wanted to write this first impressions review – as it did feel like a bit of a gamble when I handed over my cash – as there is not much information available elsewhere. I’ve never taken a Motion Design School course either, but I have heard good things.

So I punched in my credit card details with a little apprehension…

What to expect when you sign up?

After signing up you are given access to the first lesson – and you can join the Facebook group where other people taking the course can post their results for feedback. This already seems quite busy, and James is active in the comments offering useful tips and advice on the work that has been posted.

The course uses Teachable, and promises to drip out content on a weekly basis for ten weeks.

The first week’s lesson

The first week’s lesson only totalled 23 minutes, which again seemed a little short to me at first.

Fortunately, barely a second of the videos are wasted, and they are packed full of dense information, tips and inspiration. This is actually quite appropriate – as James says in one of the videos, every frame really does count when it comes to this type of looping gif.

The first short video was a typically fun, and appealing animated presentation of some loop theory – which was enjoyable to watch and contained lots of useful insights into the way James thinks about loops.

The lesson’s second video then offers a walkthrough of how to create the swinging animation below from scratch, all inside After Effects.

The lesson works best if you follow along with what James is doing live. This will involve pausing the video a lot while you fiddle around in your own project – so the lesson actually takes considerably longer to complete than the length of the video.

It’s worth noting that it is an intermediate course, and you will need to know your way around After Effects and shape layers. It’s assumed you know the basics, and time is not wasted explaining them.

The instructions are clear, but I did have to stop and troubleshoot a couple of times to see where I had gone astray.

Part of the appeal of James’s work is the deceptively simple, faux-3D effects he achieves, and the first lesson teaches how to get started creating these, as well as how to create secondary animations, such as the swinging legs.

He also shares some useful expressions, as well as tips for offsetting animations, and life-saving workflow tips – like a nifty trick for duplicating and repositioning an animated element quickly.

The example he creates is of a very simple character. You’re then encouraged to take the principles you’ve learned and apply them to your own creations.

Was it worth it?

I really enjoyed the first lesson, and having taken it, the lesson length is actually about right. I was a little worried about the short length of the content, but sometimes quality really does trump quantity. James is a master of this type of animation, and is sharing valuable, time-saving tips and the experience that he has honed over many years.

He is straight to the point in the course, and no time is wasted – which is much better than the waffle, or videos teaching bad workflows that you often encounter on YouTube.

One thing that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere – until I’d bought the course – is that you will need a character rigging plugin. I believe Motion Design School has created a character rigging plugin, and there is a free lite version available. It does also say that we’ll be using some 3D software, but I’m assuming that Cinema 4D Lite will suffice for this, and most people will have that included with their Adobe After Effects anyway.

So I hope this post gives you a little bit more information about what to expect if you are interested in the course. It’s only been one week – but I’d definitely recommend it so far. Let me know if you have any questions about the course, and I’ll do my best to help!

Check out the course.

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