NAU’s Imagination Runs Wild with Sapphire

Tags: Sapphire, Adobe After Effects

Former freelance Creative Director Raffi Simonian founded NAU ten years ago. He launched the LA-based design, animation, and live-action studio as a reaction to the growing trend of the “design company” model. You know the one — tons of freelancers in a cubicle farm working independently from each other and on different projects.

“I wanted NAU to be a more laboratory/workshop type of environment where my collaborators and myself sat down and discussed how to approach each project in a way that was tailored to specific needs,” says Simonian, Founder and Executive Creative Director. “Everyone working here is a hands-on artist, including myself.” The team works mainly on broadcast, film, and advertising projects with a focus on animation-centric spots for clients like Discovery Networks, SpikeTV, FOX, Toyota, MTV, Universal Pictures, and the U.S. Airforce.

“We find Sapphire to be critical when it comes to developing more complex effects that generally bridge the gap between and complete elements rendered in Cinema 4D and the environments that they are being composited into within After Effects,” states Simonian. “We often sit down and discuss how we might develop an organic effect that we have designed in our storyboards, and many times we turn to the fine controls within Sapphire’s plug-ins to cook up a recipe that simulates what we intended in our original design.”

NAU’s creative brainstorming and focus on delivering highly-artistic projects shines bright on the Science Channel’s How the Universe Works. The team designed an intricate sequence that required them to devise an organic rendering of the cosmos using fluid effects. “We decided on a method where we would mix together various household liquids to create stars, surface textures, and atmospheric effects,” notes Simonian. “Then we took those elements and used distortion tools to shape them into planets, planetary rings, etc.” The team relied heavily on Sapphire effects — S_BleachBypass, S_FilmEffect, S_FilmDamage, S_Shake, S_Flicker, S_Glow, S_WarpPolar, S_WarpFishEye and S_Sharpen — to add finishing touches to the out-of-this world spot.

“It is the more nuanced touches to a piece that I believe separate it from other digital work out there,” continues Simonian. “As you use Sapphire’s plug-ins, the fine controls become less intimidating and quickly become second nature. With many other tools that have fewer controls, the work tends to be stamped by that plug-in’s look. Sapphire lets us define our own outcome and works as more of a bridge between our imagination and the execution.”

“I love being approached by clients and handed a problem whose remedy lives in our imagination,” ends Simonian. “Sapphire has been a very powerful tool in making it possible for us to invent the effects we’re looking to achieve. Within each effect is an endless amount of possibilities.”

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