Adobe has introduced another major Mac OS X-compatible product – After Effects 5.5.

After Effects is Adobe's solution for creating motion graphics and visual effects for film, video, multimedia and the Web.

The application will ship in the first quarter 2002 and will introduce extra tools and utilities, building on After Effect 5's support for 3D compositing.

Two versions are available: The standard version offers the core 2D and 3D compositing and effects tools, while the Production Bundle offers these with additional keying, motion control and distortion tools, audio effects, 3D channel effects. 16-bit per channel colour, vector paint-tools and network-rendering support.

Lincoln Lopez, European product manager for dynamic media said: "Adobe talks a lot about network publishing, and our video products are being developed to extend that strategy. We're looking at a future where video is streamed to mobile phones, PDAs and other devices. It's not just about the network publishing of written content and still images."

In a flash After Effects 5.5 introduces new features to reflect the strategy, adding more Web tools and Flash export/import features. The application's capacity to create 3D compositions has been given impressive improvement.

Eight new effects have been introduced, and the application can now manipulate a composition from different perspectives using multiple views. An Effects palette has been introduced, and the product has been made far more versatile in terms of its media-format support: it will create RealMedia streaming audio and video output, and can import Flash and MPEG-1 files. However, RealMedia support doesn't work on OS X at this time. The Production Bundle adds the capacity to import 3D camera data and the ability to work with 16-bit file formats.

This product benefits from Adobe's work on creating a unified user-interface across products in its range, as well as seamless integration with other Adobe products, such as Premiere and Photoshop.

A stunning new feature is After Effects 5.5's coloured shadows and projection layer-controls that let users manipulate lighting in 3D compositions. The Light Transmission material property can make a 3D layer cast coloured shadows or act like stained glass. It's possible to create spotlights that cast a variety of colours and shapes, and build realistic shadows from 3D objects. After Effects 5.5 offers a new Metal Material option to control the colour of highlights - this lets users create realistic metallic logos, for example.

And then there was Light
Of Light Transmission, Lopez said: "This feature is much more powerful than opacity, in that it will cast the light's colours on any object it hits." It's possible to hide the layer responsible for the cast light, opening up opportunities to create interesting lighting set-ups in projects.

After Effects now ships with over 90 effects, including eight fresh for version 5.5. New effects – some exclusive to the Production Bundle – include Color Stabilizer, Advanced Lightening, Levels, four-colour gradient animations, Cell patterns, The Grid effect, Roughen Edges and Time Difference effects.

Adobe has introduced features designed to minimise one of the dullest tasks in video editing – rotoscoping. After Effects 5.5 offers the Smart Mask Interpolation Keyframe Assistant (Production Bundle feature), that creates precise animated masks to speed up the rotoscoping process. The Production Bundle will import camera data from Maya projects into After Effects, so new elements can be added into 3D compositions. This feature also works with camera data from 3D Studio Max when you import RLA and RPF files.

Other features include an improved Standard 3D Renderer, which now includes an anti-aliasing control to improve the appearance of output. The application offers controls that will place a layer at the current time, rather than at the position of their original In point. It's possible to speed up performance by selecting keyframes on a single layer, then pasting them to multiple layers simultaneously.

Five alive The company has uploaded five additional effects to its Web site that are available for free download by After Effects 5.0 and 5.5 customers and include Foam, Wave World, Caustics, Card Wipe and Card Dance.

After Effects 5.5 offers native Mac OS X and Windows XP support. The Standard Bundle costs £525, the Production Bundle is £1,225. Upgrade prices haven't been confirmed at this time, though Lopez hinted that upgrading would be cheaper than before.

Those upgrading from the Standard version of After Effects to the Production Bundle, or purchasing the full retail version of the Production Bundle get Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator Classic plug-in, which retails at $495 in the US. Invigorator can transform 2D artwork into 3D elements within After Effects. Existing After Effects Production Bundle customers will receive a $250 coupon from Zaxwerks toward purchasing Zaxwerks.

System requirements are a fast PowerPC processor, (Adobe recommends a G4), Mac OS 9.1, 9.2.1 or OS X and a recommended 256MB RAM.