Adobe After Effects 5.0

The highly anticipated upgrade of Adobe After Effects (AE) – version 5.0 – boasts features and enhancements that will take users creativity to the next level, and make visual effects and motion design accessible to a much wider audience than before. Shipping as a Standard Edition and a Production Bundle – with a £550 difference in the price tags – this upgrade sees the app transform from a standard desktop motion-graphics application, to a high-end visual effects package. It includes 3D compositing, vector painting, 16-bit colour support and multi-publishing capabilities – all for under a grand. With the long-awaited 3D-compositing feature, creatives can now add depth to their work by positioning and animating objects in true 3D. Taking advantage of AE’s built-in 3D engine, you can take any layer, except an adjustment layer, and convert it to a 3D layer – which can then be animated along the X, Y, and Z axes, with added cameras and light features. Interacting with your object within this 3D layer is a breeze. A 3D layer is symbolized by a cube icon showing in the 3D-layer column in the Timeline window. This lets you easily pick it out from the crowd. By selecting the layer, a colour-coded XYZ icon (axes) – commonly found in fully fledged 3D-packages – appears in the Composition window. Each point on this icon controls a corresponding axis. The red one represents the X-axis, the green represents the Y-axis, and, finally, the blue represents the Z-axis. When you roll the mouse over a point on an axis, an outlined X, Y, or Z guide appears next to it, so you know which axis you’re manipulating. By dragging one of the points on this XYZ icon with a selection or rotation tool, you adjust the layer’s location in 3D space. If you’re adjusting the position of a layer, the layer travels along the corresponding axis. If you’re adjusting the rotation of a layer, the layer pivots around the corresponding axis at the layer’s anchor point. A preview of the 3D layer can change dynamically in the Composition window, according to your resolution settings (full, half, quarter), or you can choose to see only a wireframe representation of its movement. While you’re 3D view changes dynamically in the Composition Window, the Info palette also updates to show the new co-ordinate of the layer you’re adjusting. It’s in this view one notices the power and significance of the enhanced memory caching. AE tries to offer the best balance between maximizing interactivity, and providing visual feedback. It drops the preview resolution temporarily – instead of switching to a wireframe mode or redrawing the preview continually – saving on processor and memory requirements. With a fast computer and plenty of RAM, AE recalculates the resolution pretty quickly, almost unnoticeably. Animating properties
In true AE style, all layer properties in X, Y and Z-axis can be fully animated over time. You simply select your layer in the first frame, and change any required property values by dragging or selecting the property and typing in numeric values. Then go to the next frame, create a new keyframe, change some values there or drag any properties you want changed, and then rewind the clip. Click on RAM Preview to see your work of art. As you add camera and lights to your 3D layer, AE lets you choose options that represent the properties of real cameras and lenses. A Preset menu contains sets of properties that correspond to common lens sizes, (from 35mm to 200mm). AE lets you choose light types, such as Parallel lights to model distant sources such as the sun, Spot lights, Point lights, and Ambient light. For example, you might define a camera using a wide angle 15mm preset, then cut to a second camera created using a 200mm lens to capture close-ups from a different perspective. Best of all, in AE 5, you can create and save custom camera presets for a later user. At any time you can switch between views – such as Top, Bottom, Left, Right, Back and Front (orthographic view) – in the Composition window, and also customize predefined views. However, AE’s Composition window lets you interact with the orthographic views only one at a time, not simultaneously in “split-view” like in other 3D packages. While in a custom view, however, you can use the Orbit Camera tool from the toolbox to change the 3D view interactively – and thereby gauge the distance between your layers in Z space. After all, this feature – and a “split-view” feature for that matter – is for reference only, since you can’t animate them. You can, however, add cameras, animate your own arbitrary movements, and then cut between them in the timeline. Fixed files
Advanced users can import fully fledged 3D footage (Softimage PIC/RLA and Electric Image file formats) into After Effects, but they can’t animate individual objects (such as Z-depth) within those files. But, if the layer which these files are within is a 3D layer, its Z-depth attribute and other properties can be manipulated like any other 3D layer. Other new features, which will impress advanced users, are AE 5’s Expressions and Parenting features. You use Parenting to let an object control one or more layer, light or camera, by setting up a parent-child hierarchical relationship and synchronizing them. You can achieve the same thing with Expression, but it offers much more flexibility. The latter uses JavaScript for calculation and interaction between layer objects. Simple parent-child relationships can be easily setup using a standard drag-&-drop “pick whip”. You don’t have to be a programmer to use this feature – however, to write powerful expressions you’ll need JavaScript skills. To get you started quickly, AE’s built-in Expressions language menu boasts a selection of ready-made JavaScript maths syntax. Using JavaScript, you can even finish off an expression you started through the use of the standard drag-&-drop pick whip. The Expressions field is not really an editor, such as Simple Text or Notepad. It’s more like a multi-lined layer marker, where the JavaScript syntax or commands resides. However, you can use any external text editor of your choice, and then cut-&-paste the code snippet in the Expressions field. But then, you’ll risk writing codes with syntax errors if you’re not careful. Shared expressions
One neat feature, although with some limitations, is the ability to save one expression and reuse it in another project. I expect Adobe will setup a Web site, where AE 5 users can share expressions soon. A parent-child expression may look like this: p1 = this_comp.layer(“paddle1.pct”).position; p2 = this_comp.layer(“paddle2.pct”).position; ease((time* 1.33), in_point, out_point, p1, p2). Because expressions are written in relation to other layers in a project, it doesn’t always work to save and load expressions from one project into another project. Currently, if you want to save an expression for use in another project, you have to save the entire project file and use it as a reference when you reuse the expression. You then paste the expression in the expression field of the layer property you want, and rename it where it’s relating to a layer or property from a previous composition. You can also take advantage of AE 5’s ability to save favourite effects, including expressions and masks. Again, when this feature is used with expressions, it works as long as the expression doesn’t refer to properties from the previous project. As part of AE 5’s multi-publishing objective, the new SWF export feature (See Motion Effects) will save creatives loads of time when repurposing video and TV animations for delivery on the Web. As DV software and hardware equipment is becoming more affordable and accessible to a wider audience, the Internet will rapidly become yet another means of distribution for motion graphics. AE 5’s support for the widely embraced Macromedia SWF technology – once enhanced to completely take advantage of the Flash 5’s new features – will also help extend AE 5’s ability to reach a newer audience, and quickly create new revenues for content creators. The implementation of this limited feature must have been fairly speedy, considering that Adobe’s other visual effects package, LiveMotion, introduced SWF export nearly a year ago. The latter even featured the same timeline and keyframe animation metaphor as After Effects. With an upgrade of LiveMotion in the pipeline, it’ll be interesting to see what features showcased in AE 5 will be part of – or perhaps developed even further in – the next LiveMotion upgrade. For instance, the way Expressions uses JavaScript suggests that LiveMotion 1.5 or 2.0 will certainly come loaded to the teeth with mathematical, vector and 3D JavaScript commands to try to match Macromedia’s latest upgrade, Flash 5. You can almost count on it, since Flash 5’s scripting language ActionScript is based on ECMA-262 specification (in other words JavaScript), and LiveMotion is, after all, hyped as “the Flash killer”. The SWF export brings, for the first time, streaming MP3 into After Effects. You can also set looping and other playback features for the SWF file, prevent import into SWF editing applications, and create Web links from AE 5’s layers by translating After Effects’ layer markers into URLs in the exported SWF file. However, it doesn’t support Track mattes, 3D layers, 3D cameras or 3D lights – and the list goes on. Needless to say, the SWF export feature alone will not turn AE 5 into a Flash Killer. But, AE’s easy to use and advanced keyframing and vector text-animation capabilities will turn the app into a Flash SWF special effects unit. After Effects 5 includes numerous other minor productivity enhancements and features, such as easier media management thanks to a relational flowchart, and video-style editing tools. You can now import Premiere footage with After Effects plug-ins added to them straight into AE 5 without any problems. The Production Bundle also features the Standard version’s 100 or so plug-ins, plus 38 extra ones. You don’t pay an extra £500 for the 38 plug-ins alone, but also for the ability to do advanced colour keying with Inner Outer Key, extra audio features, network rendering, and 3D channel and vector paint features to name but a few. With 16-bits per channel colour support, you can work with high-bit Photoshop files, digitized motion-picture film, or HDTV (high-definition TV) footage without losing detail. AE 5 lets you work in 8-bit mode to preserve memory, and then at delivery time lets you switch to the 16-bit colour mode.

OUR VERDICT

With this upgrade, Adobe has more than successfully managed to make AE a strong motion-graphics application. This upgrade was due ages ago, and has managed to satisfactory touch most areas where competitors such as Pinnacle Systems’ Commotion Pro have had an edge. Above all, AE 5 has brought visual effects and motion design to the widest possible audience, thanks to its multi-publishing capabilities and support for Macromedia SWF. The latter could be a threat to rivals in the Flash-design scene. As it stands, for £450, creatives can easily take projects into the next dimension with 3D-compositing. Until now, these features were found only in high-end resolution-independent packages, such as Discreet Combustion. High-end users may find better integration and support for third-party 3D objects in other packages, but for a considerably higher price. This upgrade is a must for multimedia and Web creatives, and film and video professionals alike.

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