After Effects

After Effects has long been a central element in the production of dynamic media. As a 100-in-1 animation, compositing and post-processing toolkit, it has remained deservedly popular with multimedia professionals, videographers and film makers for most of the past decade. Version 6.0 is the most important upgrade we've seen in many years. The Professional edition that we reviewed has had its price lowered to £999, while the Standard edition has had a price bump to £555. After Effects has many elements that will be familiar to users of other Adobe products: layers where video clips and still images can be composited using any number of masking techniques; effects that can be applied and readily modified to produce anything from basic blur to bizarre warping and twisting behaviour; and well-designed palettes of tools and effects modifiers that put most of the program's features within easy reach. After Effects' domain is moving media. As such, every layer and object, and nearly every effect, down to the smallest parameter, can be keyframe-animated on its own timeline, and animated compositions can be combined into new compositions to create highly sophisticated and complex motion within motion. Up to version 5.5, After Effects proved too limited for some types of animation and compositing tasks, such as rotoscoping (painting on live action frames), creating animated titles, and working with 3D effects. Also surprisingly, After Effects worked only on a rudimentary level with other Adobe programs. Type tools and OpenGL
This version addresses some of the biggest limitations in earlier versions: it includes far more useful vector-based painting; it works hand-in hand with other Adobe products in a number of productivity-boosting ways; and it implements OpenGL, which takes advantage of recent 3D-graphics hardware to greatly accelerate 3D effects. (See for a list of supported features in different cards.) Undoubtedly the biggest enhancement to this version is an all-new system for handling type, which rivals the capabilities of both Illustrator and Photoshop, and finally gives After Effects compelling titling and text animation capabilities. If this version had only implemented the new type engine, it would have been a successful upgrade. Text creation and animation in previous versions were appallingly poor, considering Adobe's prowess in the typography world - so really, it's about time. In version 6.0, the type-creation tools most closely mimic those in Illustrator, including control over kerning and other spacing. You can click on a composition with the type tool and start typing directly into a new layer, or you can drag a box to define a boundary for blocks of text. You can also place type on a path. Like all features in After Effects, almost every parameter can be animated: you can scale type, change the spacing, change the location of type on a path, or animate its colour. Our favourite new type feature is the Animation Range. This lets you control the range of characters or words influenced by an effect at a given time. By animating the range, you can have single letters fly onto the screen to form complete words or to make text appear to be typed on the screen by typewriter keys. And you can layer multiple effects and ranges on a block of type, so different letters or words can do different things simultaneously. You can even add wiggly effectors that randomize elements of the type, such as character size, and even the characters themselves, for those Matrix-style cascades of random letters. Scripting and audio
After Effects includes another new feature that generates keyframes from the peaks and valleys in an audio soundtrack. By creating a scripted expression that links the keyframe values to the ranges of characters being animated, you can generate animated effects whereby type elements move in sync with the soundtrack. These audio keys can be linked to any effect - not just type parameters. Where the type features really prove themselves, however, is the non-destructive nature of effects applied to type. Effects are calculated without rendering text to a bitmap, meaning you can go wild animating tranformations and effects - then simply double-click on the animated type to edit the text. This is perfect for creating animated titles for a DVD, for example, where the same animation has to be applied to many pieces of type. It also makes fast work of changes when an art director or copy editor inevitably asks for a small type change in a complicated finished sequence. One use of type that doesn't enjoy this last-stage editing is masking, since you have to convert type to outlines - which breaks the link to the original text - before you can use it as a mask. Another major change in After Effects 6 the revamping of the Paint and Clone tools. They look like the corresponding tools in Photoshop, but they're different. Instead of painting pixels onto bitmaps, the After Effects paint tools use vectors, to which colour or other effects are applied. You can apply all sorts of transformations and effects to the paint layer - and you can animate individual paint strokes' beginning and end points, and change the brush parameters at any time. Unlike the Paint in previous versions, paint effects, brush shapes and opacity are now completely editable, and can be animated. The new Clone brush can be used for wire or rig removal, and the Paintbrush can now be used far more effectively to add colour and detail to existing layers. In the background Also new is the ability to automatically trace objects based on channel information, such as a blue background, to generate editable bézier-path masks. These can be used in rotoscoping, where the task often involves isolating foreground and background elements, painting out unwanted features, or applying paint strokes (such as with the new Scribble tool) on or around moving objects. For users of Adobe's other graphics tools, After Effects 6 offers welcome cross-application functionality. Photoshop and Illustrator files with multiple layers can now be imported as multi-layer sub-compositions, and layers can be imported trimmed to their minimum dimensions, or cropped to the size of the composition; type is imported from both programs as active type layers, rather than rendered bitmaps, although vectors aren't automatically imported as masks. Adobe also touts new functionality for working with Adobe Premiere Pro 7.0, but that program has been banished to the Windows-only world. Adobe has overhauled the performance of After Effects, and in the case of 3D effects and some types of compositing effects, we can confirm that the speed of operation using recent-model OpenGL graphics cards is vastly improved. You can now work with and preview 3D effects in real-time, rather than relying on wireframe previews, and moving and animating 3D objects is now totally smooth. Tracking has also been accelerated by up to ten times from version 5.5. The tracker (professional version only) now defaults to 1/256th of a pixel accuracy, and we found that at that level, runs at about the same speed as version 5.5 running at 1/2-pixel accuracy. After Effects has always offered a range of keying tools for compositing, but these left room for improvement. The professional edition now includes the Keylight keying tools previously available from The Foundry. Keylight is about as good as it gets, and the plug-in handily dealt with difficult-to-solve problems such as compression artifacts in the edges of compressed DV video.


After Effects 6.0 is a terrific upgrade - especially considering the new, lower price - and the new type-handling features alone make it a must-have for owners of previous versions. It's hard not to recommend it to anyone involved in dynamic media. The other improvements, including Paint, OpenGL support and Scripting, dramatically improve After Effects as a production-oriented compositing and animation tool. The Standard version will appeal to many users who only need the compositing, animation and type effects, but we think the Foundry's Keylight alone is easily worth splashing the extra cash, and the new scripting and improved tracking are a bonus.

Find the best price