Test Bench:Adobe After Effects 5.0

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Plenty of major software revisions are coming out of the Adobe mill in this first year of the new millennium. With the introduction of Premiere 6.0, it’s hard to imagine that the hardworking folks at Adobe could come close to outshining that debut, but they have.

New Effects Shine Brightly
The latest version of After Effects, Adobe’s wickedly talented stepchild (conceived by a brilliant little company called COSA and later adopted by Adobe), shows a maturity and cleverness of design that novices as well as seasoned professionals will hold in high regard. And the introduction of After Effects characteristics into the timeline of Premiere 6.0’s post-production environment has introduced many thousands more to its logic. A wise move on Adobe’s part, it is helping to dispel notions of After Effects’ unwieldy complexity. Complex, yes, but simplistic at the same time, which is a central reason that it is so widely acclaimed.

Something for Everyone
The multitude of new features that highlight version 5.0 boggles the mind at first glance, but that’s the beauty of a tool like After Effects. It takes the user to new places on a road that’s easy to navigate, without ever reaching the end of that road. Pseudo3D compositing with animated cameras and lights, vector paint tools, parent/child relationships in animating tracks, improvements in RAM previews and the use of intelligent caching will make the pros wag their collective tails. New editing tools mirror NLE timelines, allowing ripple and insert editing, and learning resources help newcomers feel confident from the outset. Output options cover everything from the much-clamored-for Web Flash support, to 16-bit per channel color for the upper echelon who demand high resolution at any cost.

Lights, Camera, Animation!
The 3D addition to the After Effects pallet is by far the sexiest enhancement and the first thing that most will try to lasso out of the box. 3D in After Effects is not true 3D modeling, but a clever 2D way of suggesting depth and complex perspective. Adding the third plane, "Z," to the standard 2D X/Y coordinates is not too difficult to learn, especially with tools like Auto Orient.

We chose to use a simple piece of text to try our hand at these new tools. Having a spotlight point at a specific area in the corner of the screen we positioned and oriented our text in the distance and rotated it. We also added a camera and Auto Oriented it along the motion path under the Layer Transform menu. We then set a beginning key frame and brought the text to the front and past the camera over a five-second duration, while the light illuminated the text as it passed the lit up area. This simple exercise took mere minutes and looked darn good, giving us a hint of the possibilities that the 3D addition has brought to After Effects 5.0.

Work Mate
By far, the task-to-task mechanics and the logical workflow additions are, in our opinion, the most valuable additions of the new After Effects. The streamlining in 5.0 is truly a money saver over 4.x and earlier. Time saved in RAM previews alone is worth the investment. With an RTMac hooked to an NTSC monitor, After Effects is output through the analog port, giving you instant feedback. We almost wanted to cry the first time we experienced it, as we mourned all the hours we’ll never get back from botched renders that, once viewed on NTSC, went back to After Effects. Although we tested the new version on both a Mac (a G4 450MHz), and a PC (Dell Pentium III 733MHz), we did not find any apparent performance differences. In fact, both machines quickly performed renders. A moderately complex 30-second composite rendered on both platforms in approximately seven minutes, and neither machine locked up with the new version.

Color Me
The new Vector paint tools in After Effects 5.0 are also fun. If you wish to pursue the growing trend to add graphic elements (lines and symbols) to Hollywood-style text distortions, or an occasional Rotoscoping transition, having these tools on board is excellent. To try it out, we shot a co-worker against a green screen, starting wide and zooming in to a close up. We keyed him over a time-lapse scene of racing clouds over the Savannah, then sped up the zoom. Over those 10 to 15 frames, we painted wild swirls of color all around the subject. It made a unique transition and was great entertainment.

Expressions Impressions
After Effects 5.0’s Expressions functions, powerful animation enhancements that create complex relationships between layer parameters and/or layer effects are excellent. Admittedly barely scratching the surface of Expressions, we animated a layer to change positions across the screen between two keyframes. We then added an expression to the opacity property of another layer and dragged the whip button over to the first layer’s position attribute. The second layer’s opacity was automatically animated in relation to the position change of the first. It is scary how mastery of this tool may make the most unlikely person into an artist.

If you are looking to get into animation, or if you are a hopeless After Effects addict, then this update is a must have. The Adobe engineers have outdone themselves with this particular upgrade.

TECH SPECS
Platform: Macintosh


System Requirements:

PowerPC processor (multiprocessor G4 recommended)

OS: Mac OS version 9.0.4, 9.1, or Mac OS X Classic

RAM: 64MB RAM (128 MB or more recommended)

Other:

Apple QuickTime 4.1.2 software

CD-ROM drive

120MB of available hard disk space for installation (500MB recommended for ongoing work)

24-bit color display

TECH SPECS
Platform: Windows


System Requirements:

Intel Pentium II or faster processor (multiprocessor recommended)

OS: Microsoft Windows 98, Me, or 2000

RAM: 128MB RAM (256MB or more recommended)

Other:

Apple QuickTime 4.1.2 software

CD-ROM drive

120MB of available hard disk space for installation (500MB recommended for ongoing work)

24-bit color display

STRENGTHS

  • Logical work flow
  • Improved RAM preview
  • 3D tools
  • Animation Expressions

    WEAKNESSES

  • Expensive for the hobbyist

    SUMMARY

  • More than just an upgrade for upgrade’s sake, After Effects users have a completely new program waiting for them in version 5.0. Go out and get it.
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