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After Effects 6.5 Professional

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To facilitate the replication of complex effects, Adobe has added an Animation Preset palette to After Effects. Unlike the previous version’s Favorites palette, Animation Preset lets you save any keyframable operation—from geometric transformations, to mask animations, to expressions. You apply an animation preset by dragging it from the Animation Preset palette to any layer in a composition. The preset creates any necessary keyframes in that layer.

Animation presets are a long-overdue addition for easing workflow and creating uniform animations and looks. Adobe has sweetened the feature by including 250 animated text presets. While canned content often looks tacky, these professionally designed effects are of very high quality.

Though it’s simple to use, the animation presets’ drag-and-drop interface feels a bit like a hack. You can’t, for example, remove a preset without manually altering or eliminating each keyframe associated with it. Unfortunately, because After Effects lacks any broader project-level view of a composition, there’s no other sensible way of implementing this feature.

Under the Hood

Some effective under-the-hood tweaks noticeably improve After Effects’ performance. In addition to better OpenGL support (which can greatly speed up previews of projects with 3-D layers and effects), the program now includes improved playback performance and better options for controlling which windows and comps will be mirrored for NTSC playback. The program’s motion tracker can now track both scale and position, and it offers one-dimensional tracking, which is ideal for stabilizing one axis of a layer. Also, the motion tracker now generates a user-editable motion path, so you can edit its output by moving individual keyframes.

Painting and cloning tools also have some welcome improvements: version 6.5’s painting tools more closely follow Photoshop’s keyboard equivalents, and Adobe has added a Photoshop-style color picker.

The Clone Stamp tool’s new controls make it much easier to select source and offset points for clone operations. You can now choose to have the source layer displayed as an overlay, which lets you see exactly what you’re cloning from and makes it easier to clone quickly and precisely in just one area of your original frame. This is such a cool clone option, we’d like to see it added to Photoshop.

Edited Text

After Effects 6 introduced a new text engine, which, in addition to offering text creation and editing within the app, offered cool new text-animation capabilities. Version 6.5 improves upon this engine with several enhancements.

The new Randomize Order option lets you randomize text animations so letters appear in a random order, rather than sequentially. When combined with other text-animation properties, this lets you create very complex animations.

Other text improvements include the ability to specify one of the standard transfer modes (add, subtract, and multiply) for overlapping characters. So when characters overlap, instead of one simply covering the other, they can blend together to create intermediate shades.

Version 6.5 also includes a much more sophisticated scripting engine. Rather than limiting you to simple render control, as in version 6, the new scripting engine lets you script actual animation chores.

Bundle of Joy

After Effects 6.5 is bundled with an astonishing number of excellent plug-ins and assistants. The most exciting of these is the new X-Factor plug-in, from GridIron software, which lets you use other computers on your network to process preview renderings. Offering speed improvements of roughly 50 percent per each additional machine, X-Factor is a tremendous productivity booster for complex renderings.

The package also includes Synthetic Aperture’s Color Finesse, an exceptional color-correction tool, and Cycore FX, an update to the classic Final Effects (previously sold by MetaCreations).

This bundle is not only a tremendous deal from a price viewpoint but also a great productivity enhancer. You’ll soon find yourself relying on these useful plug-ins.

Now the Bad News

Though version 6.5 includes some cool interface tweaks (such as the ability to change the interface’s brightness—handy for accurate color correction), After Effects sorely needs a major overhaul. With version 6.5, the program has become even more palette-heavy than before. And although the palettes are dockable, the interface strains under the weight of the additional features.

After Effects has long had one of the best timeline interfaces of any compositing or animation program, but Adobe is trying to do too much with it. At the same time, Adobe still hasn’t added the ability to create true folders and groups of layers within the timeline—something that users have been requesting for years.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

After Effects 6.5 Professional is a great value, whether you’re upgrading or buying the program new. Its accelerated performance, built-in animation effects, and generous software bundle continue to make it a market leader. But its overburdened interface keeps it from being truly exceptional.

After Effects’ animation presets let you quickly apply complex keyframe animations to any layer.
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