Adobe Systems has taken the wraps off After Effects 5.0, a major upgrade of the video-compositing and special-effects tool that adds productivity enhancements, 3D capabilities, parenting functions, Macromedia Flash export, improved masking and other new features. Adobe plans to ship the software in the second quarter, with a general target being the National Association of Broadcasters show, which runs April 21-26 in Las Vegas.
NAB is After Effects’ biggest annual showcase, said senior product manager Steve Kilisky. However, he added that Adobe wants to maintain the program’s reputation for stability, promising that it won’t ship before it’s ready.
The upgrade, he said, addresses three key market trends. First, the market for dynamic media is growing, driven in part by lower costs for DV-enabling hardware and software. Second, the Internet is opening new opportunities for video producers, as they look to repurpose existing content and create new forms of entertainment tuned to the requirements of the Web. Third, After Effects now has more competition. Kilisky pointed specifically to Discreet Logic’s combustion and Pinnacle Systems’ Commotion 3.0 as programs that overlap with After Effects’ compositing functions, and he expects that others will follow.
At present, he said, 52 percent of After Effects customers are using the program in Web production work. By comparison, 68 percent are using it for multimedia production, 59 percent for broadcast work and 15 percent for film production. He expects the latter percentage to double now that the After Effects Production Bundle supports 16-bit (per channel) color, a feature required by some studios, he said.
Here’s a rundown of the new features in the upgrade:
After Effects 5.0’s new 3D compositing functions let you animate 2D media elements in 3D space. You can almost think of it as using a 3D animation program without the ability to render 3D geometry. By clicking on a 3D Layer switch, you gain the ability to position or rotate a layer using Z coordinates in addition to X and Y. You can set up multiple cameras to view the 3D layers, each with standard or custom lens settings, along with multiple light sources, including spot, parallel, ambient and point lights. Camera and light properties — including the camera’s position and orientation — can be animated with keyframes. Similarly, you can define and animate shadow effects. If you set up multiple cameras, you can cut between them in the final composition. You can automatically orient 3D layers toward the camera, and set up the camera to track a particular subject. Any 2D layers in the composition are not affected by the camera and lighting effects.
Keyboard commands let you toggle among top, front, back, right, left, bottom, camera and up to three custom views. You can get multiple simultaneous views of the scene by setting up additional composition windows, but there’s no automatic dual view or quad view mode. And unlike a 3D animation program, you cannot import 3D models, though you can work with 2D renderings of 3D geometry.
Parenting and Expressions
After Effects’ new parenting functions work similarly to those in 3D graphics programs, allowing you to define one layer as the parent or child of others. The child layer automatically inherits the transformations applied to the parent; if the parent layer rotates by a certain number of degrees, the child does likewise, without the need to set up a separate keyframe. You define parent-child relations using a popup list in the timeline, or the “pick whip,” the program’s term for the point-and-shoot interface feature borrowed from Adobe GoLive.
Expressions provide a more-powerful way to define relations between layers. It lets you intelligently link a property of one layer to a property of another, so that one layer’s motion is defined by another according to rules that you’ve specified. For example, if you have a large gear on one layer and a small gear on the other, you can enter an expression that causes the small gear to rotate twice for each single rotation of the big gear. If you later change the big gear’s rotation, the small gear’s rotation adjusts automatically. You can also link unlike properties, so that one layer’s position affects another layer’s rotation, or one layer’s opacity controls another layer’s size.
Other new features
After Effects 5.0 provides enhanced masking features by letting you define masks directly in the Composition window. You can apply Motion Blur to masks and independently adjust the inner and outer feather of a mask. You can also assign mask colors for easier identification. Vector Paint tools, available only in the Production Bundle, let you create animatable paint strokes that can also function as masks.
The package also adds several new effects: Shatter, which creates explosion effects on a layer; Radio Waves, which creates ripple effects; Colorama, which cycles through a custom palette; Fractal, which creates animated fractal patterns; and Vegas, which creates path-based lighting and pulsing effects. Effects available only in the Production Bundle include Optics Compensation, for adding or removing lens distortions; Fractal Noise, for simulating organic effects; and Inner/Outer Key for more-easily extracting objects from their backgrounds.
After Effects 5.0 sports numerous interface enhancements, including the ability to save custom workspaces. To ease the learning curve, the program has expanded tool tips and launches with an optional Tip of the Day.
Adobe is also touting After Effects’ integration with the company’s other products. When importing Photoshop 6.0 files, 16-bit color information is now preserved, as are Photoshop vector masks. You can import Illustrator 9.0 files with transparency intact; you can also import Illustrator PDF files. If you plan to bring a project into Premiere 6.0, you can embed a link that lets you use Premiere’s Edit Original command to automatically open the file in After Effects if more work is needed.
For a complete listing of new features, see the
After Effects section of Adobe’s Web site.
The Standard version of After Effects 5.0 sells for $649. The Production Bundle, which adds vector-paint, motion, keying, effects, audio and 3D channel modules, as well as 16-bit color support, sells for $1,499. Upgrades from the Standard version 3.x or 4.x to Standard version 5.0 cost $199; upgrades from the Production Bundle version 3.x or 4.x to the new Production Bundle are $299. Upgrades from the Standard Bundle to Professional Bundle cost $899, but for the first 120 days after the product ships, Adobe will allow users of the Standard Version 3.x or 4.x to upgrade to the new version’s Production Bundle for $499. Registered users will be able to download additional free special effects: Foam, for creating bubble effects, and Wave World, for simulating waves.
After Effects 5.0 will ship with support for Mac OS 9 and OS X’s Classic compatibility environment; Kilisky said the software will be Carbonized in the near future.