For more than a decade, After
Effects has been synonymous with motion graphics excellence.
The cross platform compositing, motion graphics, and special
effects package was originally developed by The Company of Science
and Art, acquired by Aldus, and finally found a home with Adobe.
Version 1.0 offered unprecedented control in a software package
whose features rival dedicated broadcast systems.
Years later, Adobe continues the legacy
in version 6.5 with dozens of new features, performance enhancements,
new, and re-released plug-ins that refine a feature rich, versatile
interface. While it doesn't have the real time capabilities of
Apple's Motion, its
hardware requirements aren't as stiff. AE also offers Z-space,
parenting, and expressions -- something as yet missing in Motion.
AE is supported by dozens of 3rd party developers, web sites
and other resources. [See
review of Total Training for AE 6.5]
After Effects 6.5 is offered separately
or as a component of the Adobe Video Collection, which unfortunately
doesn't have a Macintosh package. However, the Mac version is
tightly integrated with Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobe's vector
graphics application. Web based, CD, print and DVD training is
The program ships in standard and "pro"
versions. AE 6.5 Standard provides a diverse core of visual effects
tools for compositing, and special effects. Included are both
2D and 3D capabilities, and a standard set of animation tools
that include parenting and expressions. Dozens of filters and
a subset of text animation presets also ship with the app.
The Professional version supplements
the basic feature set with motion tracking and stabilization,
dozens of additional filters and effects, particles, scripting,
keying and warping, additional audio effects, distributed rendering,
and 16-bit-per-channel color capability. The Pro version runs
No Real Time - But Performance Enhancements. Adobe has reengineered an improved workflow
interface in the 6.5 release. RAM previews, first introduced
in v.4, are faster particularly with graphics cards that support
OpenGL, and on the Mac side, most do. Rendering is required to
preview your work, but AE provides settings to speed rendering,
particularly if you dispense with full resolution.
Unlike Motion, After Effects utilizes
a time-based interface that utilizes key frames, ffx, transfer
modes, and "expressions" to control action, interaction,
and effects in the layers. Key framing is both fast and intuitive,
and surprisingly versatile. Most supplied and 3rd party plug
ins provide a heady array of options that can be tweaked. In
addition, many standard, pro, and 3rd party plug ins, such as
Continuum 3.0, include a subset of presets that can be applied
for those not inclined to experiment.
New in AE 6.5 are hundreds of interesting, time saving text effects.
These supplement the text animation capabilities, called Selectors
that were introduced in version 6.0, and permit you to animate
single or groups of characters within a single layer. These presets
can be further tweaked and saved to be reapplied in another sequence.
Returning to AE 6.5 are the CycoreFX
plug ins. This rich collection of special effects is a reincarnated
version of Studio Effects, later Final Effects Complete with
Media 100, and are a welcome reintroduction. Media 100 priced
the package at $795.00, but they are included as part of the
Pro and Standard package. The plug ins range from "Ball
Action" to "Wide Time," and include particles,
lights, time displacement, film effects, wire removal, 3D, and
dozens more. And
for those who want to convert a earth map to a sphere and revolve
it in 3D space, the simple application of CyCore's "Sphere"
plug in does the trick.
One clear distinction between AE and Motion is the availability
of 3D or a "Z" dimension in After Effects. Adobe implements
it well, and on a reasonably fast Macintosh, working in 3D space
is more responsive in AE 6.5. Any layer can be changed into a
3D layer simply by clicking on a check box. Cameras can be added
to the scene, and its properties, position, POV and other parameters
can be keyframed.
Various types of lights - spot and ambient,
for example - can added to 3D scenes, and cast shadows and vary
intensity. Adobe provides a "light version" of Digital
Anarchy's "3D Assistants" to simplify the positioning
of layers in space.
For more dramatic appearances, 3rd party
developer Trapcode provides a plug in to produce volumetric lighting
in After Effects.
Expressions and Parenting. In AE 5.0, Adobe introduced "expressions,"
key frames. This feature provides significant flexibility in
creating movement. For example, expressions can be used simply
to simply to scale or oscillate an object over time. Or they
have the unique capability to facilitate interaction between
layers, such as having the rotation of one object control the
scale of another. Expressions are a key feature in AE, and provide
enormous, albeit math-based control, over layers
Parenting is another key feature of AE.
It permits hierarchical relationships between objects to be established
so that the "child" layers automatically inherit the
transformation of the parent layer. This facilitates simplified
character animation using inverse kinematics for Photoshop and
An Exceedingly Rich Program. After Effects 6.5 supplies improved capabilities
to motion track, color correct, and paint and clone. The dynamically
improved motion tracker includes faster tracking and improved
performance. For example, suppose you want to add a sign to a
video of a building being panned. Or attach a sign to a bicycle
being peddled in front of that building. AE can both track and
position the sign on the bicycle and the building even when neither
is visible in the current frame of the video.
Finesse, a $575.00 plug in from
Synthetic Aperture, is included with the Pro version in AE 6.5.
The plug in provides primary and secondary color correction utilizing
its own waveform monitor and vector scope from inside of AE.
Although previous versions of AE had paint and clone tools, improvements
in 6.5 permit you to view an overlay of the clone source when
painting. The Pro version also features Keylight, a keying tool
from Computer Film Company.
An Exceeding Rich Support Community. After Effects has spawned a rich community
of 3rd party support and teaching aides. 3rd party plug in developers
not only augment AE's existing features, but help refine workflow
and inter-application capabilities. Automatic
Duck's recently released Pro Import 3.0, for example, permits
the import of Motion projects into After effects.
Adobe manages an After
Effects Exchange at its web site. Various subscription e-mail
lists exist that include daily contributions from some of the
leading AE artists in the world. Dozens of books, and other learning
aids are available including offerings from Total
and Lynda.com. There are many
Internet sites with downloadable tutorials, free plug ins, and
Other Interface Capabilities. After Effects permits firewire previews to a
NTSC monitor for both previews, and final output. It exports
in a variety of pre set and user defined codecs, and imports
a variety of still and video codecs. AE 6.5 also is well integrated
with files generated by Photoshop and Illustrator. It will preserve
fully editable text paths imported in Photoshop CS documents.
Perhaps one of the best new features is AE 6.5 capability to
continuous rasterize vector objects without nesting when effects
AE 6.5 remains an indispensable tool
for the motion graphics industry. With interface improvements,
text animation presets, the return of the CycoreFX plug ins,
Color Finesse, KeyLight, preset text animation, and improvement
integration with Photoshop
Adobe has eased the creation of sophisticated motion graphics,
ffx, and compositing.
Copyright ©2004 David
A. Saraceno is a motion graphics
artist located in Spokane, Washington. He has written for DV
Magazine, AV Video, MacHome Journal, and several state and national
legal technology magazines. David also moderates several forums