After Effects CS4 New Features Overview
At a Glance
The Adobe After Effects® development team has once again produced a significant major upgrade with the CS4 version. It’s not just a bunch of shiny new plug-ins and fancy gimmicks, but truly useful UI production features and other CS4 product integration that makes serious project workflow for the motion graphics artist more seamless. Much-needed production features such as keyword-searchable timelines and projects and nested composition navigation. You can now export rich media from After Effects to Adobe Flash® CS4 Professional, retaining layer and keyframe data for further editing. XMP metadata can now be added throughout your After Effects projects and maintained in the final render, for improved asset management and copyright tracking. They’ve also added integrated workflows for mobile-device authoring – giving you previews of what your content will look like when displayed across several devices.
But don’t think they’ve skimped on the new creative features, mind you! You can import 3D layers created in Adobe Photoshop® CS4 Extended and control 3D space with improved X-, Y- and Z- position keyframes. Apply the Cartoon effect to create simulated cel animation from live footage. 2.5D planar motion tracking has made a huge leap with the inclusion of Imagineer Systems’ Mocha for Adobe After Effects, eliminating the guesswork and often disappointing results from hand-tracking footage. This really is a significant upgrade for the serious motion graphics producer!
QuickSearch for the Project & Timeline Panels
The new QuickSearch box on both the Project and Timeline panels, allows you to type in any keyword or file type you’re looking for and the results are instantly visible in the panel below. Even those files that are nested deep inside subdirectories and precomps are visible in the Project panel.
The QuickSearch in the Timeline panel will reveal layer properties such as rotation or position at a glance, so you don’t have to manually flip-down the individual arrows inside each layer’s properties to locate them all. As a working producer of large media-heavy projects, involving often hundreds of files and layers, this feature alone is going to save me a LOT of time and frustration while working on tight deadlines!
Nested Compositions with the Composition Navigator
When you’re working on a project that requires a series of nested precomps or a build up of other compositions and media, then tracking that path back can be difficult and time-consuming. The new Composition Navigator shows you the Mini-Flowchart with the names of all the incoming (nested) compositions, as well as the outgowing (parent) compositions.
You can click-through the path forward and backwards to reveal the names of all the sub-elements of the master composition.
The new Composition Navigator shows you the Mini-Flowchart with the names of all the incoming (nested) compositions, as well as the outgowing (parent) compositions.
Production Workflow Enhancements
Adobe has really paid attention to the input of motion graphics and video producers with the introduction of even more advanced productivity boosters provided in After Effects CS4. Some of these new enhancements include:
• Center Cut Safe Areas
When working in 16:9 (widescreen) compositions, the Title/Action Safe overlays also now show the 4:3 center cut safe area, so you can determine if your composition will be framed correctly when cropped and edited for 4:3 standard def.
• Auto Resolution
There is now an Auto Resolution/Down Sample Factor menu item on the Composition panel, which calculates resolution based on the current zoom level, which optimizes your performance by not rendering pixels that aren’t visible.
• Advanced Memory Management
You can now select how much RAM is being allocated to After Effects and other applications, as well as how much of the Multiprocessor usage is going to be applied and how much of the memory will be used by OpenGL. This really takes advantage of today’s more powerful multiprocessor computers!
• Longer Layer and Composition Names
You are no longer restricted to the 31 character limits to layers and composition, allowing you hundreds of characters to provide details of that particular element’s contents.
• OpenGL Adaptive Resolution
Larger images and complex scenes are temporarily subsampled allowing immediate visual feedback to adjustments.
Importing Photoshop CS4 Extended 3D Layers
You can now import and animate Photoshop 3D layers in After Effects CS4. The 3D objects are imported as Photoshop layers but they still retain their full volumetric space – not just a 2D snapshot from a predetermined angle from Photoshop. Cameras can be animated around them as well as any other 3D layer in After Effects, but since the 3D layer is still after all, a layer, effects like distortion or other filters can be applied to them over time.
Photoshop CS4 3D layers can be imported and manipulated in 3D space in After Effects CS4 – retaining all the 3D modeling and surface data from the original layers.
Unified Camera Tool
Selecting the Unified Camera Tool from the upper composition takes advantage of a multi-button mouse to fully control basic camera moves – allowing you to zoom, rotate and move around a 3D scene quickly with ease.
Separate X, Y, and Z Positioning
Simulated crane and camera moves can be created more easily with the ability to keyframe separate X-, Y-, and Z- position properties. These can be broken out into separate dimensions and controlled independently of each other, including editing along the Timeline with the Graph Editor.
New Cool Effects!
Of course, no release of After Effects would be complete without... EFFECTS! After Effects CS4 is no exception and includes some great new stylish effects featuring:
Quickly apply the effect of cel painted animation to your live action video footage or other animated compositions. This effect is much more than just a “watercolor” filter, but really smoothes and enhances the edges and soft gradients without being distracted by minute details in the footage.
Bilateral Blur Effect
Similar to a “Smart Blur” effect, the Bilateral Blur uses edge detection to preserve sharp edge details while further softening smooth surfaces with less contrast in the original footage. It does however, desaturate color significantly, but creates a great “Film Noir” effect.
Turbulent Noise Effect
Using fractal-derived noise, this effect can create some stunning natural effects beyond that capable with just particle effects. Simulate clouds, fog, smoke, fire, light rays, plasma and much more!
New Integration with Flash CS4 Professional
In After Effects CS4, compositions can be exported as layer projects (XFL files) that can then be imported into Flash CS4 Professional and edited with all their properties. FLV, PNG and JPG source footage files are passed on to Flash Professional without further transcoding. Animated transformations such as scale, position and rotation are preserved in the layers and can be further edited in Flash Professional. Other media files and layers with effects attached are converted to file types compatible with Flash.
In addition to the new XFL export feature, After Effects already supports the ability to embed Flash cue point information inside its layer and composition markers. This means you can use scripting to embed the results of motion tracking, expressions and keyframe assistants in After Effects, into media that can be accessed inside of Flash.
Imagineer Mocha for After Effects CS4
New with After Effects CS4 is a motion tracker provided as a stand-alone application, called Imagineer Systems’ Mocha for After Effects. This powerful 2.5D planar motion tracker works better than the point-based trackers on problem footage that has objects move out of frame or poor lighting conditions that leave little detail or excessive noise that can prove difficult to otherwise track.
After Effects CS4 comes packaged with Imagineering Systems’ Mocha for After Effects; a professional stand-alone application that handles motion tracking beyond the point trackers that are built into After Effects.
Once you’ve tracked an object in Mocha, the tracking data is then exported for use in After Effects to attach to corner pin data. The results are clean and amazing, though the stand-alone application can be a bit intimidating and the learning curve may take awhile. My feeling is that Adobe may some day incorporate this stand-alone application into After Effects in subsequent versions, but for now, it’s still amazing that it is included with the CS4 package!
Mobile Devices Authoring Workflow with Adobe Device Central® CS4
With so many designers having to produce media for mobile device delivery, it can be frustrating and very time consuming having to produce over and over again for the wide variety of devices out there. This is where the union of After Effects CS4 and Adobe Device Central CS4 come into play. Their workflow embraces the “author once/deliver many” concept and nobody else can claim that promise.
XMP Metadata new to After Effects CS4
This may not be the sexiest tool in the bag, but for producers of mass content and large productions, it’s quite possibly the most important one! Asset management and tracking, copyright and royalty management and project management can be much more easily controlled through the information that passes along from the source materials and media to the final delivered product. Copyrights of a song or image file can be passed through the process and incorporated in the final composed video or Flash media. Even Marker metadata can be preserved on a timeline from a project and the rendered movie can retain this data when imported back into After Effects CS4.
As someone who has watched After Effects evolve over the years (I’ve been producing motion graphics and animations with it since it was known by its original developers as “CoSA After Effects”) I’ve seen some significant improvements and changes in this application. By far, this is probably one of the most useful versions with much needed improvements, in Adobe After Effects development history – and will most certainly be the most appreciated by serious industry professionals since version 7, as far as UI design workflow, speed and usability. The new UI is even more compatible for use on a Wacom Cintiq tablet, with less need to get the pull-down menus from the top menu bar – which speeds productivity as well.
That said, the only negatives that I can see in this version (if you can actually call them that):
- Requires Intel multiprocessors (no Power PC/G5/G4 compatibility)
- Still no real-time previews like Apple Motion®
- Mocha is a stand-alone application with a steep learning curve (ok - we can live with that for now!)
This is a MUST-HAVE upgrade for motion graphics professionals! If you haven’t gone out and upgraded to a Dual-Intel powered Mac/PC by now, then THIS is your excuse to do so... NOW!
Jeff Foster has authored and contributed to several Adobe After Effects & Photoshop tutorial and training how-to books, including the "Photoshop Web Magic" series and "Special Edition: Using Photoshop" series. He is an Adobe Certified Expert and has appeared regularly as a member of the Instructor Dream Team at Photoshop World and as a featured speaker at Macworld User Conferences and the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Convention.
Foster has been producing and training for traditional and digital images, photography, illustration, motion graphics and special effects for DV and Film for over 20 years. Some of his clients include: Tribune Broadcasting, Motorola, Sanyo, McDonnell Douglas, FOX Television, Spike TV, Discovery/TLC, Universal Studios and Disney.
His most recent book title, *"After Effects and Photoshop - Animation and Production Effects for DV and Film," provides tips and tricks for creating believable animations and reveals special effects secrets the professionals have been using for years. This book is in it’s Second Edition and covers the latest versions of After Effects and Photoshop CS applications. He has also recorded video training titles for Lynda.com for After Effects, "After Effects 7 Essential Training", "After Effects 7 and Photoshop CS2 Integration" and "After Effects 7 Animation Techniques