By Neil Bennett | on March 13, 2006
Price When Reviewed: 565 . 915 . 169 . 915
Pros: Redesigned interface speeds up workflow. Graph editor offers more control over effects. 32-bit boosts output quality. OpenGL 2.0 implementation makes 3D compositing faster. New timewarp effect.
Cons: OpenGL system occasionally crashes and doesn’t work under 32-bit mode. Animation Presets weakly implemented.
After Effects is the workhorse of compositors, motion graphics artists, and animators. It doesn’t have the kudos of flashier, VFX-focused tools such as Combustion and Shake – but it’s still the best all-round tool for creatives working with motion media.
Adobe hasn’t taken its foot off the pedal for AE’s seventh major release. High-end users working on digital intermediate (DI) and digital film projects will love the expanded colour space, with support for HDR 32-bit media. There’s a hugely expanded set of presets that are bound to appeal to creatives who work to tight deadlines in the corporate video market. And every user will appreciate the much-improved interface.
After Effects has always suffered from an interface that can easily get very messy, with up to 20 palettes overlapping and blocking each other (with the long, thin Effects and Effect Control palettes always being the worst offenders).
The new interface (above right) takes inspiration from compositing heavyweights Shake and Eyeon Fusion – though Apple’s Motion also comes to mind. Palettes now always snap to each other, so they can’t slip out of sight or block others, and they can be collected into grouped sets. Combined with the darker interface shade enabled in AE 6.5, this makes AE look like a much more grown-up compositor – and it acts like one too.
This responsive layout is replicated across the rest of the new Production Studio: Premiere Pro 2.0 and Encore DVD 2.0.
It’s not just an organizational user interface (UI) upgrade though. AE 7.0 has gained a graph editor (below) – something that Shake and Digital Fusion have long held over After Effects. This enables you to modify effect and transform parameters over time using bézier curves, giving you more control over how values change between keyframes, compared to traditional linear or ease in/out types.
Unfortunately, not all of AE’s effects work in 32-bit space. Most of the blurs and colour correction tools do, as do the bundled Keylight and Color Finesse plug-ins – but Ramp is the only generator that’s 32-bit. You also lose the OpenGL preview mode when working in 32-bit space. Most motion graphics artists will therefore want to work in 16-bit (or even 8-bit) mode, only switching the project over to 32-bit before rendering.
Playback of 3D workspaces and effects has been improved through support for OpenGL 2.0 – though this relies on your graphics card supporting the newer version of the 3D standard. We compared performance of a 3D scene built from rotating, keyed HD image sequences (stored on a Huge Systems MediaVault U320R SCSI drive – reviewed on page 110) in After Effects 6.5 and 7.0, running on a HP xw9300 workstation (reviewed on page 93).
We saw on obvious improvement in real-time 3D performance and preview times in version 7.0. The same is true for the claimed boost in mask rendering time.
However, the OpenGL preview system did crash a few times under the load (below), requiring a restart of AE.