Price: 875 . 209 . 1409 . 1969
Pros: Innovative search function; improved 3D navigation; bundled Mocha tracker.
Cons: Lacks 64-bit version and flowchart.
The combination of powerful motion and graphics toolsets – along with A relatively low price – has made After Effects the most popular compositing software on the market. The CS4 version is still the best application available for high-end motion-graphics work and low- to mid-range visual effects, and the upgrade adds some useful tools – but it would have been great if Adobe had given it a more fundamental overhaul.
There are two major advantages that more expensive tools such as Eyeon’s Fusion and The Foundry’s increasingly popular Nuke have over After Effects – they both have full-on nodal flowcharts, and 64-bit versions of each is available.
AE is the tool that would have benefited most from extra RAM (though Lightroom comes a close second), so the introduction of Photoshop as the only 64-bit CS4 product was odd. Having access to more than 3GB RAM would improve the length of RAM previews and improve performance overall when dealing with HD comps.
Instead, Adobe has added controls that improve memory management. Another improvement that seems a little like a cop-out is the Mini-Flowchart. This is a pop-out window that shows how nested compositions sit within each other, making them easier to use. The nested compositions system is very useful for creating multiple versions of the same comp, or re-using elements. However, it’s also a reminder that AE lacks a full nodal compositing system. Being able to see how your effects are built in a flowchart makes creating and modifying complex effects easier.
To the list of what AE CS4 lacks, we could also add background rendering – for which you have to buy GridIron Software’s $395 (£240) Nucleo Pro 2 plug-in – and a colour swatch and picker system like Illustrator’s.
One of AE’s core strengths over the competition is its timeline, which makes timing the motion of graphics (or VFX) elements easier and quicker than in other tools. It can get messy, though, when you’re creating complex effects – so the CS4 version adds a Search tool that shows only parameters that match what you type. It updates automatically as you type, so if you wanted to see the position parameters for your layers and elements, you’d only need to type ‘po’ or ‘pos’ to see them.