• Price When Reviewed: £828.71 plus VAT . £131.51 plus VAT . £1,509 plus VAT . £2211.21

  • Pros: Greatly improved performance; New 3D ray-tracing environment; Better integration with NLE workflows; Vector image to shape conversions; Variable mask feathering; 3D Camera Tracker

  • Cons: Needs additional 3D primitive shapes library; Roto Brush tool still needs refinement

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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With the release of After Effects CS5.5, Adobe introduced the Warp Stabilizer, which analyzes footage data and does an incredible job of stabilizing handheld and shaky rig footage. This has been an important tool for emerging digital SLR shooters who are now producing a lot of handheld video. Yet a problem that occurs with footage shot on digital cameras with a CMOS sensor is the Rolling Shutter or “jello-cam” effect — where the vertical scan of the sensor can’t keep up with the movement of the camera, especially in side-to side panning.

After Effects CS6 introduces the Rolling Shutter Repair effect that analyzes the footage and generates a corrective result. It works using one of two user-selectable algorithms, Warp or Pixel Motion, and a choice of scan directions, depending on the angle of the camera during shooting. The effect can also be keyframed on the timeline to fine-tune the adjustments and keep from over-correcting when applied to a footage clip globally.

The new Rolling Shutter Repair effect analyzes footage and generates a corrective result. This is the original shot.

The Rolling Shutter Repair effect uses either the Warp or Pixel Motion algorithm. This is after the shot was repaired.

I found this effect worked well in most cases, but it's not a cure for all footage. In the case of a smaller-chip camera like the GoPro sports camcorder, the jello-cam effect caused by vibrations or rapid shaking of the camera can’t be fixed by the Rolling Shutter Repair because the distortions are moving in all directions.

3D Camera Tracker takes you into your shot

The new 3D Camera Tracker effect automatically analyzes the motion in your 2D video footage and computes the position, orientation, and field of view of the real camera that shot the scene, and creates a new 2D camera in After Effects CS6 to match the original footage. The result is a 3D camera to which you can apply text, solid/null, and shadow-catcher layers to a target point you assign with triangulated points from the tracking point cloud.

I was actually quite surprised at the results when I tried it on some hand-held footage I shot while walking — complete with a lot of camera shake. The 3D Camera Tracker followed the original camera movements amazingly well and with the addition of some motion blur, the results were pretty impressive.

The point cloud and target created by the 3D Camera Tracker in After Effects CS6.

You can hover the cursor over the point cloud in the analyzed clip and align the target with the plane to which you wish to attach your text or solid/null layers. You can select more than the three automatically chosen points by shift-clicking additional points on the cloud until the target is precisely where you want it. Then, right-clicking on the target lets you create your desired 3D layers and camera. In my test, I also added a Shadow Catcher layer so the lights I used on the 3D extruded text would cast a shadow on the wall it was attached to and provide more realism.

After the 3D Camera Tracker is applied and the 3D text has been extruded, the result is very realistic (see example video link below).

What this feature doesn’t do well is keep track of points that move out of frame, so your footage either has to be quite short if the camera is in motion such as walking, or if you are panning more than about 60 degrees. For those shots, you'd be better off using a planar tracker such as Mocha AE, which ships with After Effects CS6 and offers a much improved Mocha AE workflow. This stand-alone software allows you to apply planar tracking to position inserted objects and create per-vertex feathering on roto-splines as well as on the Mocha Shape masks.

Further enhancements

Previously available as a separate product from Automatic Duck, the new Pro Import After Effects is an integration tool that lets you easily import video into After Effects CS6 from other programs. It works with Avid Media Composer and Symphony AAF/OMF files, as well as with XML files from Apple Final Cut Pro 7 or earlier. Many of the translations of supported Avid and Apple files include position, scale, rotation, keyframes, composite mores, titles, speed changes, and more. Pro Import After Effects ships with After Effects CS6.

There are more than 80 new and updated built-in effects with this release, including the CycoreFX HD Suite, which supports 16-bit-per-channel color, while 35 of them support 32-bit floating point processing. This increases the color depth and reduces banding and other artifacts previously created by lower-resolution effects—especially noticeable when color correction is further applied.

There are some new effects in this suite that were not previously bundled with After Effects, such as Cross Blur, Color Neutralizer, Kernel, Threads, Environment, Rainfall, Snowfall, Block Load, Plastic, Line Sweep, WrapoMatic, and Overbrights. There are also enhancements such as support for motion blur and composition’s 3D lights in the relevant CycoreFX effects.

The ability to import native ARRIRAW footage from ARRIFLEX D-21 or ALEXA digital cameras is also new to After Effects CS6. There is now native support for Adobe SpeedGrade .Look files, cineSpace .csp files, and overrange IRIDAS .cube files. Added to the existing support for RED R3D files, XML, and DPX sequences, this makes After Effects CS6 a truly integral part of a professional filmmaker's workflow.

If you held out updating After Effects from CS5 or earlier, I urge you to consider this upgrade—or get left in the dust. That sounds like a strong statement, but I believe it's justified. After Effects CS6 is the most important upgrade the program has received since the first major update in version 7. It's not just a bunch of additional features and add-ons, but rather a truly rebuilt, reworked, and enhanced powerful compositing and motion graphics creation tool.

While I’d still like to see some basic primitive shape objects added to the new 3D ray-trace enviroment, and there’s definitely room for improvement with the Roto Brush tool that was introduced in CS5, the enhancements in CS6 have answered the needs of professionals in today’s film industry. And with the insanely affordable upgrade options—or the new Creative Cloud subscription—there’s no reason to pass up this opportunity.