JULY 11, 2001
by David Nagel
We were the first to bring you coverage of Adobe After Effects 5, with QuickTime demonstrations of the new software on the very first day of its announcementeven prior to its release. Since that time, we've given a lot of coverage to After Effects and related plugins, and now we'll take a look at the After Effects 5 Production Bundle.
No matter what platform you're on or which editing systems you use, it's difficult to dispute the fact that After Effects has become the standard in compositing. There are legitimate competitors to After Effects in its price rangeviz. Discreet Combustion and Pinnacle Commotionand there are much higher-end systems on the market for those who have a couple hundred thousand dollars in their equipment budget. But no matter the studio, no matter how expansive the studio's budget, chances are that After Effects is somewhere in the mix.
This said, After Effects 5 is really a whole new compositing suite. Sure, it's just like 4.1 in terms of how it looks and, for the most part, how it works. But there are just so many new features (not to mention a few critical workflow improvements) that it's really the first application I've seen in a long time worthy of a full version number upgrade. There is simply no question that those using AE 4.1 should upgrade to 5.0. The real question is which upgrade to getthe standard edition or the Production Bundle (now dongle-free).
In the end, the answer will depend on just which new features you really need, which we hope to help you determine presently.
features in 5
Another major workflow improvement available in both versions is the ability to drag a value setting with your mouse directly in the timeline, without having to call up a pop-up window. I know this doesn't sound very major, but once you've done it a couple times, you'll dread ever having to do it the old way. It's just a simple improvement that saves time and makes life easier for the compositor.
A single Import dialog box lets you import footage, Premiere and After Effects projects and layered Photoshop and Illustrator files, as well as subsets of a sequence.
The final major improvement to both versions of AE 5 is in the form of integration with Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere, which we'll cover separately.
But for the Production Bundle alone, there's one giant improvement that hasn't received much coverage, and that is the ability to render over a network. As in render farm. As in multiple CPUs working together to crunch your project in a fraction of the time it would take even the highest-end workstation. With the Production Bundle, you get an unlimited license to install a render-only version of After Effects on any number of systems on your network. It's not perfect yet, but it does at least offer speed improvements for most users, especially on the Macintosh.
First, the drawbacks. The Render Engine only renders image sequences. This means you'll have to stitch the images back together yourself. Not a big deal, but it does mean you can't render projects with audio across a network; well, you can render them, but you lose the audio. The other drawback is that any third-party plugins have to be installed on every machine you plan to use in the network render, assuming the project at hand is using third-party effects. (If you're not using third-party plugins in a particular project, they don't have to be installed on each machine.) Aside from the time involved, the reason this is a drawback is that many software developers get a bit touchy when it comes to installing their plugins on more than one machine with a single license. You'll have to contact the manufacturers to see what their policies are on this subject.
I mentioned before that the network rendering option is especially beneficial to Mac users. Why? AppleTalk across the Internet. This means you're not limited to the systems available on your LAN but can use IP-based File Sharing with any Mac anywhere running the Render Engine. The only requirement for the Render Engine is that all machines have access to the Watch Folder, which is the folder the Render Engine watches for new projects to render. In other words, you have to be able to mount the volume containing the Watch Folder on every machine involved in the render. This is more difficult in Windows, where each machine has to map the volume identically, and where mounting volumes across the Internet requires ... uh ... can it even be done?
The Render Engine can get bogged down by slow networks, but every bit helps. We'll be bringing you tips on setting up an AE 5 render farm in the near future.
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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.