After Effects 5
at a Glance

Maker: Adobe
Price: $1,499 Production Bundle/$649 standard edition
Platforms: Macintosh and Windows

Overall Impression: Adobe After Effects is an absolutely essential component in any effects and compositing workflow. After Effects 5 takes this essential suite to the next level with incredibly powerful new tools. It's a pleasure to work with, and, of course, its features make it one of the all-time great applications for video professionals, whether you're new to After Effects or thinking of upgrading from version 4.1, whether you use the standard edition or the Production Bundle.

Key Benefits: AE 5 is a dramatic improvement over AE 4.1, which wasn't at all bad to start with. The new 3D compositing, parenting and expressions features make it a truly valuable tool for the most complex work. For the Production Bundle, the new effects alone justify the $800 difference in price from the standard edition, but you get a whole host of other advanced features included in the deal: keying tools, time displacement, rendering and particle simulation tools, motion tools and, of course, 16-bit per channel color.

Disappointments: Render times can be excruciatingly long, but we hope this will be rectified with the next release of the ICE accelerator board for AE. The Advanced Renderer is still in beta. And the Render Engine (for network rendering) supports only image sequences.

Recommendation: Must Buy


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REVIEW JULY 11, 2001
Adobe After Effects 5 Production Bundle
[Page 3 of 8]

On the 3D front, there's a whole new category called 3D Channel. After Effects 5 allows you to import files that contain additional channels of information, including Z-depth, surface normals, object IDs, texture coordinates, background color, unclamped RGB and material ID. The effects in the 3D Channel category allow to to interpret and manipulate these data, including adding a matte along the Z axis, isolating elements and blurring individual ones, applying fog, inserting new objects and even extracting 3D channel information to use as parameters for other effects. Effects include 3D Channel Extract, Depth Matte, Depth of Field, 3D Fog and ID Matte. Supported formats include RLA, Softimage PIC/ZPIC and Electric Image EI/EIZ.

With the Production Bundle, you also get 10 additional distortion effects. Here's a great example of how 3D compositing can change the way even common distortions work. Say, for example, that you want to apply the new Bezier Warp effect. You grab a corner and pull it in your Comp window to stretch and distort your image. But if the layer you're working on is operating in 3D mode, you can actually spin your layer around and pull your Bezier paths out from the layer, giving you true 3D distortion. In addition to Bezier Warp, the Distort effects included in the Production Bundle are Bulge, Corner Pin, Displacement Map, Mesh Warp, Optics Compensation, Reshape, Ripple, Twirl and Wave Warp.

Adobe After Effects 5 Distort
Distortions in AE 5 work in 2D and 3D.

In the Render and Simulation categories, you get three new effects: Lightning, Fractal Noise and Particle Playground. Lightning does just what its name suggests, with control over origin and end points, detail, branching, etc. Fractal Noise (known previously as Noise Turbulent I and II in Cult Effects), provides incredible fractal effects that can resemble anything from undulating smoke to flexing cell structures. This was always my favorite plugin from the Cult Effects package, and Adobe has done a nice job of merging it into a single effect for easier access to all the controls available.

Adobe After Effects 5 Lightning
The lightning effect from the Production Bundle's Effects Pack.
The effect can be anything from a single bolt to a tangle mess
like the one pictured here.

The last one, Particle Playground, is similar to many particle emitters out there (such as the one included in the Boris Continuum package). And, like other particle systems, you can use custom particles—images, text and even video—to create particle-based explosions, floods or other effects that need to be controlled by limiters and emitters. The effect is actually pretty speedy, even when using QuickTime layers as particles. You run into problems when you try to explode a layer with particles, requiring vast amounts of time and memory. In fact, with my 512 MB system, I was never able to get it to do this effect. But, on the whole, the Particle Playground can create effective special effects and can also be a joy to play with.

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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.
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