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 5 of 8]

And the rest
Some of the other big draws for the After Effects 5 Production Bundle are its keying and matte tools. For keying, the package includes Color Difference Key, Color Range, Difference Matte, Extract, Inner Outer Key, Linear Color Key and Spill Suppressor. Matte tools include Simple Choker and Matte Choker. The Keying Pack included in the Production Bundle offers precise control over keying.
The Linear Color Key creates a key from RGB, hue or chroma values you specify. The Color Difference key creates combination mattes for difficult areas, such as smoke and glass. The Spill Suppressor helps remove key color traces from light reflecting onto a subject. The Simple Choker cleans up dirty mattes, while the Matte Choker chokes and spreads the matte to create clean edges.

Other new goodies that don't quite fit into any other category include:

  • After Effects 5 breaks the 2 GB file size limit.
  • It can output directly to the Flash format (SWF). However, you better not be thinking of AE 5 as a replacement for a Flash authoring program. The output capabilities are limited to animation and just the most basic interactive elements. Plus, the output isn't always very good. Images can look bad, and playback can be buggy.
  • Specify a different starting timecode for each composition. Frequently
    used composition settings can be saved as custom presets.
  • Ability to specify Motion Blur shutter angles up to 720 degrees for each composition and phase controls that determine when the shutter opens relative to the start of each frame.
  • Preview a single layer.
  • Create and save custom Workspaces.
  • Change the sequence in which effects are applied to a layer by dragging to reorder them directly in the Timeline window.
  • For keyframes, you can drag up or down over more than one stopwatch to animate multiple properties.
  • The Effect Controls window now includes stopwatches for setting keyframes.
  • Markers can now be locked, and Transfer Modes now appear in a panel that can be hidden or displayed independently.
  • You can preview footage and comps that use a non-square pixel aspect ratio without distortion by choosing Pixel Aspect Correction.
  • QuickTime footage playback is also improved.

The compositing core
So we've looked at a lot of the new features in AE 5 that are sort of at the periphery of the core suite. This is because, at the core, the standard edition and the Production Bundle are essentially the same, so it's hard to compare the two. When I speak of "the core," I mean all of the new basic compositing features that come with version 5.0—3D capabilities, parenting and scripting (Expressions), as well as some new output features.

3D compositing
Chief among the new core features in AE 5 is 3D compositing—the ability to manipulate layers and layer data in 3D, including layer intersections, for adding shadows and other Effects. The
3D compositing features are activated on a layer by layer basis by clicking a box in the timeline. Leaving the 3D features deactivated on 2D layers will speed up rendering, while also leaving these layers unaffected by camera or lighting animation.

Adobe After Effects 5 Production Bundle
The original 2D layer

After Effects 5 introduces several animation features, including multiple cameras and lights for position, rotation and orientation. You can also automatically orient 3D layers toward a camera or animate lights and cameras along a path or toward a point of interest you define. You have the ability to create an unlimited number of lights and define each one's properties individually. You can also edit each light's shadow-casting properties.

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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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