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 7 of 8]

The rendering itself is handled by a plugin rendering engine with basic rendering capabilities. An advanced renderer is also available (in beta form as of press time) that allows for true layer intersections. In my review period, I used the basic renderer for about a half hour and have been using the Advanced Renderer ever since. Even in its beta form, it seems to have no problems.

So what about speed? Beta users of AE 5 had some major issues with the sluggishness of 3D. Not so with the full release. Even with several effects applied to a 3D layer, manipulations in the Comp window are quick and smooth. Mind you, I'm only on a 400 MHz G4. Those on newer systems should be very pleased with the performance.

Enhanced masking
Also new in After Effects 5 is the ability to create and edit masks directly in the Comp window. You can also make and edit masks in the Layer window, as in version 4.1.

After Effects 5 allows you to create and edit Bezier masks
directly in the Comp window. (As in version 4.1, you can
also handle this in the Layer window, if you prefer.)

Version 5.0's masking capabilities have also been expanded to include edge control, which allows you to assign negative or positive values to feathering. You can also apply motion blurs to masks and assign colors to individual masks for easier identification when multiple masks are used.

Improved previews
There are several new features in After Effects 5 that improve upon RAM previewing. In the past, any change would cause AE to recache the entire preview. In the new version, everything is kept in RAM except the changed frames, which allows for faster caching.

AE 5 also gives you the ability to select a region of interest for previewing, showing you just the portion of the composition you want to see. This allows for faster caching with less RAM usage.

Other RAM preview improvements include:

  • Full-screen preview mode;
  • New playback options, such as continuous loop, a single segment and a palindrome mode that runs forward then backward.
  • Preset preview styles, which includes two different sets of RAM preview options for specifying frame rates and the number of frames to be skipped.

The only problem I've had with RAM previews in AE 5 has to do with audio. If you're not previewing at the composition's full frame rate, audio will not play back accurately. However, to overcome this, you can specify any number of frames to skip, just as long as the preview's frame rate is the same as the composition's.

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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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