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Adobe After Effects 5.5

Upgrade fixes some bugs, adds new worthwhile features By Stephen Schleicher
Over the last ten years, Ive used a variety of different editing systems, animation programs, and video formats. Regardless of what the system du jour was, there was always one application that I made sure I didnt do without - Adobe After Effects. After Effects 5.0 opened up a whole new world for motion graphic artists and compositors, and 5.5 (the latest incarnation) takes content creation a step further.

While Adobe After Effects 5.0 introduced AE users to the world of 3D compositing, there was something to be desired with the standard 3D render engine native to the application. If you had layers intersecting in realistic ways, After Effects 5.0 was unable to do the calculations necessary to render a believable image. Shortly after the release, registered users were able to download a beta copy of the advanced renderer, but it seemed so many people were still getting used to having 3D options in their favorite package that they were either hesitant to install, or failed to realize the power behind the Advanced 3D Render Engine. With the release of After Effects 5.5, the bugs have been worked out of the beta and is now a very solid and stable portion of the program. Take a look at the following images to see what I mean.

Standard 3D

Advanced 3D

With the standard render engine in place, the two crossed layers do not render correctly, leaving the animator with less than desirable results. By simply changing to the Advanced 3D Render Engine, the layer sorting order calculates for the overlap and all is well with the world.

3D Or Not 3D?
When I first saw Steve Kilisky demonstrate the 3D capabilities in AE5.0 before it was released to the world, I was totally blown away by the potentially powerful uses available to the end user. Just being able to add realistic drop shadows and creating realistic camera and layer moves was enough for me. Then I was witness to Brian Maffitt demonstrating how to build a 3D object inside After Effects. Also very cool, but then one makes the realization that After Effects is for compositing, not modeling.

To be honest, if you spend any amount of time trying to build a 3D object inside After Effects, you will quickly realize how slow and frustrating it can be at times to create complex shapes. Dont get me wrong 3D creation and 3D compositing inside AE is great, but you might be better off spending your time designing a highly detailed object in a 3D program instead of a compositing application. It would be very cool if the next release of Adobe After Effects would allow the compositor to directly import a 3D object or completed scene into the workspace.

That idea probably isnt too far off as After Effects 5.5 allows you import camera data from Maya and 3ds max. This allows the artist to import RLA and RPF data directly into After Effects 5.5 to match 3D shots exactly. Using this information along with After Effects 5.5 new features like dynamically replacing null layers with 2D comps or elements, allows quick creation of a complete environment. While Maya and 3ds max import is nice for now, it will be made even better when Adobe allows import of camera data from LightWave, XSI, and other popular 3D applications.

Interface enhancements have also been made to After Effects 5.5. Multiple scene views are vital in a 3D modeling and animation program to allow for exact placement of objects, cameras, and lights. Adobe has included this feature, and the user is able to save custom views if they like. After Effects 5.5 does ship with a few default views that should satisfy every situation.

Multi Camera View

Before leaving the new 3D options in Adobe After Effects 5.5, it should be pointed out that lighting and materials options have also undergone a change for the better. It was probably not well known in After Effect 5.0 that an animator could use a 3D light to project elements from another layer into the composition. It was a little tricky to pull off, but could be done. In After Effects 5.5, it becomes much easier to create this effect with a materials option that allows the animator to turn on "light transmission". This is great for achieving a stained glass or movie projector effect.

Light transmission
Create very nice stained glass or movie projector effects with the new light transmission properties of 3D objects.

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Related Keywords:adobe, adobe after effects, ae, ae5.5, compositing, 3d, animation, graphics, stephen schleicher, digital animators, motion graphics

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