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Adobe's Integrated Approach

Part 2 of our interview with Michael Coleman, product manager Adobe After Effects By Mike Jones

In Part 2 of our interview with Michael Coleman, Mike Jones and Mr. Coleman discuss integration with Adobe's recently acquired applications, BrainStorm in After Effects CS3, third party application support, and more.

Michael Coleman
DMN: It seems all the major creative software developers, along with Adobe, over the last few years have been aiming towards the establishment of an holistic suite of apps that work in an integrated environment. Adobe CS3 seems to be several steps ahead in this regard. How much of this development process has been reliant on a shared code-base between existing Adobe apps? And how difficult is the integration of newly acquired apps? Can we expect a closer integration in the future for new acquisitions such as OnLocation and Ultra and, of course, Flash?

Michael Coleman: The product teams at Adobe work together very closely. Sometimes this collaboration results in shared ideas and sometimes it results in shared development effort. Adobe makes investments in shared technologies and you can see this in features like the Adobe Media Encoder which allows you to use the same powerful media encoding engine from within Premiere Pro, Encore and After Effects. Building integrated products can be challenging, but it's a big win for our customers, so there's plenty of inspiration to continue. Adobe will continue to lead the industry in product integration, including recently acquired applications.

DMN: One of the more intriguing new features in After Effects CS3 is BrainStorm. Can you talk us through what BrainStorm is and how it works?
MC: Brainstorm is one of my favorite new features in After Effects CS3. The creative process has always been about experimentation and iteration. Sometimes the best new ideas come from just playing around with the software. Brainstorm facilitates this creative experimentation by helping you to visually explore creative options. It's also a great way to get over the "blank slate" problem when you just need to have some inspiration to get the creative ideas flowing.

It's simple to use. Just select one or more properties that you want to experiment with and push the Brainstorm button in the timeline. After Effects shows you an array of creative options for you to browse. You can explore iterations with as much randomness as you like. When you're done After Effects applies the changes to the composition automatically.

The brainstorm tool is a great way for beginners to explore the possibilities of a particular effect. At the same time, even experienced professionals can use it to save time coming up with new ideas.

DMN: It would seem that BrainStorm taps into that process of 'digital doodling'
and undirected experimental scribbling that a great many motion graphics artists use, and indeed have probably always used, in AE. How much of the development process of AECS3 was about looking at how artists actually use the tool or wanted to be able to use it rather than how its been traditionally expected to be used?
MC: Input from users is a critical part of the success of After Effects. Adobe is very proactive about research, customer visits, usability testing, and just generally staying in touch with the After Effects user community. One way to look at it is that After Effects really belongs to the users and we just happen to be making it for them.

DMN: In recent years a number of third party software tools have embraced direct integration with After Effects - Maxon Cinema4D being one of the more prominent. How open is Adobe to this interplay with third party developers? What sort of integration and exchange would you like to see in the future with After Effects and applications from other developers?
 I'm impressed with the integration between After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D. It's clear that they have a good understanding of the workflow and Cinema 4D Exchange is a great way to incorporate 3D modeling and animation into the Adobe workflow.

Adobe fosters a wonderful ecosystem of 3rd party plug-ins, training resources, hardware manufacturers, and support. This allows users to customize and extend their workflow for their specific needs. A great example is the line of products from Automatic Duck. They provide media project translation which allows you to convert, for example, an Avid timeline into an After Effects composition.

DMN: The market space where After Effects sits as a compositing, visual effects and motion graphics tool has grown increasingly crowded. The ever present Combustion from Autodesk, Fusion from eyeon Software, Boris Red, and Motion and Shake from Apple have all crowded the field and upped the expectations of users. How do you think After Effects stands apart? What is Adobe focusing on to maintain After Effects position or prominance?
MC: The After Effects team has always been driven more by our customers than our competition. You can see this in the innovative features like puppet tool, shape layers and Brainstorm. Our PDF-based client review tool called Clip Notes is unique and illustrates the focus on solving key workflow challenges that our customers face every day. Competitors come and go, but responding to customer feedback and focusing on creative innovation and integrated workflows has made After Effects the industry standard tool for motion graphics and visual effects.

DMN: One of the major areas of shift for NLE systems in recent years has been the tool set expansion from simple cutting and splicing to very often highly effective compositing, keyframing and fx right from the NLE timeline. Are you finding that that there is a significant section of media producers who feel they no longer need a tool like After Effects because their needs are satisfied by their NLE? How do you think this will effect the future development of After Effects?
MC: There's definitely room for both. While editing software like Premiere Pro has evolved to be more visually sophisticated, this just creates more awareness for the strengths of After Effects. A little bit of overlap in the capabilities of Premiere Pro and After Effects is a good thing because it provides an extra measure of flexibility to the workflow. After Effects has a wide range of strengths and is ideal for projects that make use of many animated layers, effects, lights, cameras, sophisticated typographic animation, 32-bit compositing and HDR images, paint and tracking or stabilization.

DMN: The more complete bundling of CS3 seems to have been matched with a very aggressive pricing structure. Effectively if a user wanted to buy any two of the apps in CS3, say After Effects and Photoshop, then they may as well buy the whole box for much the same price. Do you see this a way to keep users away from cherry picking individual apps? Is there a time in the future where you see the Adobe applications only available in a complete bundle as Apple have done with Final Cut Studio?
MC: The Adobe Creative Suites are designed to address major workflows as complete solutions. They are actually a product unto themselves and include extra features to facilitate and extend the workflows. For example, CS3 Production Premium includes enhancements like Dynamic Link and After Effects' Capture in Premiere feature that integrate the components into a solution that more than the sum of it's parts. As you point out, when you add up the value of its individual components, CS3 Production Premium is a fantastic deal.

You can purchase what you need and it's Adobe's philosophy to be open to other workflows. We have an excellent, complete solution with CS3 Production Premium, but if you just want to add After Effects to your workflow, that's great, too.

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Mike Jones is a digital media producer, author, educator from Sydney, Australia. He has a diverse background across all areas of media production including film, video, TV, journalism, photography, music and on-line projects. Mike is the author of three books and more than 200 published essays, articles and reviews covering all aspects of cinematic form, technology and culture. Mike is currently Head of Technological Arts at the International Film School Sydney (, has an online home at and can be found profusely blogging for DMN at

Related Keywords:after effects CS3, Michael Coleman, compositing, motion graphics, special effects

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