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Adobe's Michael Coleman talks After Effects

In Part 1 of this interview, Michael Coleman discusses integration in CS3 By Mike Jones

In Part 1 of this interview, Mike Jones speaks with Michael Coleman, Adobe's After Effects product manager, about everything After Effects CS3, including the latest features and toolset. Also discussed is Adobe' workflow, Dynamic Link, and the AutoComposer in Soundbooth

Mike Jones: CS3 brings After Effects into version 8 which, in the world of digital media tools, is a venerable old age. After Effects obviously has developed a huge user base over that time and grown increasingly diverse in its feature set. How does the maturity of the application effect the development of a new version? Do you keep packing in features to make it all things to everyone? Or is Adobe focused on making AE a more focused tool?

Michael Coleman:  Adobe After Effects certainly contains a rich and diverse feature set. One of After Effects' greatest strengths is its ability to stay relevant, even while the world is changing at a rapid rate. If we were talking about motion graphics and visual effects 15 years ago, we'd primarily be talking about broadcast and film. Today, motion graphics and visual effects have expanded to include new delivery options like the web and mobile devices. An artist getting into motion graphics today is just as likely to be creating content for the web as for broadcast.

After Effects core strengths are perfectly suited to this evolution. We've found that while the delivery media may vary among our customers, many of the tasks required are similar, regardless of output media. Expressive animation, creating transparency, quality typography, color correction, motion tracking and stabilization -- all of these things are important ingredients regardless of your output media. The diverse feature set of After Effects CS3 is a huge asset to the content creator.

We've also made significant investments to enable modern workflows. Technologies like Adobe Media Encoder, our integration with Adobe Flash CS3 and Adobe Device Central CS3 streamline the workflow when creating content for web, interactive and mobile devices.

Mike Jones:It seems the central focus of this release of After Effects is less on new tools and more on integration of After Effects with the other applications in the CS3 suite. Can you talk us through some of these integration features and what you think they offer creators?

Michael Coleman: Cross-product integration is one of our most important efforts. At the beginning of each release we ask ourselves an open-ended question: how can we help our customers be more creative? The answers fall into two categories: visual innovations or time savers. Integration is a tremendous time saver. My mantra in this area is "every hour we save you is an hour of creativity unleashed upon the world." Some would say it's an extra hour at home with their kids -- and that's great, too!

We've found that virtually all rich media workflows employ more than one Adobe product. By integrating our products, we remove the roadblocks in your workflow and it makes it possible to let the content flow between applications. This saves you time and it lets you play to the strengths of each application. We have so many integration features now, it's hard to talk through them all. But two stand out to me:

First is the integration between After Effects and Photoshop. After Effects has the long since had the ability to import Photoshop files with access to individual layers and layer sets. Text created in Photoshop can also be edited and animated in After Effects. With After Effects CS3, you can now import and edit Photoshop Layer Styles as well as import Photoshop's special new video layers. After Effects is the only application that can do that. It's really in a class of its own when it comes to Photoshop Integration.

The second integration feature that's getting a great response from customers is the feature we call Dynamic Link. Dynamic Link is a tight connection between applications that lets you exchange content seamlessly.

For example, you can drag a composition -- title sequences, visual effects, etc. -- from After Effects and drop it in Premiere Pro. You can then use it in your Premiere Pro edit as if it were a regular media clip. This saves time by eliminating the need to render an intermediate file. Changes to the original composition in After Effects are seen immediately in Premiere Pro.

There's also Dynamic Link between After Effects and Encore for creating motion menus for DVD, Blu-Ray and Flash. Dynamic Link is available in Creative Suite 3 Production Premium and we're seeing a lot of editors turning to CS3 Production Premium for this feature alone. They are spending less time rendering and more time being creative.

Mike Jones: Traditional production process tends to segment and isolate the various components of cinematic media. Editing, compositing, colour grading, sound mix, delivery all separate and largely self contained. The free exchange integration in CS3, by contrast, seems to present a challenge to more established process; creating a workflow that is far less linear and hierarchical. How do you think this integrated workflow will effect the way creators work? And can it even perhaps effect what we make?

Michael Coleman: This is an important trend. More and more projects are made with a new methodology and we seem to be moving away from the traditional model where the workflow is fixed and linear. Production Premium adds flexibility to the creative process and eliminates the requirement to completely finish one step of the production before working on the next. In many film projects there really isn't need for milestones like "picture lock" -- or at least it's happening much later in the process.

A musical score is a good example of how Adobe tools are enabling this flexibility. There used to be a heavy penalty for editing your video after you had already created the music. Change the duration and you might have to tediously edit the audio and hope it can be made to fit. Or you might have to have it re-composed and re-recorded (at additional cost, of course). Now with our new audio tool, Adobe Soundbooth CS3, we've created a great technology called AutoComposer. It lets you customize musical scores to match your project. You can use it to vary the intensity or the number or instruments to match your visuals. And if you had decided make your show longer, changes are incredibly easy. Soundbooth takes care of re-composing the audio to match the new duration.

Another reason for the breakdown of the old workflows is that there's a different mix of creative ingredients out there. Crews are getting smaller, people are doing more with less budget and isolated specialists are becoming less common. At the same time, the average person can buy the same computer equipment and same Adobe software that powers the big budget Hollywood projects. It's the nature of these tighter, smaller creative teams to be more flexible and break down the old workflows.

CS3 Production Premium enables this flexibility because it's well integrated allowing you to define your own workflow. Plus it covers the entire workflow, which is particularly important for small teams or independent artists. There's a component of the CS3 Production Premium for every part of the workflow: planning and storyboarding, video production, editing, visual effects, motion graphics, audio, and you can deliver to virtually any screen out there, from the silver screen to mobile devices.

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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

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