After Effects 6.5, by Adobe Systems
Posted: 24-Jan-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Adobe Systems Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Lane Smith Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
Adobe After Effects is a power-horse application for a variety of motion graphics and video effects. After Effects visual effects can be seen throughout many of today's movies, making it possible for all of us to own and use the same tools as the pros. After Effects 6.5 provides a powerful engine for speed and stability, supporting functions to composite, animate, and add spectacular visual effects to video in both 2D and 3D environments. After Effects is also seamlessly integrated with other Adobe products such as Photoshop and Illustrator, providing an efficient workflow environment.

I've been experimenting with and using visual effects in homemade movies since I was young, my first projects made with nothing more than a VCR, an ELMO video presentation tool, a box of Legos, and a head full of imagination. I gradually moved up to more advanced tools over the years, primarily with iMovie and
eZedia Plug-ins about 2 years ago. I then discovered AlamDV2 for Mac OS 9, a beginner's application to basic compositing and visual effects. I quickly outgrew AlamDV2's simplicity and moved onto Final Cut Express and its standard compositing capabilities. Six months later, I got the chance to look at After Effects. While I'm no film graduate, I have some personally-gained experience to put After Effects to the test.

New Features

Some of the many new features in After Effects 6.5 are as follows:

  • Advanced clone tool for removing, or adding, elements from multiple frames easily and accurately
  • Disk caching for light-speed interaction between you and After Effects
  • Expanded OpenGL support for real-time previews
  • Tighter Adobe integration with other Adobe products such as Photoshop and Illustrator
  • Color correction and grain management effects to make your video look the best
  • More than 60 new special effects plug-ins, including the all time favorite 'Particle World'
  • Over 250 professional text animation presets (a gallery of all 250+ presets are available on the web)
  • FireWire video output to visually preview your projects on video monitors or TVs
  • Dual processor and G5 optimized (big one for us Mac users)


System Requirements

  • PowerPC Processor (multiprocessor G5 recommended)
  • Mac OS X 10.3.2
  • 128MB of RAM (256MB or more recommended)
  • 150MB of available hard-disk space for installation
  • CD-ROM drive
  • 24-bit color display
  • For OpenGL support, Adobe After Effects supported OpenGL card


Test Systems

  • 800 MHz iMac G4 running Mac OS 10.3.6, 512 MB RAM, nVidia GeForce MX4 video card with 32 MB of VRAM, 80 GB hard-drive
  • Dual 2.0 GHz Power Mac G5 running Mac OS 10.3.7, 1 GB RAM, ATI Radeon 9600 XT video card with 128 MB of VRAM, 250 GB hard-drive


Knowledge Requirements
I've come up with a list of "prerequisites" that I found useful when I began using After Effects. There is no real restriction if you don't know one or all listed topics, but I encourage you to go pick up a book on video editing at a local discount bookstore if your unfamiliar with a topic and would like to brush up.

  • Competent understanding of video/film
  • Extended knowledge of key-frames and their properties
  • Basic knowledge of layers and their properties
  • Experience with Adobe Photoshop or similar photo editor


Installation and Registration

After Effects comes on one CD along with a handful of extras, including extra plugins and a free registered version of Color Finesse, an advanced video color correction program. The installation itself was simple enough. The installation first requested my serial number, then began installing the software. This took about 15 minutes on the iMac and about 2 minutes on the G5. Another few minutes for installing the extras, and After Effects was set and ready!

There were no additional updates or downloads needed for After Effects from Adobe's website. However, I strongly suggest to register After Effects at Adobe's website,
www.adobe.com, which not only includes free telephone and web support, but also allows you to register an account for Adobe Studio, Adobe's free education database. Adobe Studio is jammed pack with hundreds of tutorials and videos for the beginner to the advanced user.

Price
After Effects will definitely punch a very large hole through your wallet, priced at $699 for the Standard and $999 for the Professional Edition. However, I did find After Effects much more reasonably priced at $299 from the
Academic Superstore. To be eligible for purchase, the buyer must be a student or educator.

Interface
Aside from a few differences, After Effects' interface is much like that of Adobe's other applications and would be familiar to an average Photoshop user. After Effects uses the same palettes interface and has many of the same tools as Photoshop, such as the pen tool, the paintbrush, and the Type Tool. The Timeline in After Effects is conceptually analogous to the Layers window in Photoshop, where the actual project comes together (although the Timeline is functionally very different). There is also the Composition window where the project can be edited and viewed visually, similar to Photoshop's main Canvas window. After Effects also includes a Project window where you can store all your files you may be working on for easy access (nothing really to compare to in Photoshop).


After Effects Interface


Familiarity with Photoshop definitely helps, but for those with no prior experience, the free Adobe Studio has a plethora of videos and tutorials to help get you started. It may take a few extra hours to get started working with After Effects compared to those with prior Photoshop knowledge.

In Use
Since I'm new to After Effects, one of my favorite features is the 'Daily Tip', a small dialog window that appears with a tip or shortcut every time you launch After Effects. There are some odd 275 tips and they serve as an excellent quick-start guide to After Effects. After reading about 50 or so, I already knew enough to get some work done. The tips also get more advanced toward the higher end of 275, keeping it useful even after you've learned more of the in's and out's of After Effects.

While the mechanisms of Adobe After Effects can be very complex, the concepts that underline it are relatively very simple. In fact, the concepts that After Effects works upon are similar to Apple's basic video editor iMovie. In iMovie, the user can capture or import video, save them in the 'Clips' bin, edit chosen clips, fine-tune them, add effects, sounds, pictures and more video, and then export the video. Likewise, in After Effects, the user imports the video files or pictures files they may want to work on into the Project window via File->Import or drag-and-drop from the Finder. These files can be from video editors such as Final Cut or iMovie, still photos from iPhoto, or edited picture files from Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. The user then drags the files they wish to work on into the Timeline. Once there is source in the Timeline, the user can then edit them as they choose by compositing the video, adding filters, adding effects, adding motion paths, or using an array of other options to manipulate their video. The user can continue to shape their video and preview their work in real-time. After the user is content with their project, they can export their work to video using After Effects incredibly fast render engine.

After Effects uses three methods of creating visual effects: composition, filtering, and computer generated imagery. Composition is the process of changing the scale, opacity, rotation, position, or other properties of one or more layered images and optionally adding motion to the layers. One way of mentally picturing this is to imagine two different photos, say one of a dog and another of a ball. Separately, both photos can be cut, rotated, and repositioned. By copying the ball from its photo and pasting it on top of the photo of the dog, it would appear as one image and and look as if the dog was interacting with the ball (although they would be in different layers). The same concept is applied to video, with the additional element of motion. With motion, you could make it appear as though the ball bounces and the dog chases the ball by moving the ball and dog a little in each frame of video. You select the point in the timeline, then alter the image for how you want it to appear at that point. This is very basic video compositing. However, moving the image of the ball and dog a little in every frame would get frustrating very quickly, considering that there are 30 (NTSC) frames in a second. This is where After Effects incorporates key-framing. Instead of manually adjusting the elements that you are manipulating (dog and ball) in every frame, After Effects allows you to add a key-frame to the frame where the change begins and an another frame when the change ends. After Effects will then evenly distribute and draw in the change in every frame in-between automatically. This feature radically decreases the time and work you have to spend on animating projects.

After Effects has a selection of over 50 different filters and visual effects you can add to your video. Adding filters to your video is as simple as selecting the layer of video you want to modify in the Timeline, browsing through the Effects menu or Effects and Presets palette for the effect you want, and selecting it. If you know the name of the effect, you can type the name in the 'Search' field to find it more quickly. Once you've added your effect, an Effects Controls window will pop up, allowing you to adjust the effect to your preference. You can also navigate through the arrow-down menus in the Timeline next to the video layer, which has the effect applied, to adjust the effect as well. Unlike many video editors, such as iMovie or Final Cut, After Effects allows you to develop the effect or filter over time through key-frames, as mentioned above.

The final effect category that can be applied within After Effects is computer generated imagery (CGI). Some of After Effects most popular CGI effects is Particle World and Mr. Mercury, both of which are seen throughout todays popular movies and TV series. Particle World is excellent for realistic simulations of explosions, fire, dust, smoke, space, rain, and much more. Mr. Mercury is best for blood, water, globs of glowing slime, and other liquids. There are several other CGI effects included in After Effects, everything from realistic hair to bubbles, each extensively customizable. Like compositions and filters, CGI effects can also be controlled using key-frames, making your possibilities with After Effects CGI effects endless. You might want to set aside an hour or two to play around with the CGI effects, as well as the other visual effects. Experimentation is the best way to learn what these effects can do. With the advanced undo features of After Effects, there is no harm done by trying something out and undoing it if you don't like it.


After Effects Mr. Mercury CGI effect

After Effects 6.5 also include text effects, sending text to places text has never been before. After Effects provides over 250 different animated presets, including everything from a Hop-and-A-Skip to Unworldly Explosions. An extensive gallery of all these presets can be seen viewed on Adobe's website. Adding text to video or on a black background couldn't be easier. Simply pick up the Type Tool, click on the Composition window and type away. Once you've added your text, browse through the Effects and Presets palette or type in the search bar for the preset you're looking for and drag it on top of the text layer in the timeline. You can then adjust the settings by browsing through the arrow-down menu next to the text layer and adjusting values, adding or deleting key-frames, or doing whatever you need to create the most amazing animated text.


After Effects Particle World CGI effect

The feature that impressed me the most in After Effects is the new OpenGL real-time previewing. You set up your key frames and effects, then press the spacebar, and instantly your effects are rendered and will start playing. Depending on the complexity of the video, the instant real-time preview will not always reach 30 frames per second. However, if you play the sections of video that the green bar has been drawn through in the timeline, you will see smoother results with more frames per second. The real-time previewing is great because it allows you to see your video the way it will look when you export it, saving you time and making sure the project meets your standards. To preview your video using built-in RAM, you can select Composition->Preview->RAM Preview. After Effects will then draw every frame, store the data in RAM, and play a complete real-time preview. The processing of every frame does take a bit more time, but is optimal for slower computers such as my iMac.

With all other visual effect programs I've worked with, rendering and exporting the final product is one long and boring process, usually taking as much as an hour for just 1 minute of video. Finding the right file to export to is also another pain, and I usually ended up starting over due to bad quality. In After Effects this is completely different. By typing Command-M or going to the menu Composition->Make Movie, a window pops up that shows the current project to export with the highest render quality automatically set. You can either leave the project as "waiting to export" by closing the window (allowing you to render your project at a more convenient time), or you can go ahead and render the project by hitting the 'Render' button. Rendering my finished project at highest quality was considerably faster than other programs I've used. On the iMac, it took about 10-15 minutes to completely render a minute of video at highest quality. While I have not had the chance to test this on the G5 machine, I imagine the time it would takes to render one minute of film would be considerably less.

After Effects is an incredible application, but like others, it does have some downsides. After Effects is an immensely demanding application, and even my G5 choked at times. The iMac, at some points, was almost unusable, especially when typing text. Typing text using the Type Tool is extremely straining on the iMac and creates up to two seconds of lag during typing. My suggestion is to copy-and-paste into After Effects instead of typing within After Effects to avoid this lag. Also, if you're planning on doing any serious work with After Effects, I strongly recommend upgrading to a minimum of 512 MB of RAM.

Unfortunately, there are some features within After Effects that are only available to Windows users. Of these are the abilities to integrate with other Adobe products such as Adobe Premier and Adobe Encore, both which are unavailable on the Mac. Adobe Premier, Adobe's video editing platform, allows you to integrate with After Effects in order to save you the long process of exporting video from one application and importing it into the other. This is the common case when working with Final Cut and After Effects. The other application, Adobe Encore, is a professional DVD studio program. When paired with After Effects, you are able to create the look and feel of the DVD in After Effects and then immediately publish and burn it in Encore. While I've heard methods of doing the same thing with After Effects and Apple's DVD Studio Pro, the integration between After Effects and Encore make the process a lot faster and easier.

Summary
Adobe After Effects 6.5 is an incredible application that allows you to add professional visual effects to your video with speed and ease. Providing the latest tools in compositing, filters, and CGI effects, After Effects allows you to do anything imaginable with your video, the sky's the limit. Though I have put about 20 total man-hours into After Effects, there is so much more I still have yet to discover and use. With over 50 customizable effects and filters, it would take months alone to experiment with each effect, not to mention the other 250+ different text presets available. If you're one with a passion for visual effects or have a dream to create your own video spectacular, After Effects is the one application you need. Wether your aim is to take first in the LM Ethics movie festive or create the one Star Wars parody you've imagined ever since you were a child, After Effects provides the tools and power required to produce inspiration.

Pros

  • Interface similar to other Adobe products
  • A 'Daily Tip' every time After Effects is launched
  • Over 50 different effects and filters
  • Easily add and animate text to video with over 250 custom presets
  • In-project real-time previews
  • Powerful render engine allows quick video export

Cons

  • Extremely expensive
  • Steep learning curve, especially for those who haven't used other Adobe products
  • Requires a lot of CPU
  • Some features only available for our PC counterparts, such as Adobe Premier and Adobe Encore compatibility
  • Lag, or delayed response, when typing text with the Type Tool


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice