Adobe After Effects Standard Edition is a professional level application for creating
video motion graphics and compositing (combining images from various sources like
film, digital video, 2 and 3 dimensional animations, backgrounds, digitized still
photos and text). It is probably the most "senior" application in this
category and has been continually improved by Adobe. If the Standard Edition is not
professional enough for your needs, there is also a Pro Edition that provides even
more advanced functionality for creating complex effects for film and video. After
Effects (AE) version 7.0 for Mac is the subject of this review, although the current
version is now CS3 (Creative Suite 3). AE has been called the "Photoshop for
video" with good reason. As with Photoshop, you can create original material
in AE, but it's real forte is modification of existing material. If you are familiar
with Photoshop, you will have some idea of the range of effects that can be applied
with AE. The completed material from AE is typically rendered, exported and incorporated
using a video editing application like Adobe Premier, Apple's Final Cut Pro (or Express)
or even iMovie.
- PowerPC G4 or G5
(G5 multiprocessor recommended) or Intel Core processor (non-native on Intel)
- Mac OS X v10.3.9
or 10.4.x (recommended for best OpenGL performance)
- 512 RAM minimum,
1 Gig or more recommended
- 500 MB free hard
- 24-bit video card
- Quicktime 7.x
- DVD-ROM drive
My test system was a Dual 2.0 GHz G5, 1.5 GB RAM, OS X 10.4.8, 256 MB ATI Radeon
9650XT, 250 GB and 500 GB internal drives, Apple 20" Cinema Display (1680x1050
Installation was simple using the installer DVD. Clicking on the Adobe After Effects
folder opens a window with a .mpkg file. Clicking the file opens the installer which
has the usual sequence of installation steps (Intro, Read Me, License, etc.). The
installation requires 344MB of free space on your drive. It defaults to the Applications
folder for the install location. The install took only a few minutes, after which
I registered and activated the application. You have 30 days to perform the application.
At this time (August 2007), you can download a trial copy of AE CS3 for trial use
Opening the application reveals a Panel style workspace, somewhat similar in appearance
to Apple's Final Cut Pro and other Pro applications. This interface is new for version
7 of AE. Previously, a less well organized "windows" workspace was used.
The new panel consists of a number frames which manage the various controls and media
references for the application. The panels can be rearranged by dragging and "docking"
them to adjacent panels. There are a number of preset arrangements, and you can create
and save your own custom arrangements.
Another nice feature of the workspace is the adjustable brightness or backlighting.
You can go from a very bright, nearly white background to very dark grey. As you
adjust the brightness, the text and icons automagically change to maintain appropriate
After Effects Bright Workspace
After Effects Bright Workspace
Since I am newcomer to AE the most expedient way for me to learn it's capabilities
while developing this review was to execute a number tutorials. I found a couple
of wonderful web sites with tutorials that included media files on which I could
practice. Some the sites that I used were:
The descriptions below highlight some of the features and capabilities that I explored
while using the tutorials and experimenting with some simple original creations.
Overall the application performed well on my test system with no abnormal terminations
or other technical difficulties.
Starting a Project
As with other project oriented application (iMovie, FCP, iDVD, etc.) it is best to
start work by creating and naming a new project but you can just dive in and name
the project as you save it. Typically the next step is to import the media components
that will form the background and produce the effects for the project. What you import
clearly depends on the intended use of the project. Animations for use on web pages
or as DVD menus might require only still images to which motion would be applied
using AE. If the output is to be incorporated in a video or film, then the components
would include the base footage to which the effects will be applied. Importing can
be accomplished by simple drag and drop, through an import pop-up window or using
Adobe Bridge. Most all common still image, video and audio formats can be imported.
Importing does not duplicate the source file but creates a link to it thereby helping
to manage project file size.
The Composition is
the foundation of the project or movie that you create in AE. Compositions consist
of various Layers that are created or added to integrate the background material
and the desired animations or effects. Much like PhotoShop, the layers can be reordered
to alter the sequence in the stack and turned on or off as needed. Since AE is a
motion application the layers can also be manipulated in the time-line thereby changing
their effects as the movie progress.
Depending on the type of media or object contained in a layer there are numerous
adjustment and variations that can be applied. In fact the degree and range of adjustments
is extraordinary! The understanding and management of all the variables is one of
the keys to mastering AE. Examples of adjustments include color, position, rotation,
brightness, contrast, movement, time, volume and other factors. An interesting and
useful capability is the addition of an Adjustment Layer. Such a layer does not contain
any additional media but allows you the apply settings that affect all of the layers
"below" it. This is very useful in working with complex composites made
of many layers. Objects within layers can be positioned and oriented in either 2
or 3 dimensions depending on the dimensional selection for the layer.
forms of layers are Camera and Light layers. The Camera layer allows you create a
virtual camera that can positioned, moved, focus, zoomed and generally manipulated
like a real camera. The Light layer allows you to create and manipulate various light
sources to illuminate the objects in your composition. The more time that I spent
with the application learning how add and control the layering process the more interesting
and exciting it became. In fact the very nature of AE is like that - the more you
learn and understand the more you do want to do. In general there is almost no aspect
of image control that cannot be accomplished through some combination the control
elements provided in AE. I should mention that nearly all of the adjustment settings
can be controlled by mouse clicks or movements as well as a full set of keyboard
Another important element of control in AE is the use of Keyframes. Keyframes are
used to specify a point in time (designated numerically or by position on the timeline)
when a layer property is activated or deactivated. The keyframe can be used trigger
nearly all property settings to accomplish changes in appearance or location. An
example would be setting the screen coordinates or position of an object in a layer,
marking it with a keyframe, moving forward in the timeline, changing the position
and creating another keyframe. As the movie plays the object will automatically translate
(move) from the first location to the second. All layers can have independent keyframes
thereby providing great flexibility in motion and appearance control.
As mentioned previously AE allows the internal creation of objects and shapes as
well as extensive text creation and editing. Text can be manipulated in same ways
as any other objects embedded in a layer. As you might imagine this provides a powerful
capability for creative titling and annotation.
After Effects 7 also include a powerful scripting capability called Expressions.
of expression templates to perform a variety of animation and appearance tasks that
normally require numerous manual setting adjustments and keyframes.
AE is furnished with variety of special effects and animation presets. In addition
there is wide variety of commercial and free effects and presets available as plugins.
When you have finished your composition it will need to be rendered and exported.
As with the import options, there are a wide variety of export options with AE. All
of the formats supported by QuickTime are available as well as Flash and Flash Video.
The rendering time on my system seemed reasonable for the length and complexity of
the material involved and was similar to rendering time in other video editors.
I now understand
why Adobe After Effects is considered the benchmark application for video compositing
and special effects. The range and power of the application is phenomenal allowing
most anyone who can devote the necessary time to become proficient with the application
to produce creative, original and high quality animations and video effects. Though
many of the concepts behind the operation of AE are relatively simple, the variety
and precision of controls available make developing proficiency no small task. New
users of AE would clearly benefit from true human interactive training. Tutorials
and CBT are useful but probably more so once the fundamentals are well understood.
The more I learned the more I wanted to learn. The application is stable and solid
with extensive user customization options. About AE one could honestly say "If
you can imagine it, you can create it". I found the speed performance of the
application fully acceptable considering the relative vintage of my test system and
complexity of the processing tasks. There is no question that Adobe After Effects
should be recommended to anyone who wants to create professional animations and video
- Extensive and detailed
- Numerous commercial
and free plugins for effects
- Wide format compatibility
- Fun to use - once
you know how
- Extensive and complex
- Requires high capacity
hardware for best performance
- Not Universal Binary
(but the CS3 version is)
4 1/2 out of