After Effects 7.0, by Adobe
Posted: 13-Sep-2007

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Adobe Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: John Gebhardt Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
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.

Requirements

  • 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 disk space
  • 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 pixels).

Setup
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 for free.

In 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 contrast.


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.


Media Display

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.


Control Detail


Effects

Other interesting 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 shortcuts.


Camera Settings


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.


Rain Effect


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. The language used is actually based on standard JavaScript but full knowledge of JavaScript is not necessary to take advantage of Expressions. AE contains a number 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.

Summary
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 effects.

Pros

  • Extensive and detailed creative capabilities
  • Numerous commercial and free plugins for effects
  • Wide format compatibility
  • Fun to use - once you know how

Cons

  • Extensive and complex controls
  • Requires high capacity hardware for best performance
  • Not Universal Binary (but the CS3 version is)


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice