Rick Gerard reviews Adobe After Effects 6.0
Rick Gerard reviews Adobe After Effects 6.0
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Rick Gerard reviews Cinematography: Image Making for Cinematographers, Directors, and Videographers

Rick Gerard Rick Gerard
Gerard Productions, Roseville, California USA

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Article Focus:
Rick Gerard takes a close look the new release of Adobe After Effects 6.0. Powerful new features, OpenGL, advanced keying, a new text engine, paint, motion tracking and scripting support make this release of After Effects a must-have for any motion graphics or visual effects artist that needs to "get the job done."

Rick's rating: -- a perfect 5 Cows. Why? Read on for the answer...

Well, they've done it again. Adobe has announced the release of After Effects 6.0. This is a major upgrade! There are new tools and features that will keep After Effects the preferred tool for motion graphics and visual effects artists that must keep up with today's demands for productivity, creativity and capacity. Let's look at some of the changes that you will find in After Effects 6.

The former Production Bundle has been upgraded to After Effects Professional. Keylight, a fabulous new Academy Award® winning keyer from The Foundry has been added. Motion Tracking has also been greatly improved.

After Effects and After Effects Professional have received a huge performance boost with support of OpenGL for on-screen rendering. With a compatible graphics adaptor, you will see almost instant updates when you adjust lights, cameras, shadows, manipulate text or scrub through layers in the Timeline.

The first clue that you will get about the new features comes from the new tool bar (right).

  • New Paint and Clone tools based on Photoshop technology have been added.
  • An entirely new text engine has been added that allows you to enter text directly in the composition window.

The Character Palette will be familiar to anyone using Photoshop or Illustrator and offers almost unlimited animated control over text properties. Palettes for both Text and Paint tools automatically appear whenever the tools are selected.

You will also find new time saving buttons at the bottom of the composition window. (Next image below.) You can now quickly toggle View Masks and Transparency Grid. The Pixel Aspect Ratio Correction option is readily accessible making it much easier to work with native widescreen and D1 pixel aspect ratio projects. It is still not a good idea to animate with this button selected. There is also direct access to the Comp Flowchart. These new buttons greatly improve my workflow. The scroll bars have also been removed from the Composition, Item, and Footage windows leaving more room to work. Pressing the space bar brings up the hand tool and lets you pan beyond the visible pasteboard. No more missing Bezier handles, no more lost lights.

A Closer Look:

One of the most exciting new tools for both After Effects and After Effects Professional is the new Text tool. Basic Text and Path Text are still included in the standard effects folder so you will not loose any of your old projects, but this tool is so powerful that I doubt that you will be creating any new text animations with the old tools. Setting up the original typography is nearly the same as setting type in Photoshop. You can easily scroll through different fonts using the up and down arrow keys while changes are reflected in the Comp window. Kerning, leading, tracking, and all other properties are readily adjustable within the Text Palette. Just as in Photoshop, you can set different fonts, sizes, colors, and other attributes for different characters in the same text layer. Text is continually rasterized and at best quality by default, and are you ready for this, there is no need to pre-compose a text layer to apply masks or other filters.

Once you have your type set the fun begins. Context clicking in the Comp window brings up the text animators options. You can select a range of letters with the character offset, change selected character values, animate line spacing, stroke color, stroke width, fill color, opacity, rotation, position, scale, skew. . . just about anything you want. You can flow text to any animated path. For each range of letters that you select you can add a new set of animators. These new controls show up in the Timeline, not in the Effects Control Window. Every text property is accessible to expressions making this the most powerful text tool in the business.

Paint and Clone:

After Effects 6.0 has a vastly improved vector paint tool. The palettes only tell part of the story. Painting and Cloning take place in the Footage window, not the Comp window and each stroke or clone can be animated to write on, stay constant, appear on a single frame or stay for a custom number of frames. You may paint or clone on RGB, RGBA or Alpha Channels. A Photoshop style brush palette makes easy work of selecting or customizing brushes. Custom brushes can be saved for future projects.

After Effects Professional:

New and improved motion tracking highlight the Professional version of After Effects. The tracker was redesigned from the ground up. It is much faster and much more accurate. You can now track an unlimited number of points or use the standard single point, two point, or corner pin tracking options. Tracker controls are now accessible as a palette and the VCR type controls allow tracking in forward or reverse from any point in the timeline. Unlike previous versions of After Effects, tracker options are preset to values that will accurately track most footage. The tracker is available from any footage window. I can't tell you how much this tool has improved. I haven't used Combustion to track a single shot since I have started using it.

Another great addition to After Effects Professional is the Keylight plug-in. Keylight is one of the most powerful and easy to use keyers available. With just a single click I was able to pull a nearly perfect key from the DV footage below. Did you notice the masks? That's another powerful new feature in After Effects 6.0. It's called Auto-trace. You can now automatically create animated masks that follow the alpha channel of any layer. The accuracy is simply amazing and it's very quick.


I've just barely scratched the surface. Other notable improvements include:

  • New 24PA pulldown for 24 frame progressive cameras
  • Masks and effects can be applied directly to continuously rasterized Illustrator files
  • Masks can be applied to Luminescent premultiplied layers
  • Save and apply Effects Favorites is easier and faster
  • Graph lines in Timeline window are now color coded and available for x, y, and z axis
  • The duration between any two keyframes can be set in the info palette
  • Expanded output options
  • Scripting for automating repetitive tasks and rendering with the After Effects Professional
  • Place holders for missing effects - no more busted projects
  • RotoBezier masks make precise roto work easier and faster
  • Solid layers now included in Project Window
  • Send the Timeline, Project, Project Flow Chart, and Render Queue to your printer
  • Photoshop's Liquefy tool adapted to After Effects 6.0

By the time After Effects is shipping there will be several new free tutorials here at Creative Cow showing you how to use these exciting new tools. They did it again. They did it again. This is a must have upgrade. If you haven't got After Effects yet and you want to do motion graphics and visual effects, now is the time.

I give After Effects 6.0 five cows. This is a must have upgrade. Improvements in the render pipeline and the text tools are well worth the price of the upgrade. Stability is excellent, open GL speeds up your workflow, and scripting support and new effects available in the Professional version give Adobe After Effects 6.0 a huge edge over the competition. If you're a Video Pro you must have AE 6.0.

Rick Gerard

More information and system requirements are available at Adobe.com.

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