Adobe Systems After Effects CS4

The combination of powerful motion and graphics toolsets –- along with a relatively low price –- has made After Effects the most popular compositing software on the market.

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Adobe Systems After Effects CS4
  • Adobe Systems After Effects CS4
  • Adobe Systems After Effects CS4
  • Adobe Systems After Effects CS4
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Innovative search function, improved 3-D navigation, bundled Mocha tracker

Cons

  • Lacks 64-bit version and flowchart

Bottom Line

After Effects CS4’s new tools are all welcome additions, but we were expecting more from the new release.

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The combination of powerful motion and graphics toolsets — along with A relatively low price — has made After Effects the most popular compositing software on the market. The CS4 version is still the best application available for high-end motion-graphics work and low- to mid-range visual effects, and the upgrade adds some useful tools — but it would have been great if Adobe had given it a more fundamental overhaul.

There are two major advantages that more expensive tools such as Eyeon’s Fusion and The Foundry’s increasingly popular Nuke have over After Effects — they both have full-on nodal flowcharts, and 64-bit versions of each is available.

AE is the tool that would have benefited most from extra RAM (though Lightroom comes a close second), so the introduction of Photoshop as the only 64-bit CS4 product was odd. Having access to more than 3GB RAM would improve the length of RAM previews and improve performance overall when dealing with HD comps.

Instead, Adobe has added controls that improve memory management. Another improvement that seems a little like a cop-out is the Mini-Flowchart. This is a pop-out window that shows how nested compositions sit within each other, making them easier to use. The nested compositions system is very useful for creating multiple versions of the same comp, or re-using elements. However, it’s also a reminder that AE lacks a full nodal compositing system. Being able to see how your effects are built in a flowchart makes creating and modifying complex effects easier.

To the list of what AE CS4 lacks, we could also add background rendering — for which you have to buy GridIron Software’s $US395 Nucleo Pro 2 plug-in — and a colour swatch and picker system like Illustrator’s.

One of AE’s core strengths over the competition is its timeline, which makes timing the motion of graphics (or VFX) elements easier and quicker than in other tools. It can get messy, though, when you’re creating complex effects — so the CS4 version adds a Search tool that shows only parameters that match what you type. It updates automatically as you type, so if you wanted to see the position parameters for your layers and elements, you’d only need to type ‘po’ or ‘pos’ to see them.

Once you’ve isolated your position parameters like this, it’s easier to match motions or take them into the Graph Editor for fine-tuning.

The search facility is also available in the Projects panel (to help with searching through complex projects) and the Effects and Presets panel, which is great if you can’t remember where the effect you want is.

AE’s 3D engine gains the Unified Camera tool for orbiting, moving and zooming using the same tool (by holding down left, middle or right mouse buttons). It’s tricky to master but fast to use when you do — though you do need a good mouse where you can middle-click without moving the scroll wheel. You can import Photoshop CS4’s 3-D compositions and roundtrip edit them — but we would have preferred the ability to directly import 3-D models, as with Boris Blue.

Only three new filters have been added: Bilateral Blur, Cartoon and Turbulent Noise. Bilateral Blur works as advertised, blurring flat areas while leaving edges intact. Cartoon is the ubiquitous A Scanner Darkly-style effect, which creates a more appealing look than most, but its output isn’t as crisp as Red Giant Software’s ToonIt. Turbulent Noise is like the old Fractal Noise filter, but with OpenGL enhancement. AE has a huge number of filters, so we don’t think the addition of just three is a point against this upgrade.

Adobe has bundled Imagineer Software’s Mocha-AE 2.5D tracking application, which has been updated to allow copy-and-paste of tracking data from Mocha to AE. However, this is still fiddly to use, and incorporating Mocha technology into AE’s built-in tracker would have been better.

Other additions include separate keyframing of X, Y and Z position parameters in 3-D space, better metadata support and full project export to Flash in the new XFL format.

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