Phil Price
Issue: August 1, 2007


PRODUCT: Adobe After Effects CS3


PRICE: Standalone is $999. Upgrade is $299.

- Tight integration with Photoshop, Illustrator and Encore, etc.

- Digital Puppeteer

- Better text animation in 3D space 

Adobe is finally shipping the much-anticipated Production Premium version of its CS3 Suite. I say much anticipated because it contains the programs that motion graphic designers, editors and compositors crave. Specifically After Effects and Premiere Pro CS3. Companion programs included in the bundle, like Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash, shipped months ago. But After Effects users have had to wait.

Sure, there have been beta versions available online and special deals that allowed users to get Photoshop and Illustrator in advance, but now you can get the whole bundle. The good news is that After Effects CS3 is full of new features and integration improvements. It's impossible to describe them all here, but I'll do my best to point out important developments and new features that make this a very exciting release.

Adobe has done away with the lower priced version and is now only offering After Effects CS3 Professional. The docked interface is similar to V.7, but more streamlined and more intuitive. It has been standardized across the other video-related programs like Premiere and Encore. It's different from the new interface in Photoshop CS3 and Illustrator CS3, but similar enough to make you feel comfortable. I particularly like the improvements in layer style compatibility between Photoshop and Illustrator. Drop shadows and other effects transfer much more smoothly.


The Puppet Tool allows you do exactly what it says: puppeteer digital objects. It's really a mesh warping tool but don't expect to go through a complex process of defining the mesh before warping it. The Puppet Tool automatically defines the mesh shape of an alpha channel and allows you to distort it by placing Push Pins (like thumbtacks) into the object, then you can keyframe the Pins to animate them individually. Moving a single Push Pin initiates surprisingly fluid movement across the entire puppet. If a part of the object moves too much or unnaturally, you can use the Puppet Starch tool to hold areas in place so they move less, or not at all. This feature has great potential in the hands of good character animators, but will also allow less skilled animators to bring objects to life.


Animations based on vector graphics are a mainstay of all types of production. Usually, motion graphics artists create these vector elements in programs like Illustrator and animate them inside After Effects or Flash. Now you can create shape layers in After Effects and apply a whole new set of parameters to animate these vector graphics or splines, as they are known. Shape Layers can contain compound path shapes or grouped shapes. The options are endless when marrying and combining paths in Shape Layers. It doesn't support importing other vector graphics and converting them to shape layers, however. You can create vector shapes such as rounded rectangles, polygons and star shapes. They can also be used as masks. I created a simple star shape and animated the various parameters to create a hypnotically evolving array of shapes.


Motion graphic designers have manipulated text in myriad ways, but now have greater control than ever in expressing themselves through the use of text as a design element. Now you can combine the type layout precision of Photoshop and Illustrator with animation tools that provide control over how every line, word, character or range of characters will scale, rotate, move, fade, skew, change color, track, fade and blur. Plus, all of the lighting, shadows and depth you're used to in previous 3D layers are now available on each character of the text. It'll take time to figure out how to fully control the type, but After Effects CS3 ships with a selection of animation presets that will help you get started.


Most projects start with an exploration of possible ways to execute the assignment. Usually due to time and money, you can only explore a limited number of possibilities. Brainstorm's goal is to create variations on whatever effects, parameters and keyframes you've selected. Pictured (left) is a simple example of using Brainstorm to generate a range of possibilities for a possible background color for the composition of a woman climbing a wall. This is a simple example, but it works with most parameters. You can set the degree of randomness applied to get small or large variations.


After Effects CS3 is a great step forward in the evolution of the program. The previous version was a bit ho-hum in terms of new features, and many users didn't bother to upgrade. This time, however, it's a whole different story. The subtle integration with other CS3 programs and new features makes me rate it a strong buy. Standalone it costs $999 or $299 for the upgrade. It's bundled in the CS3 Production Premium package along with Premiere, Photoshop, Illustrator and other related programs at a discount. Brainstorm it!

Phil Price is Creative Director/Animator at Price Digital in Pelham, NY. He can be reached at: