PRODUCT: Adobe After Effects CS3
PRICE: Standalone is $999. Upgrade is $299.
integration with Photoshop, Illustrator and Encore, etc.
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.
PER CHARACTER 3D TEXT
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.
Phil Price is Creative Director/Animator at Price Digital in Pelham, NY. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.