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Software Review: Adobe Master Collection –- After Effects CS5 from Adobe Systems

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This is the eighth of a series of reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Creative Suite 5 (CS5) Master Collection. When Adobe released CS5 this year, they not only will release single version products, but also five separate suites of products. They are Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Production Premium, and Master Collection. You can go online to compare what is contained in each version. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table.

After Effects CS5

Adobe After Effects is a digital motion graphics and compositing software that is published by Adobe Systems. It can be used in both film and video post-production. It uses a system of layers organized on a timeline to create composites from still images and motion footage such as from video files.

It has become the industry standard for visual effects and motion graphics software. You can find imagery created in After Effects in everything from motion pictures, to cell phones, to websites. Now After Effects CS5 is packed with even more features aimed to make you more productive.

So what is new with After Effects CS5?
• Native 64-bit application – means that After Effects CS5 gives you numerous advantages, including the ability to fully use your computer’s memory for dramatic improvements when working on high-resolution projects. This means that with Native 64-bit OS support in After Effects CS5, you can work on ever-higher-resolution projects with more confidence. It also means that After Effects CS5 can access all of your computer’s available RAM and with After Effects CS5 running on a 64-bit operating system with 32GB of RAM, you can preview a 30-second HD comp at full resolution and at 32 bpc. This enables you to preview your entire composition at maximum fidelity without interruption.

• Roto Brush – gives you the ability to easily separate a foreground object, like an actor, from its current live action background so that it may be placed in a completely new environment. The Roto Brush provides a fast, efficient solution for isolating these foreground elements in complex scenes. In the past, this kind of work was time-consuming and expensive, and as a result, the technique was often reserved for big-budget projects. Once you’ve defined the foreground and background areas, you can control the quality of the edges between the two using options for smoothing, feathering, or choking (spreading inside or outside of the original edge). This gives you the ability to isolate elements for targeted color enhancement or placing design elements such as text or logos between actors and their backgrounds.

After Effects CS5

• Mocha for After Effects – is an updated release of mocha that includes the ability to apply motion tracking to hand-drawn masks, which is a significant time-saver. In addition, motion-blurred or semitransparent areas are easily handled with new support for variable-width mask feathers. And like After Effects CS5, mocha for After Effects CS5 is a native 64-bit application. Included for the first time in After Effects CS5, the mocha shape plug-in enables you to copy and paste multiple motion-tracked masks from mocha to any After Effects layer, fully preserving all their qualities, including any variable-width mask feather settings. This is particularly useful for shots that contain camera movements or moving objects that require masking

• AVC-Intra support – now includes native support for the new AVC-Intra 50 and AVC-Intra 100 codecs, as well as expanded native support for footage from RED cameras. AVC-Intra is used by high-quality Panasonic cameras like the AJ-HPX300, AJ-HPX3700 VariCam, and AJ-HPX2700 VariCam, as well as recorders like the AJ-HPM110. According to Panasonic documents, AVC-Intra 100 is the highest recording quality available in a one-piece camcorder. After Effects CS5, provides full native support for RED R3D files, allowing you to import them directly without transcoding, rewrapping, or installing additional software.

After Effects CS5

• Auto-keyframe mode – gives you an automatic way to begin keyframing your animations. When Auto-keyframe mode is on, modifying a property automatically turns its stopwatch on and adds a keyframe at the current time. This prevents you from working with a layer’s properties only to realize later that After Effects did not capture any of your changes. Parameters that can be automatically keyframed include position, rotation, shape properties, mask properties, effect point controls, and camera manipulation.

• Refine Matte effect – and dozens of other enhancements that while individually these changes may seem subtle, collectively they make the day-in and day-out experience of working with After Effects smoother and more intuitive. Some of these include options that allow you to align layers to a composition’s boundaries, support for Photoshop adjustment layer types, including Selective Color, Black & White, and Vibrance, option for per-character 3D text animation that allows each character to orient toward the camera around its own anchor point, further enhancing the illusion of 3D, the ability to import layered PSD files, and many more.

• Color Look-up Table (LUTs) – support makes it possible, for example, to receive from a film output facility a custom LUT that reflects the specific color correction they are performing on a project, and simulate within After Effects what the result would look like on a specific piece of footage or final composite. You can also use this new feature to predict how your images will look through an unusual output chain such as displaying through a certain projector at a trade show or site-specific installation.

• Color Finesse 3 LE – is an updated version of one of the most powerful desktop color correction tools available: Synthetic Aperture’s Color Finesse 3 LE. (Color Finesse has a user interface that is English only.) The latest release of this versatile tool introduces numerous refinements, providing you with new ways to perfect your images.

• Work with collaborative – online services to enhance your workflow on large After Effects projects by accessing Adobe CS Live online services, available separately, including Adobe Story, Adobe CS Review, and Acrobat.com

After EffectsCS5

Adobe After Effects has been on a trajectory to be the best in video production and motion graphics. With the release of CS5, that trajectory is aimed even higher. The move to 64-bit and the native RED file support are worth the upgrade alone. The addition of all the Roto-Brush tool, the auto keyframe mode, mocha, and all of the other improvements are just icing on the cake.

Adobe After Effects CS5 will prove to be a critical upgrade just for the speed and productivity boost that it will bring. If you are a current user of Adobe After Effects CS4 or earlier, this is a great time to upgrade. If you are thinking of moving to After Effects or just getting into it, now is the time to jump. I very highly recommend Adobe After Effects CS5

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.