Glenn Reynolds' Army of Davids thesis implies that technology has allowed the masses access to information resources that, up until a decade or so go, only elites controlled. In the past, owning a recording studio was a serious capital investment, a television station or film studio even more so. However today, the underlying technologies that drive the "information factories" of the past are simply a matter of combining the right software with sufficiently powerful computers, and then harnessing the Web to distribute your product.
Adobe's Creative Suite products, which include Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects and several others, have long powered a lot of multimedia projects, ranging from Hollywood TV series to online videos. This fall, the Creative Suites products received their latest facelift as part of Adobe's CS4 line, so let's take a look at what's new. (Note: This review was based on the Beta version of these products, so we couldn't test all of the new functionality that Adobe is promising. Released versions may well have slight difference from the descriptions that follow.)
Premiere Pro CS4
First released in 1991 and updated innumerable times since, Adobe's Premiere Pro serves as the timeline to assemble and edit raw video, add shots processed in After Effects or chromakey programs such as Adobe's Ultra, as well as still images manipulated in Photoshop.
Many sessions in Premiere Pro begin with capturing video shot on camcorders. While DV and HDV cassettes have revolutionized camcorders, their one drawback has been the need to port their data into the computer in real time. So if you've shot an hour of raw footage, after plugging the video camera into the PC, you loose another hour of time waiting for the footage to be captured. While Premiere Pro CS4 can still capture DV tape footage in real time, it incorporates two newer capture methods to speed up the process.
The first is Premiere Pro's support of MTS files, the file format used in Sony's hard-disk-based HD-handycams (a very popular format amongst renegade online TV networks, incidentally). Simply plug in your Sony hard disk camcorder via USB, create a folder to hold the files you've recorded, drag and drop them into the new folder, import them into CS4, and then start editing.
While an increasing number of new camcorders use hard drives as their recording platform, the second new input feature of CS4 turns many older camcorders into de facto hard-drive-based cameras. Adobe's On Location CS4 (based on a program developed a few years ago by Serious Magic, which Adobe acquired in 2006) allows a camcorder to be plugged into a PC via FireWire and then record directly to the computer's hard disk.
Unless you've got an assistant running very close behind you with a laptop, this probably isn't all that useful a feature for run-and-gun location shooting, but for quickly getting a video shot in the studio (even if your studio is a basement or garage) up to YouTube, it's tough to beat. It can also provide a better sense of how a shot will look on a computer monitor, as opposed to a camera's viewfinder.
Of course, once the footage is loaded into Premiere, it's time to edit it. As Stanley Kubrick once said, "If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit." And while all of the existing editing tools of Premiere are still here, they're joined by several new features and added flexibility.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing features of Premiere Pro CS4 — made even more so because we weren't able to experiment with it in the beta version we tested — was the ability search and transcribe speech recorded in a clip.
Premiere Pro CS4 finally allows for titles to be imported into Adobe After Effects for sophisticated animation. As far as rendering the completed output, compared with earlier versions, the rendering menu within Premiere Pro CS4 has been greatly expanded, with a greater emphasis on both high definition (including Blu-Ray) and Web-oriented outputs.
Photoshop And After Effects CS4
The CS4 version of Photoshop has been updated with several new features; perhaps the most intriguing of which is its new 3D shapes feature, which will morph any photo around a variety of 3D shapes, including squares, globes, pyramids — even wine bottles! Whether it's manipulating still photos or combining them with the digital effects possible in video programs such Premiere and After Effects, it seems safe to say that this feature will get quite a workout in years to come.
Speaking of After Effects, which is to video what Photoshop is to still photos, has its share of new 3D effects as well. There are several new 3D plug-ins for text animation in the Adobe Bridge (which provides a list of presets and ties all of the CS4 products together), and the motion tracking feature has been significantly upgraded. Viral election year videos employ a variety of simple motion tracking effects, and the new edition of After Effects can do this and more with ease.
A few years ago, a large brokerage house created a minor splash by digitally overlaying a cartoon effect on their commercials. Since then, a number of plug-in manufacturers have produced third-party products that produce this effect, but it's now built into After Effects CS4, along with several other new filters.
As I said, this review was based on a first glimpse of the beta version of these Adobe products, and there are several others within the CS4 lineup we haven't reviewed yet. Watch for a follow-up, after we put the final versions of these powerful applications through their paces.
If you find the multimedia content on the Web becoming richer and looking more detailed, it won't be a coincidence, as the tools available to shape them continue to become more powerful.