Monday , October 2 2023

Virtual Adobe MAX: New Reality, New Features, Virtual Done Right by Adobe

When you turn on your computer and receive the message “Fifteen updates available from Adobe,” you know it must be time for Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX, the annual conference for Adobe software users, influencers, partners, and team members, went virtual this year, October 20-22. Unlike other virtual events, which at best were sad shadows of their IRL selves, Adobe MAX knocked it out of the park. Already suffering Zoom fatigue, I did not expect to be overwhelmed and seduced into spending 10 to 12 hours per day for three days in front of my computer watching presentations and classes about Adobe Creative Cloud. But it happened. What was different?

All Together Now

MAX lived up to this year’s theme, “All Together Now,” both in the depth of learning provided and in its unusual reach.


Binge-watching creativity can keep you more engaged than watching zombies or stranger things. Adobe provided two types of presentations. Live, celebrity-infused events promoted new features and demonstrated the tools in action. Classes provided the classic how-to instruction you would expect from a company whose tools make everything from that meme you laughed at this morning to your favorite blockbuster movie.

This MAX was also different in that it ran around the clock, with translations and subtitles in French, German and Japanese. I began the last day of the conference by watching the closing presentation of the European version of the event, which featured Wes Anderson explaining his process for making movies. Live versions of MAX often had events in front of several thousand people in an auditorium. Over 30,000 people watched Wes Anderson.

Other celebrities making appearances included Chelsea Handler, Nick Offerman, Taika Waititi, Miranda July, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, and Ava DuVernay. From the world of music, participants included Marshmello and Tyler the Creator.

Director Wes Anderson preparing a shot for stop motion

The classes often included sample files and workbooks, and repeated multiple times. During the three days I only had one “Wait, I’ve already seen this” moment. When that happened, there were more than half a dozen other options to jump to. And unlike during live versions, there was no need to figure out the location of the new room and run to the other end of the convention center. People not having to navigate between rooms allowed Adobe to pack more classes into every hour, starting just minutes apart.

Do I want MAX to be live again next year? Definitely. But Adobe has set a new standard for taking an event to the ether.

New Creativity

Adobe described its current slate of innovations, some of which will still be in beta after the conference, as falling into four areas: Disrupt Creative Learning, Accelerate Team Creativity, Expand Mobile Creativity, and Unleash New Forms of Creation. Adobe’s machine learning and artificial intelligence engine, called Adobe Sensei, plays a large part in all of these. And, perhaps most important in the new world of deep fakes, Adobe has launched a content authentication initiative.

Disrupt Creative Learning

We often think of “disrupt” as being negative. But it also means “to interrupt the normal course or unity of.” That can be a good thing. Adobe’s products tend to have a steep learning curve. Innovations introduced at MAX disrupt the traditional learning paradigm which separates learning and doing by integrating more learning experiences into their apps.


They go way beyond the traditional help button or menu. Adobe provides in-app tutorials and lessons focused on specific features, even specific buttons, to make learning an integrated piece of the Creative Cloud experience. Beyond that, they have expanded opportunities to interact online with other users. Their Generation Create page provides inspiration for students and young creatives, and they have created opportunities for educators to learn and take advantage of online resources.

Creative Teamwork

Adobe’s team and mobile creativity initiatives, accelerated I suspect by the social isolation of this year, make it easier for creatives to work at a distance and to work anywhere. They have introduced versioning. This lets users explore options or variations on a creative project without worrying about messing something up and being unable to get back to where they started.

Adobe has made Libraries, collection of elements such as standard illustrations, color palettes, or logos, more accessible across more of their applications. They have also extended access to these to more third-party apps and made Library APIs available to developers.

iPads and iPhones received new apps and features from Adobe

Get inspired while sitting in Starbucks? More Adobe apps have made debuts on iPads and iPhones. Plus, no matter what your choice of mobile electronics, they have made it easier through syncing to the cloud to move between working on mobile and desktop. The capabilities of mobile apps such as Photoshop Camera and Premiere Rush would, a few years back, have only been available on dedicated graphics workstations.

New Forms

This is where Adobe Sensei takes you by the hand. Photoshop and portrait touch-up go hand-in-hand. During the opening ceremony, late-night host Conan O’Brien volunteered his face for Sensei transformation. Through a new age feature, participants saw Conan’s face transformed to look 30 years younger, then, 30 years older. Conan commented, “How did Sensei know I didn’t plan to take care of my teeth?”

Conan O’Brien volunteered his face to be manipulated by Adobe

Sensei-powered features have worked their way into many Adobe apps. In Character Animator, speech-aware movement of animations has improved. In Adobe XD it helps transform 2D art to 3D. Separating actors from a background when there is no green screen has been a time-consuming tedious process. Sensei-powered Roto Brush 2 in Adobe After Effects makes this unbelievably easier.

My favorite Sensei trick occurs in Photoshop. For years, I have been saving photos I took of skies with the idea of using Photoshop to merge them into a future photo. Photoshop now has Sky Replacement. It identifies the sky and provides you with a selection of replacement skies, which you can move around for the perfect effect. You can also use your own sky photos. Not only does this tool replace the sky, it applies changes to light and shading in the rest of the photo based on the changed appearance of the sky. Is it perfect? No. But it is so good that I would not hesitate to give it a try. It will save me time, and I will now be able to use those old photos.

Is it Real?

Not two poses, but one pose changed by Adobe’s head turn filter

People ask: “Is it real or has it been Photoshopped?” They should probably ask that question more often on social media than they do. Adobe’s tools give creators such power that the phrase classically used to verify reality – “I’ve seen it with my own eyes” – no longer means anything online. To combat this problem, Adobe has started the Content Authenticity Initiative.

Soon, Adobe software products will incorporate tools that allow creatives to embed information into their work which will enable several things. Anyone can see the source of a piece of media and see how it was edited. If, for instance, a photo was created by combining parts of multiple photos, the originals can be viewed. The creator of the media can also embed their name in the work. Creators decide which of these details they will embed into the file. Once saved, the information is cryptographically protected from manipulation.

As part of the Content Authenticity Initiative, Adobe has reached out to major media organizations such as The New York Times, the BBC, Radio-Canada, and Twitter. By securing their cooperation, Adobe hopes to ensure that this embedded information becomes easily available across platforms.

The Tune Goes On

Adobe MAX is over for this year, but many of the speakers and classes can be seen for free online. Check the Creative Cloud website and Adobe’s social media on YouTube and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Adobe

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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