Software review: After Effects CS6
Christopher Kenworthy says that, with speed improvements and raytracing, this update to Adobe’s VFX tool exceeds expectations. See if you agree…
PRICE: £834 / $999 / €1,149 | UPGRADE FROM: £135 / $175 / €175
PLATFORM: Windows / Mac OS X
- Motion graphics, compositing and visual effects
- Keyframe animation
- Typography for motion designers
- Colour correction
AFTER EFFECTS CS6 REVIEW
For the creation of complex visual effects or motion graphics, After Effects CS6 aims to be a complete solution for the desktop video artist. With 3D text and camera tracking introduced and mask feathering revamped in this release, you can complete complex FX work without ever leaving the application.
With effects plug-ins from companies such as Genarts, Red Giant and Boris, After Effects has always been open to expansion from third-party products. Although that remains true, this release attempts to solve a lot of problems in-house.
There are many features, such as the import of XML projects from Final Cut Pro, that once required a third-party plug-in. Now, with 3D raytraced text and 3D camera tracking, there’s less need for plug-ins and rarely a need to launch a separate application.
The new raytracing engine makes it easy to extrude 3D shapes and text, with control of reflections and transparency
One exception is the Mocha AE interface for 2D planar tracking, but at least this now launches directly from After Effects itself. Mocha automates shape tracking and rotoscoping in moving shots, and although it’s largely unchanged from the previous release, it remains powerful.
One of the most impressive new features is the 3D camera tracker, which enables you to place 2D objects in 3D footage, making them appear to be part of the filmed environment.
This sort of technology usually requires a separate, expensive application, so it’s surprising to see what an accomplished job After Effects can do.
Even when using footage with no tracking markers, it analyses and solves in the background with remarkable speed. You’re then presented with a screen containing various potential tracking points. Select one and you see a circular overlay showing the orientation of the plane you’re selecting. This means you can quickly find a track that matches the feature to which you want to attach your null, solid or text.
A once-complex process is made easy by relying on the user’s eye to pick a plane that looks right. This approach creates almost flawless tracks, with cameras and objects placed with a single click. Although this works automatically, you can define initial tracking points manually for greater accuracy.
This release has a strong emphasis on 3D, with extruded text and shapes being rendered by the built-in raytracing engine. You can import Illustrator shapes, make changes directly in After Effects (saving a lot of time), then extrude a 3D layer.
Add lights and change the material options to include reflections or transparency, and in a few clicks you’ve got a raytraced object.The process is the same for text, with all material options being fully animatable.
The only drawback is that the raytracing engine is slow, and any reduction in preview quality makes it difficult to see what changes you’re making. Raytracing is workable on a fast system, but if you’re using a standard iMac, for example, you might be tempted to use the Boris FX Continuum Complete text plug-ins to achieve the same effect in less time.
Perhaps because the raytracer is so demanding of the processor, Adobe has gone to great lengths to make After Effects faster and more responsive. The Global Performance Cache is a set of technologies that squeeze every drop of power from your system, but it does take some manual configuration to get the most out of this. Unless you assign 2GB of RAM to each processor and set up a fast disk cache, you won’t feel the benefits of the changes.
The materials of extruded 3D shapes and text can be animated over time
With a proper set-up, though, the application immediately feels more snappy. More importantly, the Global RAM Cache enables background rendering of the workspace while you continue to make changes. This can be a huge time-saver, as can the frame caching system that enables you to undo changes without having to re-render.
Equally impressive is the persistent disk cache, which stores rendered frames even when you close a project or shut down. When working across multiple projects, the ability to reopen a project without having to render means you’ll rarely have an excuse to get an extra cup of coffee. The new graphics pipeline also gives masks and bounding boxes a much more fluid appearance and makes them easier to work with. The change is not huge, but it takes away some of the frustrating visual lag that was present in the previous release.
The revamped Mask Feather tool is a long wished-for and intuitive way of drawing feathering onto a mask. You click and drag as many points as you need, dragging outside the mask to widen the feather, and inside to shrink it. The feathering can be animated along with the mask. There are countless everyday tasks where variable feathering feels so necessary it’s difficult to believe it wasn’t present several releases ago. This release of After Effects is strong on visual, intuitive tools, and mask feathering is no exception. You can learn how to do the task in a few minutes.
The Mask Feathering tool gives you intuitive control over the width of a mask
Rolling Shutter Repair is a welcome addition to the After Effects arsenal, given how much footage is currently shot with CMOS sensors, which can result in a wavy look during pans or when objects move. This is especially noticeable on stabilised footage. Rolling Shutter Repair goes some way towards solving minor problems, but in more extreme shots you’ll need to make manual adjustments throughout a shot to get the best results.
The Cycore FX HD plug-ins have been updated to 16 bit, which offers a noticeable visual improvement, but many of these plug-ins feel a little dated and have limited potential. The inclusion of new effects such as Snow seems less of a practicality than a way of padding out the marketing materials, but given the overall strength of the release this is a minor complaint.
After Effects CS6 is a strong update, with 3D raytracing and camera tracking being the most worthy additions, while mask feathering is an improvement that’s long overdue. The speed improvements are welcome but do require a powerful system with an excess of RAM for you to feel the full benefits. For users of previous versions, this is an unmissable upgrade, while for new users, this is as complete a compositing and FX suite as you could hope for, offering outstanding value for money.
- Excellent camera tracking
- Easy mask feathering
- Improved speed
- Requires fast system
- Raytracing is slow
With 3D camera tracking, feathered masks and raytracing, you never have to leave After Effects CS6 to finish a complex job
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Kenworthy is a writer and director based in Australia, and is the author of the best-selling Master Shots books. He’s worked on countless visual effects shots and sequences
on Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 at 3:26 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: After Effects CS6, Software review