Just when you thought there was nothing more to add to After Effects, Adobe has crammed a large number of new features and enhancements into the CS4 release of its flagship visual effects and motion graphics software.

This major upgrade to After Effects CS4 lets you more easily search and navigate around your project, import 3D layers from Photoshop, fine tune your composites with separate X-, Y-, and Z-position keyframes, create a cel animation look from live footage, and export projects to open and edit inside Flash.

A new add-on program, now shipping with After Effects CS4, helps you track hard-to-manage shots.

Here's what to expect when After Effects CS4 arrives next month with the rest of Adobe's Creative Suite 4 (CS4) updates.

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) review

Production and authoring

Adobe has added much-needed production features to After Effects CS4, such as keyword-searchable timelines and projects and nested composition navigation. In keeping with the inter-application integration touted in the other CS4 updates, you can now export rich media from After Effects to Flash CS4 Professional while still retaining layer and keyframe data for further editing. (We'll talk more about integration with Flash below.)

Even better, After Effects CS4 improves asset management and copyright tracking by letting you add and maintain XMP metadata throughout your After Effects projects from start to final render.

After Effects CS4 also integrates mobile-device authoring into the workflow, complete with multi-device previews.

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) review

INDIVIDUAL CS4 APPS REVIEWED IN DETAIL:

Adobe InDesign CS4 review

Adobe Photoshop CS4 review

Adobe Illustrator CS4 review

Adobe After Effects CS4 review

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 review

Adobe Flash Professional CS4 review

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 review

Adobe InCopy CS4 review

Adobe Version Cue CS4 review

Adobe Contribute CS4 review

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 review

Adobe Fireworks CS4 review

THE SIX ADOBE CS4 SUITES REVIEWED:

Adobe CS4 Master Collection review

Adobe CS4 Production Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Premium review

NEXT PAGE: functionality

PLUS:

Just when you thought there was nothing more to add to After Effects, Adobe has crammed a large number of new features and enhancements into the CS4 release of its flagship visual effects and motion graphics software.

Functionality

More than just interface and workflow enhancements, Adobe has enhanced After Effect's core functionality. For example, you can now import 3-D layers created in Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended or apply effects such as distortion or other filters over time. Improved X-, Y- and Z- position keyframes give you better control of your 3-D project by letting you break out and manipulate each one independently.

Photoshop 3-D layers can now be imported and animated in After Effects CS4. The 3-D objects are imported as Photoshop layers but they still retain their full volumetric space - not just a 2-D snapshot from a predetermined angle from Photoshop. You can animate Cameras around them as well as any other 3-D layer in After Effects, but since the 3-D layer is still after all, a layer, effects like distortion or other filters can be applied to them over time.

Searching and navigating

After Effects CS4's new QuickSearch box lets you search for either keyword or file type on both the Project and Timeline panels. Even deeply nested files are now visible in the Project panel. Plus, the Timeline panel's QuickSearch reveals layer properties such as rotation or position at a glance.

After Effects CS4's new Composition Navigator shows you the Mini-Flowchart with the names of all the incoming (nested) compositions, as well as the outgoing (parent) compositions.

NEXT PAGE: production workflow

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) review

INDIVIDUAL CS4 APPS REVIEWED IN DETAIL:

Adobe InDesign CS4 review

Adobe Photoshop CS4 review

Adobe Illustrator CS4 review

Adobe After Effects CS4 review

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 review

Adobe Flash Professional CS4 review

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 review

Adobe InCopy CS4 review

Adobe Version Cue CS4 review

Adobe Contribute CS4 review

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 review

Adobe Fireworks CS4 review

THE SIX ADOBE CS4 SUITES REVIEWED:

Adobe CS4 Master Collection review

Adobe CS4 Production Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Premium review

PLUS:

Just when you thought there was nothing more to add to After Effects, Adobe has crammed a large number of new features and enhancements into the CS4 release of its flagship visual effects and motion graphics software.

Production workflow

If you're working in the 16:9 aspect ratio, there's a new 4:3 centre cut safe area visible (with the Title/Action Safe overlays) to help you focus on the centre for broadcast media production. A new Auto Resolution/Down Sample Factor menu item on the Composition panel only redraws visible pixels when you preview at any scale to save time and video card memory. You can now adjust RAM, multiprocessor, and OpenGL memory to take advantage of today's powerful, multicore Macs.

Cool and useful effects

Here are some of After Effects CS4's high profile new effects:

Cartoon Effect: This simulates the effect of cel painted animation to your live action video footage or animated compositions. Similar to a "watercolor" filter, it actually smooths and enhances the edges and soft gradients while ignoring minute details, leaving a smoother result.


Bilateral Blur Effect: Somewhat similar to a "Smart Blur" effect, the Bilateral Blur uses edge detection to preserve sharp edge details while further softening smooth surfaces with less contrast than what might be in the original footage.

Turbulent Noise Effect: This effect simulates clouds, fog, smoke, fire, light rays, plasma, and more. Using fractal-derived noise, it can create some stunning natural effects beyond the more common particle effects.

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) review

INDIVIDUAL CS4 APPS REVIEWED IN DETAIL:

Adobe InDesign CS4 review

Adobe Photoshop CS4 review

Adobe Illustrator CS4 review

Adobe After Effects CS4 review

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 review

Adobe Flash Professional CS4 review

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 review

Adobe InCopy CS4 review

Adobe Version Cue CS4 review

Adobe Contribute CS4 review

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 review

Adobe Fireworks CS4 review

THE SIX ADOBE CS4 SUITES REVIEWED:

Adobe CS4 Master Collection review

Adobe CS4 Production Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Premium review

NEXT PAGE: Flash integration

PLUS:

Just when you thought there was nothing more to add to After Effects, Adobe has crammed a large number of new features and enhancements into the CS4 release of its flagship visual effects and motion graphics software.

Flash integration

As mentioned above, After Effects CS4 boasts tighter integration with Flash. You can now export compositions as layer projects (XFL files) that you can then import into Flash CS4 Professional and edit with all their properties. FLV, PNG, and JPG source footage files need no further transcoding, and animated transformations such as scale, position, and rotation are preserved in the layers and can be further edited in Flash. Other media files and layers with attached effects are converted to Flash-compatible file types.

You can use scripting to embed the results of After Effects motion tracking, expressions, and keyframe assistants, into media you can then access in Flash.

Imagineer Mocha

Imagineer Systems' Mocha for After Effects is a stand-alone application that now ships with After Effects CS4. This powerful 2.5-D planar motion tracker works better than point-based trackers on problem footage - for example footage with objects moving out of frame or poor lighting conditions that show little detail, or excessive noise.

Mocha, a 2.5-D planar motion tracker, comes with After Effects CS4. The program's tracking data is imported back into After Effects and then applied to corner pin position data for accurate tracking. There is a learning curve for Mocha, but the results are amazing.

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) review

INDIVIDUAL CS4 APPS REVIEWED IN DETAIL:

Adobe InDesign CS4 review

Adobe Photoshop CS4 review

Adobe Illustrator CS4 review

Adobe After Effects CS4 review

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 review

Adobe Flash Professional CS4 review

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 review

Adobe InCopy CS4 review

Adobe Version Cue CS4 review

Adobe Contribute CS4 review

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 review

Adobe Fireworks CS4 review

THE SIX ADOBE CS4 SUITES REVIEWED:

Adobe CS4 Master Collection review

Adobe CS4 Production Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Premium review

NEXT PAGE: mobile device authoring

PLUS:

Just when you thought there was nothing more to add to After Effects, Adobe has crammed a large number of new features and enhancements into the CS4 release of its flagship visual effects and motion graphics software.

Mobile device authoring

It can be frustrating and time consuming to produce projects over and over again for each of the wide variety of mobile devices out there. That's why Adobe has improved the workflow between After Effects CS4 and Adobe Device Central CS4.

You can now preview several devices at a time in a multi-panel window so you can tell if your composition is going to work globally.

XMP metadata

You can control asset management and tracking, copyright and royalty management, and project management from source materials to the final product.

Song or image file copyrights, for example, can pass through the process and incorporate into the final composed video or Flash project. You can even preserve Marker metadata on a timeline from a project such that the rendered movie retains this data when imported back into After Effects CS4.

Macworld.com

See also: Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) review

INDIVIDUAL CS4 APPS REVIEWED IN DETAIL:

Adobe InDesign CS4 review

Adobe Photoshop CS4 review

Adobe Illustrator CS4 review

Adobe After Effects CS4 review

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 review

Adobe Flash Professional CS4 review

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 review

Adobe InCopy CS4 review

Adobe Version Cue CS4 review

Adobe Contribute CS4 review

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 review

Adobe Fireworks CS4 review

THE SIX ADOBE CS4 SUITES REVIEWED:

Adobe CS4 Master Collection review

Adobe CS4 Production Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Premium review

Adobe CS4 Web Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Standard review

Adobe CS4 Design Premium review

PLUS:

Adobe After Effects CS4: Specs

  • 1.5GHz or faster processor
  • Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (Service Pack 3 recommended) or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise with Service Pack 1 (certified for 32-bit Windows XP and 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1.3GB of available hard-disk space for installation, plus 2GB of space for optional content
  • additional free space required during installation (cannot install on flash-based storage devices)
  • 1,280x900 display with OpenGL 2.0–compatible graphics card
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • QuickTime 7.4.5 software required to use QuickTime features
  • broadband internet connection required for online services
  • 1.5GHz or faster processor
  • Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (Service Pack 3 recommended) or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise with Service Pack 1 (certified for 32-bit Windows XP and 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1.3GB of available hard-disk space for installation, plus 2GB of space for optional content
  • additional free space required during installation (cannot install on flash-based storage devices)
  • 1,280x900 display with OpenGL 2.0–compatible graphics card
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • QuickTime 7.4.5 software required to use QuickTime features
  • broadband internet connection required for online services

OUR VERDICT

After Effects CS4 represents one of the most significant and useful upgrades in recent history. The new version's interface now integrates more seamlessly than ever into the CS4 suite and is even easier to use on a Wacom Cintiq tablet, with less need for pull-down menus from the top menu bar. While available as a standalone product, After Effects CS4 also ships as part of Adobe's Production Premium and Master Collection suites.

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