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Adobe After Effects
After Effects 6 is faster, more powerful and a lot easier to use for
some jobs than V5 - and cheaper, too - but can it hold off the challenge
from Commotion and Combustion?
After Effects used
to have an easy life. Beneath it were the timeline editors, such as
Premiere, designed for everyday tasks, and above were the industrial-strength
compositing systems, such as Flame, that only big post-production houses
could afford. In between, nothing offered such powerful tools for the
money as After Effects.
But, over the last couple of years, After Effects has started to face
increasing competition. Pinnacle's Commotion has improved with successive
versions, even though it's still primarily a paint program. More of
a challenge has been Discreet's massive price cut of Combustion this
year, which has offered a smooth learning curve from desktop to facilities
house, albeit a steep one to begin with.
Considering the much greater competition, After Effects needed something
special to keep it ahead. Building on the 3D compositing added in version
5 - which was unique at the time in this price range - V6 completely
overhauls the rendering engine. This, plus a host of other improvements,
could be just what the venerable compositing tool needs to maintain
its number-one slot.
Up to speed
After Effects' updated rendering engine has come in the nick of
time. As with Combustion, After Effects' engine supports hardware OpenGL
acceleration, harnessing the power of the computer's graphics card to
make on-screen previews smoother, and preview renders quicker. Graphics
card support is limited, but does include most of the Nvidia and ATi
chipsets for desktop and laptop systems released in the last few years.
Also on the list are Matrox's pricey Parhelia, and 3Dlabs' professionally-oriented
Wildcat 4000, 7000 and VP cards.
However, processor power is still important, because the OpenGL acceleration
handles just the combining of elements in 3D space, and some related
effects such as lighting. Decoding video files and other such functions
are still performed by the CPU. On our dual-processor Athlon MP 2400+
system with Nvidia Quadro 4 graphics, screen redraw when compositing
was noticeably smoother than with After Effects 5.5 on the same system.
We also ran V6 on a less powerful, Athlon XP 2100+ single-processor,
system with Nvidia GeForce3 graphics, and found that performance was
almost as smooth. A 2GHz-plus Pentium 4 machine with a decent graphics
adapter should give similar results.
The benefit of all this is that there's no longer the need to work in
draft or wireframe mode when composing effects. It's still possible
to toggle the main compositing window between the various preview modes,
but hardware OpenGL will be the best option, except when working with
extremely high resolution clips such as film transfers.
So, has Adobe done enough with After Effects 6 to keep the top spot
secure? Although Commotion is still slightly superior for video painting
- with its larger range of brush tools - unless this is the primary
intended usage, After Effects' greater strengths in pretty much every
other area make it a far superior choice. The competition from Combustion
is a different story, especially since that supplies high-quality motion
tracking as standard, for a far lower price than After Effects Professional.
It also offers the lure of transferring skills learnt on a cheap PC
editing setup to Discreet's Flame and Inferno broadcast systems. But,
After Effects reaps the advantage of its Adobe heritage, as many of
the tools will already be familiar to users of the company's other products.
So, while there's no chance of After Effects ever being considered easy
to use, it's certainly more accessible than Combustion.
The final trick up Adobe's sleeve is the new Video Collection, which
bundles Premiere Pro, Audition (Adobe's new name for Cool Edit, purchased
in May 2003), and Encore DVD. The Professional Video Collection also
includes Photoshop. These cut-price bundles greatly boost the value
of After Effects.
With its OpenGL hardware acceleration and host of other productivity
and creativity enhancements, After Effects 6 is a must-have, and affordable,
upgrade for existing owners. Adobe has done it again. Combustion does
offer more power for less in some areas - especially for those compositing
3D animation footage created in 3ds max - but After Effects' overwhelming
array of creative tools will make it the better choice for most mainstream
desktop video compositing tasks.
Read the full review
in December 2003's Computer Video magazine.
Reviewed in this issue:
Adobe Premiere Pro 7
Adobe After Effects 6.0
Apple DVD Studio Pro 2
Pinnacle MovieBox USB
Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator
In December's news:
2003 Show report
Apple PowerBook overhaul
Pinnacle Edition relaunched
Avid FreeDV available for download
Pure Motion EditStudio 4 feature upgrade LaCie four-way external burner
Canopus's OHCI-friendly LetsEdit
LG five-way burner
Royalty-free music scores
Double recording time DVD discs