After Effects CS4
A quick tour of the new features that will be of interest to motion graphics artists.
By Chris and Trish Meyer | September 23, 2008
Adobe has announced their Creative Suite 4, in which they have aligned the schedules of virtually all of their products to be updated at the same time. One of these programs is, of course, After Effects, which we have based our business around since its release in 1992. As a result, we obviously go over each new release with a fine-tooth comb, looking for which new features will make our lives easier, will give us new looks, and which may open up new avenues of business for us. That last point has become particularly interesting in light of Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia, plus their focus on integrating functionality across the various programs in the Creative Suite.
In this article, we will give a brief overview of many of those new features. In addition to articles up here on ProVideoCoalition, there are several other places where you can glean additional information:
- Later Tuesday afternoon (the 23rd), Adobe will be placing the"live help" file for After Effects CS4 online. When it is up, you can access the entire Help file by clicking here, and search for features of specific interest. Click here to jump straight to the New Features page; click here to jump straight to the page that describes changes in the User Interface between CS3 and CS4.
- We've created an hour of video training on using the new features in AE CS4 for lynda.com's Online Training Library. The course is called After Effects CS4: New Creative Techniques; when it goes live, it can be found here. Two of the movies are scheduled to go online at the same time as the CS4 announcement; the remaining ten will go live once CS4 ships. lynda.com will also be posting New Feature previews for Illustrator CS4, Flash CS4, and Photoshop CS4, plus full courses for the new features in Fireworks CS4, Soundbooth CS4, and Dreamweaver CS4 (these last three are available as public betas from the Adobe Labs web site.) If you don't already have a yynda.com subscription, you can get a free all-access 7-day trial on us by clicking here.
- We've also written an article about the new features in AE CS4 for Focal Press, which appears at www.CMG4CS4.com. That article also outlines our plans for our books in relation to CS4.
On to our hit list of interesting new features in AE CS4:
Let's get the most obvious feature out of the way first. After a major overhaul in CS3, the UI has gotten some additional tweaks in CS4. It's darker, it's tighter (fewer rounded corners), some of the objects are smaller (be still, shaking mouse hand), some UI names are shorter (while other names are longer - for example, character limits on comp and layer names as well as many other items have now been lifted), selected layer bars have texture again, the Render Queue is a lot more space-efficient, and so forth. There are other nice tweaks as well, such as Layer and Comp markers finally having parity in regards to features, and markers can now have a duration (illustrated as a thin bar extending away from the marker, underneath its text). There are also a few gotchas, such as the shortcut to open Interpret Footage having changed (at least we got a new button for it along the bottom of the Project panel), and some tweaks in the way you open nested comps.
But those are just surface details. There are a couple of new elements in the UI which will make a big difference in your daily life inside After Effects: the new QuickSearch fields, and the new Composition Navigator plus Mini-Flowchart.
The Project and Timeline panels now have dedicated search dialogs. These make it easy to isolate specific elements based on their name, file type, duration, parameter name, comment, and so forth. This will be a big boon in particular for large and/or disorganized projects.
In addition to the QuickSearch dialogs in the Project and Timeline panels, there is also a dedicated search dialog for the Help file, and (in the Splash screen) for the Tips of the Day. By the way, you really will want an Internet connection active while using After Effects; the online help files (discussed in the intro) are far more extensive than those that are installed on your drive, plus have links to information outside of Adobe's web site. If you have web access, After Effects will use the online version. A big tip of the hat to Todd Kopriva for spearheading an effort to make Help much more...well, helpful!
Composition Navigator and Mini-Flowchart
As mentioned above, navigating complex projects can quickly become confusing. After Effects CS4 has two tools to help make this easier.
The first is the Composition Navigator. Along the top of the Composition panel, you will now see a chain of composition names, including the one you currently have selected, one that flows into the current comp (the most recently-used or otherwise most "important" comp, if you have more than one nested in the current comp), and the next comp in the chain that the current one feeds. Click on their names to quickly switch between them.
But what if you have a more complex project hierarchy than "A flows into B flows into C"? That's where the pop-up Mini-Flowchart comes in. Click on the arrow to the right of a comp's name in the Comp Navigator, or merely tap Shift with the Comp panel forward, and you will get a more detailed diagram that shows the entire chain, including cases where one comp flows into several and vice versa. We see this being particularly handy late at night, on deadline, when the client has asked for a "minor" change in a complicated project - you can quickly see just who is connected to whom.
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