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Upgrading to After Effects CS5.5?

A quick review of what's changed in recent versions

By Chris and Trish Meyer | August 09, 2011

As Adobe and their various vendors have been offering a variety of discounts and incentives this year (as well as floating the idea that you'll need to own at least CS5 to get discounted upgrade pricing on the next Creative Suite), we're guessing a lot of After Effects users who have been getting by with older versions may be thinking about upgrading.

To help inform your potential upgrade decision and ease the subsequent transition, we thought it would be helpful to round up some resources - many free; some costing just a nominal sum - that explain what's changed between versions. In addition to links to relevant articles and reviews, we're including a selection of free videos from relevant courses on (if you have trouble playing any of them, reload the page); if you don't already have a subscription to watch the rest of the courses, click through this link to get a 7 day free pass to evaluate these courses and others as part of your potential new subscription.

We're going to assume you have at least After Effects CS3, which was released in 2007. We'll give an overview of major changes in CS4, CS5, and CS5.5 in each of these three pages.

After Effects CS4

Here is a quick video introduction to the big new features (at least, as far as we're concerned) in After Effects CS4:

Overview of New Features in After Effects CS4

Major changes in this version included an updated user interface (darker and more compact in places) with QuickSearch dialogs for the Project and Timeline panels, a Composition Navigator and Mini-Flowchart to help navigate a hierarchy of nested compositions more quickly, three new effects (Cartoon, Bilateral Blur, and Turbulent Noise) along with the OpenGL-accelerated Pixel Blender toolkit for those who want to build their own effects, the bundling of Imaginer Systems' powerful mocha 2.5D planar tracker, the ability to import Photoshop 3D Layers or export an After Effects composition to Adobe Flash, improved mobile media authoring support, the oft-requested ability to separate XYZ position parameters for more nuanced animation control, and many small improvements such as a new Wiggle Transform operator for Shape layers (click here for a video tutorial elsewhere on PVC). On the potential downside for Mac users, AE CS4 was the first version that would no longer run on PowerPC Macs.

For more comprehensive coverage of these features, check out:

A big under-the-hood feature in After Effects CS4 was support for "new" (actually, old but correct) pixel aspect ratios for non-square-pixel standard definition footage and compositions. This caused a great deal of consternation when introduced. To try to tamp down the fear, we created a quick overview video on the subject:

The New Pixel Aspect Ratios

(For the tech heads, we also followed this up with an in-depth article here on PVC on the subject of pixel aspect ratios.)

Perhaps one of the most maligned new features in CS4 was the addition of a Cartoon effect. Intended as a technology demonstration of what Pixel Bender could do, many users were already burned out on this look-of-the-day, plus the default settings did not yield very pleasing results. Here is a video tutorial that shows you how to go beyond the defaults and get some more interesting looks:

The Cartoon Effect

next page: After Effects CS5

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Rob: | August, 09, 2011

The outro_bumper_16x9.flv file gives an error: “Video not found or access denied.”

Chris Meyer: | August, 09, 2011

I get that too, when the page does not load completely. Reload the page, and it should work fine (does for me).

Rob: | August, 09, 2011

Right. I just discovered that after playing any single video, I have to reload the page and then the next video will play.

Thanks for sharing these.

Todd_Kopriva: | August, 12, 2011

The link to the official page of CS4 changes points to the CS5 changes.

Here’s the best page to point to for CS4 changes:

Chris Meyer: | August, 12, 2011

Good catch (as always), Todd; now fixed in the article.

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