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What AE’s Still Missing… where to find it from third-party vendors.

By Chris and Trish Meyer | December 30, 2008

Text Limitations

Problem: Text animators in After Effects are fun, powerful and cool. But - why do the results still seem to fall short of what comes out of Apple's Motion or LiveType? Being very text-focused, this is probably one of our biggest complaints about After Effects.

Solution: There are two reasons: Per-character effects, and layering.

A lot of Motion's "look" is the ability to treat each character of a text animation in ways beyond simple scale, rotation, and opacity. After Effects did add per-character blur, but we still don't have per-character glow or shadows. The addition of per-character 3D in After Effects CS3 did, at least, provide a workaround for per-character drop shadows: Enable per-character 3D and Casts Shadows for the text layer, add a 3D light to the scene, then enable the light's Cast Shadows parameter as well, and the characters will now cast shadows upon one another (as well as other 3D layers behind them).

Two welcome enhancements to text in After Effects has been per-character blur (left) and per-character 3D, which enabled per-character drop shadows (right). But we're still not there yet...

Another part of Motion's "look" is that when you animate text in Motion, you're actually animating multiple copies of the text at once: it's fill, it's outline, a glow copy, and a shadow copy. Each of these can be animated per character as text cascades or glides in, and each of these animations may be offset to create some lovely staggered looks - such as the example below (which also contains some of those lovely Motion particles, along with Ultra Water footage from Artbeats). Someday we'll tackle creating an animation preset with expressions to recreate a similar stack in AE...but in the meantime, it's easier to just fire up Motion.

Motion's ability to animate copies of the original text makes it easy to create lovely, echoed effects.

There are other details missing in After Effects, such as the ability to fill text with gradients (no, not the ugly Power Point kind; gradients can also be used to create subtle faux lighting effects and the such). Yes, you can apply gradients using Layer Styles, but if you then use a text animator, the characters will move through the gradient rather than the gradient being attached to each character (this also happens with normal plug-in effects such as Roughen Edges - grrrrrrr...).

Color Correction

Problem: Why, oh why, doesn't After Effects have a 3-way color corrector built in? Virtually every other desktop video application out there does. We get so jealous when a discrete combustion operator pulls up that color correction tab...

Solution: Actually, After Effects does have a 3-way color corrector - it just doesn't look like one. It's the Color Correction > Color Balance effect, which offers individual controls over red, green, and blue in the shadows, midtones, and highlights. Yeah, it would be a lot nicer if these were hooked up to hue wheels rather than sliders...

Stu Maschwitz also developed a nifty animation preset - Rebel CC - as a companion to his DV Rebel's Guide that also gives you significant color correction power using built-in effects...but again, without the nice user interface other programs or dedicated plug-ins have. (By the way, Stu is also The Man behind the very popular commercial color correction plug-ins from Red Giant Software, Magic Bullet Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks.)

Did you know that Adobe Premiere has a 3-way color corrector? And that you can import a Premiere timeline into After Effects? This provides a back-door way to get a 3-way color correction plug-in into AE (click here to download an animation preset for it). Alas, the nice user interface in Premiere disappears once inside AE, as shown below:

Unfortunately, Premiere's 3-way color corrector (left) loses its graphical user interface elements once imported into After Effects (above).

All of these ignore the 800 pound gorilla on your installer disk: Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse, which comes free with After Effects. This is a powerful, top-shelf color corrector that few realize they already own. Intimidated by its user interface? Click here to download a PDF tutorial with practice source file we wrote for on getting started in Color Finesse.

Ah, that's more like it: Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse, free in every box of After Effects.

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Rich Young: | December, 31, 2008

Great overview. Looks like you guys are focused on improving 3D!

Chris Meyer: | December, 31, 2008

I guess, having dabbled in 3D almost as long as we’ve been using AE, that the 3D mindset is part of our brains (smile). Plus, AE is still easier to use than most 3D programs - so it would be nice if it could incorporate more of those motion graphics functions. I don’t expect to be able to do Star Wars or Jurassic Park in AE, but I would like to do an extruded logo reflecting the objects around it as it flies through a volumetric beam of light…

Sean Kennedy: | December, 31, 2008

Great article, Chris! There’s definitely a few links in there to things I need to check out. And thanks for so prominently mentioning TrackerViz!

I wanted to mention something regarding curves in AE. The guys over at Frishluft have had a beta for a while now of a new curves interface.

Here’s another shot of the interface.

It really makes using curves tons more fun! They haven’t updated this beta page for, hmmm, maybe a couple years now, but since it’s still up, so I assume they wouldn’t mind it being brought to people’s attention. smile

Chris Meyer: | January, 01, 2009

Thanks, Sean, for the link to the Frischluft curves beta. I liked it when it was first released, but kept waiting for them to finish it (there’s a lot of dicey UI things they’re doing!). I hope they do someday.

But as Merzigue points out: Hey, Adobe - steal from yourselves! Why don’t we have PS’s UI for curves?!? (As well as for Layer Styles…)

happy new year -

Charles Angus: | January, 02, 2009

Just a question - is there anyone out there doing actual compositing on AE, or is it all MoGraph stuff?

I find whenever I think to myself, “Oh, I’ll just comp this in AE, since I’m in it already,” I end up doing it Shake anyway after I waste time beating my head against AE’s baffling UI.

Chris Meyer: | January, 02, 2009

Oh, yes - lots and lots and lots of compositing. There is a ton of visual effects for film done in After Effects (see Mark Christiansen’s books for examples). It always surprises me to hear users (or even corporate bosses) say they don’t think AE is being used for “high end” work when it has been for many, many year, and continues to be.

And trust me - many After Effects users find Shake’s UI to be just as baffling as Shake users find AE’s UI to be (smile).

take care -

Chris Meyer: | January, 07, 2009

Actually, Frischluft updated their beta of their curves plug-in and released it as Fresh Curves:

graphicsguy: | February, 11, 2009

Very nice article about AE. AE is the best graphic software. Keep up the good work Chris..

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