After Effects CS5.5 in Production
"Dot" update packs in surprising number of hard-to-live-without additions
By Mark Christiansen | April 11, 2011
It's only been a year since After Effects CS5 was released, which brought the application to 64-bit and introduced Rotobrush. With the announcement today of After Effects CS5.5 we are looking at the most rapid upgrade since Adobe unified all of its applications into one dancing,kicking line of graphical chorus girls known as the Creative Suite.
What did the After Effects team manage to accomplish in a year? Maybe that isn't entirely a fair or accurate question, since there are often features that are in development, or even most finished, before a given development cycle begins. Nonetheless, for many artists version CS5.5 of After Effects may constitute more of a "must-have" than the previous couple of releases, if features alone are the gauge.
Smooth Camera Moves
The Hot New Thing of this release is probably Warp Stabilizer, which builds in camera stabilization based on automatic scene analysis. With the era of DSLR video has come the beautifully resolved, unusable shot - any given frame might look filmic in a shot that is overall so wobbly as to appear amateurish. Unless you've added equipment for the express purpose of stabilizing the camera, you can virtually guarantee that a handheld HDSLR video clip contains unwanted extra motion, because of the unbearable lightness and narrow pivot of that camera.
Warp Stabilizer is applied automatically - you do nothing - and requires somewhere between seconds and minutes (depending on clip length and motion complexity) to deliver a shot that, by default, preserves any camera ove while removing high frequency jitter and lower frequency wobble. It can seriously look like you had a dolly that day.
Alternatively, you can use it to lock off a shot completely, so if you were doing your best to hold the camera still doing that quick interview with Brian Wilson after running into him at a bar. Either Brian Wilson.
It's not quite a black box, although the result can seem kind of magical, in that you just let it do its work and somehow the shot is smoother, without any visible data to tweak. There are no keyframes created by the automatic stabilization process, which is both uncomplicated and a little bit inflexible, if you have use for that stabilization data. More on that in a moment.
You do have leeway to tune the shot according to the amount of smoothness you want. The trade-off is generally that the smoother the shot, the greater the amount of scaling, unless the equally magical Synthesize Edges
effect works on your particular shot. This added effect will fill in the gaps around the borders with image data from adjacent frames. You can imagine that there are many cases in which it's not suitable - for example that time you got to ride in the back of the squad car during a hot pursuit and pointed the camera out the passenger window while speeding across town at 80 miles an hour. With not enough data to compare, or too much variation in the background, there's not enough to be synthesized, and even with less extreme situations, you wouldn't necessarily mistake the filled-in areas for the source. But sometimes it's a complete gift.
If there's a flaw to Warp Stabilizer, and this is certainly not a fatal one, it's that there is no usable motion data generated by the effect. It's more like someone made you a whole new shot; there's no potential to, say, lock off the moving image, composite in a bunch of static layers and reapply the motion.
Also, it's still necessary to hold the camera steady enough to avoid excessive scaling or, worst of all, motion blur. Here the magic hits its limits; one day a set of smart algorithms will no doubt be released to guess how an image should look without blur, but for now that tool is not known publicly to exist (if you know otherwise, and won't be fired from a research lab for saying so, by all means share that please).
Finally, although there are settings in the effect to reduce the "jello cam" look of rolling shutter artifacts, results will sometimes look wobbly with Subspace Warp - the option that actually changes pixel data - in an odd enough way that you just don't want
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