the force of After Effects be with you
Every so often
a company does something that makes you say, "wow, they
read my thoughts". Adobe has done just that with the release
of Adobe After Effects 4.0 (AE4.0). In case youve been
living in a galaxy far far away for the last several years,
Adobe After Effects is a compositing, animation, and effects
program that can combine any type of digital media element (illustrations,
scanned images, digitized video, animation, etc) and output
the results to anything from web animations to motion picture
visual effects work. While designed with the professional in
mind, it is easy enough for a novice to start creating dynamic
content within an hour of use.
The New Stuff
The first thing
that will jump out at you when launching After Effects 4.0,
is how much the interface now looks like other Adobe products.
Adobe has redesigned the interface to be more tightly integrated
with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Premiere.
The windows in After Effects 4.0 have become tabbed allowing
the user to have two or more compositions, timelines, or palettes
open at a time without resulting in a cluttered workspace. By
clicking on a tab, users can instantly jump back and forth between
compositions, make adjustments, and see how these changes effect
the rest of the project (figure 1).
The Project Window
has been redesigned to allow the user to sort items by name,
type, etc., and even assign Color Labels to the elements (figure
2). Now all imported items can be grouped together based on
color scheme (all Illustrator files orange, all movies green,
etc). These color labels stay with the item when dragged to
the timeline so you can easily identify/modify elements by color.
For example, you could assign a red label to all text elements
and then select and change the quality of those items in one
step. The Project Window also contains a comment area in which
you can add your own production notes for others working on
the same project; "File will be replaced", "Needs
Color adjustment", "I dont know what the heck
this thing is", etc.
How often have
you been working on a project and the client/boss walks in and
wants to see how it looks? In the After Effects 3.1 days you
would have to render out the entire movie, choosing the right
resolution, CODEC, etc., then go get a snack while the project
rendered out. To make work more efficient, Adobe has added RAM
Preview, which uses available/allocated RAM to render frames
to memory and play them back in real time. This allows you to
review and make revisions to your composition more quickly.
Since preview frames have been cached, when it comes time to
render the final movie, if you havent made changes, and
choose uncompressed as the output module, the render flies at
In After Effects
3.1 days, rotoscoping may have seemed like a long and tedious
task, but with After Effects 4.0s enhanced masking feature,
you can tackle really tough jobs with ease. The pen tool now
acts like the pen tool in Photoshop and Illustrator. After Effects
4.0 also supports 128 masks per layer, and allows copying/pasting
of Illustrator or Photoshop paths via the clipboard. Masks,
in After Effects 4.0, also allow some Boolean functions (difference,
subtract, intersect, etc.) when two or more masks are on a layer.
AE4.0 also preserves masks and transparencies when importing
Photoshop or Illustrator projects as layers.
After Effects 4.0
Production Bundle has four new warping effects which allow one
to distort layers. The Bezier Warp has a dozen or so control
handles so you can get just the shape you desire. Reshape lets
you take an image and fit it into another shape (now you really
can have a square watermelon). Mesh Warp applies a grid to a
layer, and by pulling the control points, you can manipulate
select areas of the image. The final warp effect is Smear, which
allows you to define an area and then stretch it over time.
After Effects 4.0
also includes the Particle Playground. With this particle engine,
you can create realistic water fountains, fireworks, rain and
snow. You can replace a particle with a layer containing motion
footage to create complex animated effects. For example, if
you have a composition containing a single man marching, you
can apply Particle Playground to quickly create an invading
The list goes on,
and every new addition that has been made makes Adobe After
Effects 4.0 that much more valuable as a production tool.
The Old Stuff
While the interface
has changed, within 20 or 30 minutes, a After Effects 3.1 user
should have the hang of working with the new interface and have
located some old tools which have been renamed. With the changes
in the interface and new elements that have been added to After
Effects 4.0, you may ask, "will my old projects and plugins
still work with the 4.0 version?" The answer is yes. I
have loaded several past After Effects 3.1 projects into AE4.0,
and have re-installed my third party plugins without a problem.
In fact, I have noticed slight increases in render and update
times when using third party plugins with After Effects 4.0
(see the CineLook tutorial on this sight).
Download the complete
After Effects project and elements here.
This tutorial may
seem a bit simplistic, but over the last few months I have seen
many requests on mailing lists on how to do this effect. Most
do not realize the potential behind nested comps, and this will
give you a starting point. It will also give you something to
do before your last minute rush to try and get into the first
weeks showing of Star Wars. For the most part, this tutorial
can be done with the Standard Version of After Effects 4.0,
but we will use one of the Production Bundle effects to complete
the tutorial. So turn off you light-saber, strap in your Wookie,
and fire up that R2 unit as we dive into "The Star Wars
Opening". Please note: If you are wearing your Storm
Trooper uniform right now, turn off the computer and seek professional
For this example,
create any body of text in Adobe Illustrator that is at least
320x500 pixels (figure 3). Save the file and then launch After
The classic roll
will be created in two parts. The first is the roll from bottom
to top, and the second part will be tilting the title back so
it looks like it is reaching to infinity. Create a new composition
that is 320x500 pixels (or the same size as your text element)
and set the time to a length that will allow the viewer to read
your message with ease (figure 4). In this example I used 30
seconds for the length of Composition 1. While it is too short
to read the text with ease, it is long enough to give you an
idea that the effect is working.
Import the Illustrator
text file into the project and then drag the element to the
timeline or project window. Move the text element below the
bottom of the composition frame and create a position keyframe
there. Move to the end of the timeline, and move the text element
above the top of the composition frame. Make sure the text travels
in a strait line and create another position keyframe at 30
About as exciting
a riding inside a Jawa sandcrawler, huh?
To clarify the
need for nesting compositions, go ahead and apply the Basic
3D effect from the Effect/Perspective menu. Apply a tilt of
70 degrees. Move the current time marker halfway through
the animation and view the results. It looks like we have the
classic roll complete after this step. Move the marker further
into the animation and then view that result. While the tilt
is still there, the whole text element is moving up and not
away from us. This is why we need to create two compositions.
Delete the Basic
3D effect from the layer and create a new composition. Make
Comp 2 the same length as the first but change the aspect ratio
At this point you
may load other elements into Comp 2. These might include a star
background, planet, ships etc. Apply Color Labels to the elements
to help in identification. Move these elements into the timeline
and layer them accordingly.
Finally drag Comp
1 from the project window to the timeline and center it in the
view. We have just nested a composition. By nesting a composition,
you are organizing your project into a hierarchy. By nesting
compositions inside one another you can create some very dynamic
motions without pulling your hair out. For example, Comp 1 might
contain a tire. In this comp, you rotate the tire about its
center point. Comp 2 contains the car moving Right to Left across
the screen. By nesting Comp 1 into Comp 2, the tire rotates
independently of the forward, or up/down movement of the car.
Apply Basic 3D
to Comp 1, with a 70 degree tilt. Make a RAM Preview and
view the results. Our effect has been achieved, but the text
rolls off the screen too soon. It doesnt look like it
is reaching to infinity. It would be nice if we could pinch
or "warp" the top portion of Comp 1 to force perspective.
We can do this
next effect two different ways. Turn off the Basic 3D effect
for a moment and lets apply the Mesh Warp effect from
the Production Bundle package. To reduce our grid to four points
lower the Rows/Columns to 1 each. Move the Upper Left and Upper
Right corners inward on the x axis. You may have to adjust the
handles to get a straighter line.
The other way to
force the perspective is by using the Corner Pin effect to distort
the text layer. You should try both to see which one works best
for you. I like using the Mesh Warp because it gives me greater
control over the forced perspective effect. Corner Pin tends
to distort the text a little too much for my taste. In either
case, you will need to have the Production Bundle to complete
this portion of the exercise.
As the text reaches
infinity, "pan" down to reveal a mysterious planet
below. When you are satisfied with the effect, render out the
animation. If you are a stickler for recreation and wish to
achieve a gateweave effect for the text (the original opening
tends to waver or weave the further it gets from the viewer)
apply field rendering and 3:2 pulldown to the render process.
Click the image
above to view the complete 30 second open in mpeg format. (approximately
on the television, visiting a website, playing an interactive
CD-ROM, even current movies, read like a whos who of those
using Adobe After Effects 4.0 in some way. That list includes
Banned from the Ranch Entertainment, Curious Pictures, Foundation
Imaging, NBC, and YOUR NAME HERE. Thats right, Adobe After
Effects 4.0 is powerful enough to be used by the high end companies,
yet cheap and easy enough to learn, that it should be on the
necessity list for any young Jedi in the business. The Standard
Version lists at $995, while the Production Bundle runs at $2,195.
If you do not own After Effects 3.1 or other Adobe products,
you might want to check out Adobe Dynamic Media Studio, which
combines Adobes Big Four into one package. Rest assured
After Effects 4.0 will quickly pay for itself in two or three
jobs, as you quickly discover that you are using this high-end
tool almost everyday. I would recommend that you consider getting
the Production Bundle because it has features that are a necessity
for detailed compositing work.
Ease of Use: 10
Overall Rating: 9.75
Wide Web address is www.adobe.com
When not molding
the minds of video production students at the American InterContinental
University in Atlanta, Georgia, Stephen
Schleicher creates graphics and animations for many video
production companies. He can be reached at www.mindspring.com/~schleicher
Star Wars and all
related names and items are copyright Lucasfilm, Ltd.