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Of all the apps in the Production Premium CS3, After Effects CS3 has the most significant changes. For a start, Adobe has taken the vector graphics engine from Illustrator and built it into After Effects CS3. The result is the new Shape Layer category, which enables you to create vector shapes and animate them, entirely in the vector domain. A selection of primitives and a freehand pen tool are supplied for basic shape creation, and then the 20 Shape Effects can be applied to animate them. As the graphics are vectors, they will be resolution independent so will look smooth no matter how much you zoom in. To help you get to grips with the new Shape Layers, Adobe supplies over 40 presets, each including shapes and associated Shape Effect animations.
After Effects is often used to create elaborate title sequences, and the text engine is another area to see improvement. Each letter can now be treated as a single 3D object by toggling the new Per-Character 3D function. With this turned on, the text is no longer treated as a flat plane in 3D space, but each letter behaves individually. Thankfully, there are plenty of presets included to help you take advantage of Per-Character 3D, as like so many aspects of After Effects it’s pretty complicated to use.
The third significant new facility is the Puppet Tool, which lets you turn 2D images into animated figures. First, you cut out your figure from its background, for example using Photoshop, then you place control pins on it, such as on hands, feet and torso. A mesh is created around your figure. You can then grab one pin to move it and the associated area nearby, but other pinned areas remain stationary. Hold down Control, and your movement will be recorded as an animation. Voila! You’ve created a moving sprite from a 2D image.
Since After Effects has become so full of parameters, Adobe has tried to address the software’s complexity with Brainstorm. Select a parameter or parameters, hit Brainstorm and a palette of automatically generated alternatives appears. You can then hit Brainstorm again until you see something you like.
These are just the top new features. After Effects CS3 also integrates fully with Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended’s Layer Styles, Vanishing Points and Video Layers. In particular, where Vanishing Points let you change camera angles in Photoshop, in After Effects you can use them to animate 3D camera moves on what started off as a 2D image. You can also output Flash and SWFs, plus Clip Notes to aid collaboration. Overall rendering speed has been improved, too, with multi-processor support – although this isn’t detected automatically, you have to turn it on manually. After Effects CS3 is a massive release, and an essential upgrade for existing users.