REVIEW: Web Graphics Sparkle With After Effects CS3

When my web design clients want motion graphics, they expect Flash—and I’m happy to deliver. Flash allows me to create powerful motion graphics that don’t need long loading times and can do practically anything thanks to ActionScript. However, I’m starting to turn away from Flash for motion graphics and moving to After Effects: the end results are often more stunning and the clients are happier. My experience with After Effects CS3 has been exceptional, and out of all the CS3 applications (with the exception of Photoshop and maybe Flash) After Effects has probably improved the most from its immediate predecessor.

Giving users what they want

There’s a lot of new things in After Effects CS3:

    After Effects, Shape Layer

  • Shape layers. Vector graphics can now be drawn and animated in CS3, similar to what one does with Flash. Flash’s vector animation options are certainly more robust, but After Effects at least has the ability and flexibility to do this as well.

  • After Effects, layer styles

  • Photoshop integration. The beauty of CS3 is its improved connections between applications, and After Effects CS3 works beautifully with Photoshop. Layer styles and video layers are preserved when Photoshop files are imported. After Effects can add and even animate Photoshop layer styles and blending options. And Photoshop isn’t the only integrated application: After Effects can now export Flash Video files and import SWF files with greater ease.

  • After Effects, Puppet

  • Puppet tools. This was constantly shown in the months leading up to the CS3 Production Premium launch: the ability to animate a rasterized image by stretching and moving various elements. I didn’t give it much thought because it seemed its reason for existing was to create funny stick figure animations. I still haven’t found a killer application for this feature, but I do think there’s a lot of promise to it. It reminds me of the animation interface in Anime Studio Pro 5. Funny aside: with the Puppet interface comes what must be Adobe’s most amusing tool since the Tornado tool: the Starch tool, used to stiffen elements.

  • After Effects, Brainstorm

  • Brainstorm. Think of Photoshop’s Variations feature—but for After Effects CS3. Play around with element properties and see the results side by side.
  • Hardware performance gains. After Effects 8 had real problems with Intel Macs, such as the inability to use more than 50% of total memory. That is now history with After Effects CS3, and you can also use multiple processors to render work much faster. The difference between versions 8 and CS3 are vast when it comes to performance.

There’s some other smaller improvements too, such as improved color management and the addition of Clip Notes so Acrobat and Adobe Reader users can comment on videos. The result is an application that feels truly integrated with other CS3 applications—many of these improvements are related to other applications, whether directly (Photoshop integration) or indirectly (Clip Notes).

After Effects, Clip Notes

Adobe Reader and Acrobat users can view and comment After Effects projects, thanks to Clip Notes.