Experts

Adobe Tightens The Leash

How does this effect me as a user and product developer for After Effects?


after effects

First things first

A few notes and disclaimers: Prices mentioned in this article and any related URL links are subject to change without notice. The info I state below about pricing was accurate at the time of this writing. Also I have in the past and in some cases I am still actively creating and maintaining script products & video tutorials relating to Adobe software and it’s 3rd party fx plugin developers. As well as Maxon Cinema4D, Jawset TurbulenceFD, Insydium X-Particles, Redshift3D, and Agisoft MetaShape (formerly PhotoScan). I also do have personal and business friendships with a number of software developers, and related staff within some of those companies.

With that said I have NOT been commissioned nor sponsored to write this article. I have chosen to voice my own opinion based on my own personal experience.

This article is being written from a personal perspective as a Visual Effects Professional of nineteen years, as a ten year After Effects script developer, and simply as a twenty year user of After Effects. This article is meant to hopefully get conversations rolling, perhaps stir the pot a little, possibly even shed some light on where to begin your search….if you are choosing to move on that is.

The news

On May 8th, 2019 Adobe announced on their blog that they are now limiting the download availability of older versions across the whole Creative Cloud lineup. ProVideoCoalition’s own Scott Simmons has an editors perspective on this announcement as well. View his article here:
Adobe limiting the availability of older versions of the Creative Cloud apps

The limitation Adobe has initiated is to only allow the two newest major versions of the software. Not long after Adobe made their official blog post, users such as Gary Tussey started receiving emails started receiving emails. Gary posted his to Twitter.

 

I received my own email notice on 5/10/2019 at 4:02PM.

Email sent from Adobe

There are a few concerning parts to this information. First, there is the “…should you continue to use…” section.

“Please be aware that should you continue to use the discontinued version(s), you may be at risk of potential claims of infringement by third parties.”

This sounds very threatening in my opinion. So if I continue to operate as normal, I now under no fault of my own can be possibly sued by third parties for infringement. All by simply waking up and starting work on an already active job? That’s some pretty serious sh**!

The second part is that they are aware of the versions we are running. As you can clearly see in my email, they stated the old installs I currently run. This of course is because the apps, and installers call home to Adobe to verify your subscription. So if I was to not comply, continue to use the apps, and take my chances…. how long would it be before Adobe just cuts the cord on their end? That’s totally possible since even as a user you can yourself go into your account and deactivate licenses on machines you have installed to. That remote deactivation system exists. So either way, it pretty much sounds like the apps could ultimately cease to function at some point in the future. By your hands or Adobe’s if they so choose.

As Adobe states though…

“…under the terms of our agreement, you are no longer licensed to use them.”

It was always temporary to begin with. We only rent the tool. No pay, no play. Personally, I’m not happy about the situation, but I can’t really complain right? I did agree to the terms and pay my money like many others each month. Now you can get deep into End User License Agreement’s (EULA) and if they actually are enforceable, but that is a whole other conversation. You can search online for “Is EULA legally enforceable?” to find many discussions on the topic. Some arguing yes, some saying no. You can also check Wikipedia for more info on EULA.

Some users may be confused too, because of Adobe’s wording. Not everyone is familiar with the software names versus their actual version numbers.

AFTER EFFECTS:13.2, PHOTOSHOP: 18.0

At first glance, you would say wait a minute. 18.0? Wouldn’t that be Photoshop 2018, and the top two newest versions are CC2018, and CC2019. What gives? Well Adobe has had a long history of making confusing product names that didn’t match the actual software version numbers. After Effects made it to version 7.0 before it was renamed Creative Suite and labeled CS3 for version 8.0. This offset happened again with CS5.5, then Creative Cloud (CC). After Effects version 13.2 is actually known as CC2014. You can view the whole history on Wikipedia for After Effects. Photoshop is a bit muddier on Wikipedia, but version 18.0 is actually Photoshop 2017.

Any reason why this is happening?

The announcement has users reacting all over Twitter.

Some believe this whole debacle is based on a legal issue from a third party. That party being more specifically the Dolby Laboratories. They filed a complaint back in March of 2018 according to a couple online findings I’ve seen.
Justia Dockets & Filings
The Register

Given the wording in Adobe’s email, “….you may be at risk of potential claims of infringement by third parties.”

This sounds like Dolby could be the likely cause, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

UPDATE: There’s been mention of Sun and Java (Oracle) as the 3rd party cause also. Read full thread here.

“Word on the street is the 3rd party is Sun and JAVA, which they used in a limited capacity in previous versions, but hadn’t used in years. So question was either pay up, to license something they don’t use in their modern software, or cease distributing software that included the offending library.

They chose the later, not incorrectly.”

Juan Salvo, Thursday at 9:08 PM

“That’s Oracle now.

I used to work for this company, they used to make great products, now they are in the news concerning all kind of lawsuits.”

Mixed emotions

With all of the sudden announcements and let’s call them what they are–threats, I’m in turmoil over what to do. If I am to follow Adobe’s notice and comply, I will now have to delete any old installs on all of my machines. Now I have yet to find full clarity if this also applies to pre-Creative Cloud versions as they were disk shipments and not downloads. My assumption is yes, but I have not seen it worded specifically anywhere yet. Are the old disk installs an option again now? Realistically no, just from a workflow standpoint these days, but am I now gonna be sued just for keeping these in storage?

For me this would mean currently removing After Effects CS3 – After Effects CC 2017 and all of it’s third party plugins since some of them are compatible only to a specific version of After Effects. These plugin patches has become a normal process we are all accustomed to dealing with these days. You may have noticed I said After Effects CS3 a moment ago. That’s not a typo. I actually have an old MacBook laptop lying around with CS3 through the first CC installed on it for testing AE scripts in development on Mac.

In deleting AE CC 2014, I would be then left with AE CC 2018 on my current machine and little to no 3rd party plugins. I made the decision to stay with AE CC 2014, due to its stability. Also it supports all of my 3rd party plugins that I also paid for. While some users experienced some issues, for me it has been rock solid for the work I was doing. This work involved feature, TV, and mixed media up to 4K compositing, keying, minor rotoscoping, and of course expression and script developing, plus video tutorials.

I should state too, that I am running a Windows machine that I built from scratch when leaving Apple behind for good in 2016. Besides stability, my other main reason for not upgrading to the latest After Effects is I am running Windows 8 and I can’t update. When I built the machine, AE CC2014 was the stable choice for my setup, based on my direct experience. Currently Creative Cloud now requires Windows 10 minimum. That’s another big strike for so many users on top of Adobe’s limitation enforcement.

Feeling the squeeze

The legal enforcement means I am now bound to only using AE CC 2018. How long before the next major version comes along? Maybe another six months or so, then I will be forced to remove AE CC 2018 as well. To even consider doing the Adobe update I would need to upgrade all plugins, upgrade my OS, and then because of the OS upgrade I would have to tackle upgrading ALL of my other software. As well as some of their plugins possibly. This immediately became a multi thousand dollar situation, and not a simple “just update to the newest After Effects CC 2019”.

With the variety of top plugin packages I use to create my work, upgrading is definitely not a cheap prospect for an individual freelancer. Here’s just some of the top plugin collection costs that are out there.

after effects after effects

 

after effects after effects

 

I work and make tutorials for a number of softwares, and subjects, and my skill sets include other areas as well. Right now I actively run…

  • SynthEyes
  • Cinema4D
  • Redshift3D
  • TurbulenceFD
  • X-Particles
  • MetaShape
  • Houdini
  • SublimeText.

Most of these are softwares I have to maintain annually as well. I have an entire set of small utility apps, but those are more trivial and normally free to begin with which helps. All this software relates back down to Visual Effects or Motion work in some way in my career.

This puts me in a major bind on a number of levels. Maintaining multiple versions of the After Effects software is vital for many users. Working from home is a key part of a freelancer’s career, they need that software flexibility to keep jobs.

Now there is a greater question here that we could discuss, which is why are we so dependent on the older versions? Why isn’t everyone upgrading to begin with? Wouldn’t it be easier if 100% of the users were on the same product version? Absolutely. There would be no need for dealing with incompatible plugins, nor mismatched features. It would mean that another studio could provide a project file and outside of including any 3rd party plugins, it would work.

The reality is that most a lot of clients return for the same old work, they just want altered versions of a previous campaign. Reuse is a big part of the business. Certain looks achieved can and are usually dependent on 3rd party plugins. Sometimes those plugins hit end of life cycles too. So being able to go back to an old project file is a must, and not a luxury for some users. Their actual livelihood and clients depend on it.

3rd party

3rd party plugins are a vital key to the success of After Effects. Why is it that I am continuously finding new scripts to make myself? How does aescripts + aeplugins exist with a catalog of over 630 After Effects specific products alone? What about VideoCoPilot, Boris FX, Red Giant, and many others. Why has there actually been the need for so many plugins? Of course there are a lot of overlaps in some of these plugin packs and scripts, but again why hasn’t Adobe just started implementing these kinds of features and upgrades to the software we are paying for?

Clearly there is a demand and money to be made. If you work as a freelancer, you will see lots of these popular 3rd party plugins on just about every machine in a studio. Maybe they only have one license that seven artists have to fight over who can render or use it when, but they have it.

Do I keep paying Adobe $20.99 (current single app price) each month? I also have the Photoshop/Lightroom plan for $9.99.

UPDATE I have canceled my Photoshop/Lightroom plan as of 5/19/2019 and have purchased Affinity Photo for $49.99 perpetual.

after effects

For me $30.98 made more sense than the $52.99, since I have absolutely no need for those other apps. Save some money. You’ll notice too, that the “All Apps” price is currently on sale for $29.99.

Well the actual cost of using After Effects isn’t just that monthly dollar amount if you are so dependent on the arsenal of 3rd party tools. It could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually, plus the $20.99 a month.

Should I stay or should I go?

Currently I am a user, and a product developer. I can see a bit of both sides. As a user of After Effects, I first started with version 5.0 which released in 2001. Learning, and playing in this app was my life. It was fun, and I was creating. Over the years I got better at it and turned it into the start of a career in Visual Effects. In 2007, I had gained interest in ExtendScript scripting thanks to Jeff Almosol saving my butt on a horrendous roto project.

Around mid 2008 is when I was picked up by Ghost Town Media, LLC. That was a godsend as it opened the door to work on some amazing projects, and work with some great people in the industry. In 2016 I was back in the freelancer world and transitioned to 3D volumetrics and particle simulation work. I still have this love for being able to dive in After Effects and just knock out something quickly though. This is only true because of the depth of familiarity I have with the app and its technical issues.

During many of these years, on the product developer side I was creating tools and
templates for After Effects. After being on this journey for nineteen years, I know it very well. The products I made/make were both a way to fix shortcomings in the application, or to improve work speed. Deadlines, and volume of work was always a motivator to figure out how to streamline and automate repetitive tasks.

During an eleven year period I have made well over forty hours of video tutorial content. For many of these videos, After Effects has been the main subject. I’ve built several scripts. Some I have given away for free right here on ProVideoCoalition, others I have sold. After Effects has just been such a deep part of my life.

So the user in me is like, well I don’t do much production work with AE these days, so I can probably let it go really. I can save the $20.99 a month (USD $251.88 annual) and have dinner out with my wife more often. The problem I face in leaving though, is that it means I ditch all of you, my loyal customers, friends, and fellow freelancers that decide to stay.

It would mean that I set an End of Life (EOL) on my scripts, templates, and tutorials relating to Adobe. No more creating and maintaining them. Scripts that so many users have expressed their gratitude for being so helpful in their process. I even did a major release for a new script as recent as this past April for Organize Projects Assets Pro.

So I’m torn. I don’t support Adobe’s current choice, however I don’t want to be adding to the abandonment already felt by so many. Many conversations have happened the last few days on this question. Many more will continue.

What are the replacements?

If you were to jump ship, what are the actual options to replace After Effects? I had to really think about this. After Effects is a very unique tool. The vast amount of 3rd party plugins that has expanded its capabilities makes it difficult to figure out. I have seen a number of suggestions floating about and I have to say that none of them are a full 100% replacement. It would require a collection of new softwares to even match the functionality that you as a daily user would find familiar.

To help determine what could even be a replacement, I started to break down what is After Effects being used for. This varies from user to user of course. For myself it was, for a long time at least, a compositor, keyer, rotoscoper, asset generator, editor, title animator, file exporter, format converter, fx creator, and keyframe animation tool. Automation of those things as well through scripting, and expressions. I even used ExtendScript to pick my Mega Millions loto numbers one time. Don’t laugh I was only one number off from winning $20.

For others it has been used for motion design animations, title sequences, 2D/2.5D character animation, visual effects, lower thirds, credit scrolls, and I’m sure much more.

Within those categories we have to decide what the actual functionalities are. Then we can start comparing and looking at alternatives. Base on the above tasks, and categories. I’ve come up with this list so far. I would encourage comments to help expand on this as well.

  • Keyframe based animation
  • Code based procedural animation (expressions)
  • Chroma/luma keying/alpha channel extraction
  • Footage grain matching (compositing)
  • Footage grain removal
  • Footage rig removal/paint out
  • 2D/3D tracking
  • Masking/rotoscoping
  • Vector spline shapes (shape layers)
  • Automation/templating (extendscript/CEP scripts)

So from that and from others I’ve talked to, these are some suggestions that have been made. Again comment to expand on this list.

Fusion Studio – $299 (VFX, animation, and more)
Davinci Resolve – FREE (edit/color/vfx/mograph/free version of Fusion)/
Calvary – $??? (animation) Currently under development as of this writing.
2Dimensions – FREE (animation for apps and games)
MoHo – $399.99 (2D animation/rigging)
Spine – $99/$329 (2D animation for games)
Blender – FREE (Rendering, Modeling, Animation, VFX, Simulation, Video editing, Scripting)
ffmpeg – FREE (audio/video recorder,converter,stream)

Who will adopt what?

Based on what functionalities After Effects was providing at the core level, not factoring in vital 3rd party tools, I compared the various suggestions above. My first thought was that a whole new collection of software will need to be learned, and adopted into a brand new pipeline. For me, I am pretty adaptable, even at 44 years old. I have no problem learning new things and have a tendency to do that anyways on my own to find solutions, but a lot of users have different mindsets. Not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace.

I would love to turn this section of the article into a review session suggesting you should use this app or that app, but I am in the same boat as you. These are unfamiliar softwares to me (with the exception of ffmpeg), and I would be learning them fresh as well. Best thing to do right now is to download a trial and try them out for yourself, look for tutorials from existing users, and share your experiences with others so we can all learn together.

The biggest hurdle beyond finding alternate software, learning it, and optimizing its use into your pipeline, is going to be getting everyone else to do the same. Change does need to start somewhere first, but it will be a long transition.

Based on a generic poll I posted on Twitter this past week, there are some users that are staying put and some that are unsure if they will step away from Adobe. They feel they have no choice because so many studios are still using Adobe products primarily. Those same studios will likely be apprehensive to adopt such a dramatic change to new unfamiliar software. Change is difficult for people.

Only time will tell how this plays out.

I for one am placing my vote as….Unsure.


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David Torno is a Visual Effects professional based in Los Angeles, California. His work over the years has included commercials, feature films, music videos, and multimedia projects. During his free time, David enjoys expanding his…

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Robert A. Ober
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Yep, not surprised. Been telling people not to rent their tools. You are at the mercy of folks who’s job is not your satisfaction, but to make money.

charles reilly
Guest
charles reilly

I think adobe is being far more devious and insipid than people think? The rationale behind adobes recent announcement has a sound of legitamacy behind it… but when you start to dig a little deeper you notice a few things. Adobe has almost plateaued (if not surpassed) the limit of how many people it can sign up for the cloud…like all big companies it is responsible to shareholders … so it needs to expand its profits…last week we saw the doubling of the photoshop pricing (its most popular programme… Now we see older users being told they may be sued… Read more »

Scott Simmons
Admin

Not amazing beyond CS6 that makes you want to upgrade? Content aware fill in Photoshop and After EFfects is reason alone. Then there’s performance gains. Looking at Premiere (the world I live in) and the difference is staggering.

Me
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Me

Scott, Content Aware Fill is yet here in PS CS6… About the rest of the topic, imho the OP told us all : everybody was aware of Adobe’s will about renting softwares, so… I personally edit, color correct/grade and make sfx here, and what I can tell – after 20 years (coming from FCP) – is this state looks like Apple no-roadmap way of dealing with pros. They make money, they don’t care much about your concerns. Now, I’ve been editing and doing a lot in the Resolve Studio/Fusion duo, I also use Mocha Pro and Apple Motion, and I… Read more »

Scott Simmons
Admin

It’s great you can do that with your business. But what do you do when a job class that is using an Adobe app? Turn it down? That is not my choice. I choose to use the apps and make money.