After Effects at 20: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Adobe is celebrating the 20th year of After Effects. Here are a few tidbits picked up along the way.

Below is AE before the 2.0 feature that made it a killer app: the Time Layout window, which combined Layers, Properties, and Time (via Eduardo Morais). To kick off a 3-month series of events, Adobe posted Happy Anniversary After Effects from a new Adobe TV playlist with Stu Maschwitz, Andrew Kramer and more, Ae & Me. Check out also the revamped AE team blog with stories from the AE team and fans, and Upcoming events listed on Facebook. You can even embiggen the Ae & Me blog with own your perfectly cromulent submission.

Todd Kopriva has the After Effects 1.1 demo reel (1993), embedded below. That app version (see Dan Wilk's recent AE 1.1 screenshot), later sold as After Image and came dongle-free with the SuperMac Digital Film card, which with Radius VideoVision Studio brought online nonlinear video to microcomputers. The Time Layout window showed only one layer at a time in After Effects 1.0 until 2.0. Thus “CoSA” – the nickname of AE in the Bay Area – was a bit more confusing to newbies than Premiere. After the more friendly timeline appeared (one like Infini-D and Electric Image) no one wanted to use version 1, hardware dongle or not.  

Note that the “Egg” (AE 1.0) Filter menu is now Effects (see screenshot below), and the sheep icon on the Time-Comp, Layers, and Properties palettes. A failed render would make AE bleat a goatish “maa,” which you can still hear by Shift-clicking on the layer name in Effect Controls. A few other After Effects Easter Eggs were rounded up not so long ago.

CoSA Hitchcock, the NLE from Digital F/X in the Aldus era, didn't ship after the Adobe aquisition. Hitchcock required “an Apple Macintosh II or greater, at least 13MB of free RAM, an 80 MB hard disk,” etc!

While not a museum piece yet, one can cobble together some memorabilia. In years past, John Burns had some comments and a product shot, Eric Escobar and @melorama had pictures of other After Effects 1 floppies. And in the most recent Mochat, AE team member Jeff Almasol shared a pict of an AE 1.0 box still unopened. Here's an early About screen, a piece from InfoWorld August 1992, and that demo tape:


Wikipedia has a nice version history on After Effects, which was Mac-only in the early years. The first version from Adobe was 3.0, which was discussed in a 1995 issue of DV Full Motion.

Here's an overview of release history according to CoSA:


A few years ago Motionworks posted a PDF of the early stories of CoSA by After Effects engineer Dave Simons, which was originally published in an edition of Creating Motion Graphics by Chris and Trish Meyer. The AE team has always been user-friendly, and often appeared on the AOL “CoSA Cafe” support forum (before Netscape existed; now the Media-Motion list), along with many familiar faces today. Technical accuracy, a flexible interface, general stability, leading 3rd party plug-ins, affordability, and community support made After Effects a go-to application.

Paul Conigliaro posted the summary and transcript of MoChat 26 – After Effects’ 20th Anniversary, which has some historical details that even longtime users might not know. A great resource for those further interested was posted by Matt Silverman in a trip down memory lane from the first SFMOGRAPH user group meeting in March 2008. In this one hear “gigantic pulsating brains”, two of the original CoSA After Effects team members, David Simons and Dan Wilk (once “Filter Boy”), and current After Effects Engineering Manager Chris Prosser.


Later, Adobe posted The History of After Effects webinar with DaveS and DanW, as well as Two Decades of After Effects: War stories from the start of the desktop motion graphics industry with Chris and Trish Meyer, the original beta testers who early on taught the only advanced class for AE in the country at American Film Institute. You'll have to follow the links to see those presentations, but below is After Effects: 20 years of innovation from Ae & Me, with David Simons and Steve Forde, After Effect's current product manager:


Todd Kopriva posted a pictures of the original plabt (typo of plant) in the birthplace of After Effects, which is also memorialized in a t-shirt designed by Stu Maschwitz, “The Plabt Abides.” Here's an attempt to peek at 14 Imperial Place, Providence, RI:


Rich Young

Rich Young is a long-time After Effects user from the San Francisco Bay Area. His After Effects and Premiere Pro round-ups provide viewers with an easy-to-digest summary of developments. He also supplies info and links for tutorials that allow users to do things in After Effects they thought were possible but weren’t sure.

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Richard Marshall
Richard Marshall

Anyone have use for an original CoSA after effects package w manuals, discs, box? Very clean. Any collectors out there? Cleaning out and moving my studio. Pay for shipping and it’s yours.