Last month, Adobe released another nice incremental update to their video software, including After Effects CC. As motion graphics artists, there were a couple of major improvements to existing features that caught our eye, as well as a lot of other tweaks and enhancements. Adobe has already released an exhaustive list of all those changes; for our take (including a movie demonstrating some of these tweaks), read on.
Shape Layer Improvements
First, a review. There are two main ways to create Shapes in After Effects: By drawing a Bezier path using the Pen tool, and by dragging out a “parametric” shape (rectangles, ellipses, stars, and polygons) using one of the Shape tools.
Parametric shapes are convenient as you can edit them after the fact numerically, changing (or even animating) parameters such as the number of sides to a polygon, length of spikes of a star, roundness of the corner of a rectangle, etc. However, you cannot edit their paths directly.
On the other hand, you can edit (and animate) Bezier paths after you create them, as well as copy and paste or express these paths between shapes layers, masks, and paint strokes. You can even paste these paths into Position paths – all of which you can’t with parametric shapes.
There are now two new functions in After Effects CC that blur the lines between parametric and Bezier shapes. One is an option in the form of a checkbox along the Tools panel to actually create a Bezier path while you drag out a “parametric” shape. To switch between dragging out parametric and Bezier shapes, you don’t need to keep toggling this checkbox; you can also just press Option on Mac or Alt on Windows to temporarily get the reverse of the current status of that checkbox.
Also, after creating and editing a parametric shape, you can convert it into a Bezier shape by right-clicking on its path in the Timeline panel. This is where some synergies start to emerge, by starting out with a parametric shape and then converting it to Bezier for further modification. The image below shows a shape that started out as a parametric star and had its Roundness parameters increased to soften its outline and make it loop back on itself. It was then converted to a Bezier path and had some of its points tweaked to add an interesting asymmetry to it:
Animated parametric shapes are not converted to keyframed Bezier paths; a snapshot is taken at the current time. Shape operators also do not figure into the resulting Bezier path, but as shape operators can bend and twist parametric and Bezier shapes alike, there’s no real loss there.
Layer Snapping – a really nice usability feature introduced in the original After Effects Creative Cloud release (12.0) – has grown a few more capabilities in this 12.2 release. One is that when you have a shape layer that contains multiple individual shapes, another layer can snap to features such as vertices and center points of those individual shapes – you can even drag one layer along the curve defined by a shape layer’s path.
Another addition is the ability for 3D camera and lights to snap to other layers and features. This is particularly useful when you are trying to snap the Point of Interest of a camera or light to look directly at feature on another layer, as demonstrated below:
Perhaps most significant here is that a relatively new feature in After Effects has seen an update very soon after its initial introduction. A long-standing frustration of After Effects users has been to see a wonderful new feature released with a couple of details missing, and then to see that feature languish while other new features were cooked up and introduced. Adobe has said that a benefit of Creative Cloud will be more frequent updates, as well as being unbound from the pressure of having to introduce significant new marquee features with each update – instead, they can also spend time on less flashy refinements. We’re soooooo happy to see this plan actually being implemented.
There have been numerous other small improvement and tweaks made to this version, including:
- Auto Save defaults to On, to help save users from themselves when they work too long on the same project file without saving only to have disaster strike. We personally prefer to take control over the Save and versioning process by manually invoking the Increment & Save option, but the default Auto Save interval of 20 minutes (as above) at least means you won’t be interrupted too often for a save.
- You can now migrate your preferences, templates, interpretation rules, keyboard shortcuts, and many other settings from 12.0 or 12.1 to this 12.2 update – no more starting from scratch with your personalizations
- After Effects can automatically create a subfolder to save your render into – particularly nice to hold image sequences without accidentally flooding another folder or directory with files. Along with this, file name templates for the Output Module are more robust.
- Many bugs were fixed – and one concerning audio rendering was introduced.
We covered all of the features (and the bug) mentioned above with the addition of several movies to our After Effects: Creative Cloud Updates course on lynda.com. Below is a movie from that update that demonstrates the tweaks (and bug) mentioned above:
And as we mentioned up top, Adobe had listed all of the changes in version 12.2 in their blog. Overall, it’s not an earth shattering update, but for those who have gone ahead and subscribed to the Creative Cloud, it’s really nice to see updates like these coming out more often instead of having to wait a year or two between major releases.