Post Production

After Effects CC Technology Preview

Adobe is giving us a peek at what is on tap for the next version of After Effects.

On the heels of their Refine Edge sneak peek last week and just a few days before NAB, Adobe is releasing more information about some of the cool technology we may see in the next generation of their other pro video tools – including After Effects (now known to be After Effects CC, to be released June 17 2013). Adobe has given some folks like us the opportunity to work with these features in advance, and we wanted to share our thoughts with you.

Integration with CINEMA 4D

A couple of weeks ago, Adobe and MAXON issued a press release announcing a “strategic alliance…to bring creative professionals new levels of digital media content creation.” Buried inside that release was the intriguing statement that “As part of the alliance, both companies are expected to collaborate and engineer a pipeline between Adobe After Effects software and CINEMA 4D to give users a seamless 2D/3D foundation.” Now we finally can see just what they were hinting at. I

In short, you will be able to import a .C4D project file directly into After Effects, which will treat it as a footage item. Once you add this .C4D footage item to a composition, a new CINEWARE plug-in will automatically be added to that layer, which will render requested frames from the .C4D project on demand inside After Effects, without the need to render the whole project ahead of time in CINEMA. This import procedure is demonstrated in the movie below from our just-released course on the new features in After Effects:


At first, you may think this sounds very similar to Dynamic Link integration with Adobe Premiere Pro. However, this Live 3D Pipeline between AE and C4D offers significantly more functionality:

  • You can tell CINEWARE to render the C4D scene using either a selected camera from the C4D project, or an After Effects camera.
  • You can extract scene data from the C4D project, including its cameras, lights, and layers with External Compositing Tags . This is similar to the current capability of exporting scene data from inside CINEMA in the form of a .AEC file that After Effects can then import, but more immediate.
  • You can also insert an After Effects camera back into a C4D project.
  • You can separate your imported C4D project file into a “multipass render” directly inside the After Effects. This creates a separate layer inside your AE timeline for each of either a preset selection of properties (such as Diffuse, Specular, Shadow, Ambient, Caustics, etc.), or ones you’ve previously set up inside the C4D project including Compositing Tags to create luma mattes to isolate specific 3D layers. (Alas, currently there’s no easy way for CINEWARE to break out the contributions of each light, but now we’re getting greedy…) Again, this is something you can do currently from inside CINEMA 4D, but it required an intermediate render before you could import the results into After Effects, as well as generating a corresponding .AEC file to glue everyone together. With this new Live 3D Pipeline arrangement, there is no intermediate render…and no re-render if you change something in the scene.

Speaking of changing something in the scene: After Effects will come bundled with a Lite version of CINEMA 4D! You will be able to select the imported .C4D layer inside After Effects and type the customary Command (Control) + E to Edit Original, with the result being the underlying project file will be opened either in a full copy of CINEMA you may already have installed on your computer, or the bundled “Lite” (but still rather well-endowed) version of CINEMA.

C4D Lite

In short, this is the massive-overkill answer for users who have complained that After Effects’ built-in 3D tools weren’t sophisticated enough, but who haven’t made the leap to owning a dedicated 3D animation package. Learning the powerful CINEMA 4D is no small task, but something you will probably find to be very rewarding. And users currently taking advantage of the already nicely integrated workflow between After Effects and CINEMA 4D may want to move some of their projects over to this new Live 3D Pipeline workflow, especially if they expect to be bouncing back and forth between the two programs.

Roto Brush & Refine Edge

As we previewed in a PVC exclusive last week, the Roto Brush tool in After Effects is going to be significantly upgraded with the addition of a companion Refine Edge tool. To review, after the Roto Brush module has been used to create a good binary matte, the Refine Edge module then goes after those nuanced areas of partial transparency – such as fine, wispy hair. Using the same brush stroke paradigm as Roto Brush, you create Refine Edge brush strokes to indicate where the areas of partial transparency are, as well as help define tricky areas that should be fully transparent or opaque. The process is explained in more detail in that previous article.

Refine Edge

clip #10076482 courtesy Milax/iStockphoto

Warp Stabilizer VFX

Also slated for a major upgrade is Warp Stabilizer. What many know as an apply-it-and-done stabilization effect is becoming a serious visual effects tool, with the ability to take on many of the tasks you might have previously reserved for a motion tracker. Some of its new capabilities include :

  • In addition to stabilizing footage, you can now also reverse a stabilization. That means you can stabilize a shot for the sake of applying effects to it (including After Effects’ Paint tool, which is rendered as an effect), and then reverse the stabilization to restore the original camera movement to the effected, painted shot.
  • The camera motion calculated in the original, unstabilized shot can also now be applied to another layer to composite it onto of the original.
  • Warp Stabilizer VFX can also be commanded to not stabilize the scale of a shot, which comes in handy when stabilizing fly-throughs or other shots with continuous motion. I’ve personally had good results with walking shots that previously displayed sudden jumps in scale after stabilization – by telling Warp Stabilizer VFX that all of the apparent “scale” changes are actually positional changes, it can perform a more appropriate stabilization.
  • You can also now reveal the underlying tracking points in a shot Warp Stabilizer VFX is working on, including the ability to delete undesired points. The current generation of Warp Stabilizer can occasionally be thrown off if a portion of the shot it assumed was supposed to be stable actually moved (such as actors moving in a different direction than the camera movement, or a snare drum jumping in its stand as a drummer hit it), requiring masking or other tricks to hide the offending pixels from Warp Stabilizer. Being able to display and delete the offending points provides a much nicer workflow.

Warp Stabilizer VFX

clip F129-02 courtesy

3D Camera Tracker

Not to be left out, the 3D Camera Tracker – which, like Warp Stabilizer, can automatically analyze a shot and derive the original camera’s movement, in this case to recreate a 3D camera inside After Effects – has also received a couple of upgrades. One it shares with Warp Stabilizer VFX is more intelligence when you delete unwanted track analysis points: It checks to see if the same tracked point appears later in time, and deletes those instances as well.

Another nice upgrade is the ability to define a ground plane and origin in a scene. The current version of the 3D Camera Tracker has no true idea of where the floor or ground is in a shot, so the Position coordinates it creates can seem a bit random. Now, you can select one or more points, set a target, and declare that this is where the Position 0, 0, 0 is in the scene, as well as the orientation of the ground plane.

3D Camera Tracker

clip #5891637 courtesy feidro/iStockphoto

Layer Snapping

Some of the most appreciated new features in After Effects are not ones that directly affect the pixels you see on screen, but make your life a lot easier while crafting those pixels. One such feature is going to be the new Snapping behavior in After Effects. It’s hard to convey its true power without showing it in action (stay tuned for that), but in short it gives you the ability to easily align an edge, corner, center point, or even mask vertex of one layer with a similar (or dissimilar) feature of another layer. It even works in 3D, including finding the center of an extruded 3D shape, and snapping to individual letters in a Per-character 3D text animation. This is going to make building virtual worlds and objects much easier in After Effects.


Muybridge sequence courtesy Dover

Much-Requested Features

And then there’s those little features we’ve been asking for, but which also seemed to be passed over in favor of bigger-name features like Roto Brush and Warp Stabilizer. Many of our wishes will apparently be granted in the next version, including:

  • Bicubic Scaling: An alternate scaling algorithm that helps sharpen many types of content when scaled over 100%.
  • Find Missing for Fonts and Effects: Ever been frustrated when opening a project and being told that fonts and/or effects are missing, but not being told where they’re used in the project? There’s now a mechanism to ferret out the exact layer in each comp that has an offending item.
  • Purge All Memory & Disk Cache: The recently added Global Performance Cache has saved many of us a lot of time by remembering previously calculated frames, but every now and then it could get tripped up and remember an invalid frame. Now there’s an easy way to reset the cache.
  • Pixel Motion Blur: Motion blur can now be added to or exaggerated in already shot or rendered footage without the need for a third-party plug-in or to remember a magic incantation using the Timewarp effect.

Pixel Motion Blur

There are literally dozens of other additional features and updates slated for the next release, which are detailed on the Todd Kopriva’s essential After Effects blog.

And when is that appropriate time? Adobe isn’t saying: Neither a version number or release date has been announced for all of these new features. However, we expect them to be on display at the upcoming NAB show. Chris is also presenting a couple of sessions at NAB that will touch on many of these features; more on that soon. In the meantime, Adobe is offering an NAB Show special to save 40% off Creative Cloud, valid through April 19. This special offer is only available through their United States online store at


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Chris & Trish Meyer founded Crish Design (formerly known as CyberMotion) in the very earliest days of the desktop motion graphics industry. Their design and animation work has appeared on shows and promos for CBS,…

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