After Effects Rocks
After Effects needs little introduction, and a long list of things are improved in CS5.5, but let's consider a few that caught my eye (see Figure 10).
After Effects works in "2.5D" rather than real 3D, so it makes use of many tricks to give the impression that things are moving through true 3D space. Virtual lights can give surface effects to materials they reach, and in CS5.5 they have been given natural falloff (see Figure 11). This means that objects farther away will be darker than objects closer to a virtual light, in a way that's very much more natural-looking than in previous versions.
This feature isn't going to shatter the world of compositing and animation, but it's another example of software making things better without your having to think about it. Just set your falloff distance to suit your composition, and the illusion of 3D is automatically enhanced.
It's the future. The future is now, of course. We have flying cars, microwaves, and entanglement theory. I can't wait for my antigravity hover-board. A lot of content is being produced in fully stereoscopic 3D; while the wise elder technologists establish the vocabulary and standards for the rest of us to follow, After Effects is already giving support for the configuration of "left eye plus right eye" filmmaking (see Figure 12).
The new "Create Stereo 3D Rig" command automates setting up a nested sequence to allow you to adjust things like the convergence point (effectively, "How far from you does the object appear?"), with the regular 3D glasses effect already applied. This isn't a complete solution, but it's a big step in that direction.
Image stabilization is one of the great services After Effects provides, and it comes with Mocha for super-smart planar tracking. The only issue is when a user begins the quest for stable video by thinking, "I just want to[el]." This magic phrase is the start of a journey toward what Zen philosophy calls "No Mind." In this incredible state, practitioners are able to achieve astonishing things without any apparent conscious thought.
Welcome to the Warp Stabilizer: Find your media. Put the Warp Stabilizer effect on it. Sip your tea. If you have green tea, that's even better.
The Warp Stabilizer effect will analyze your footage and apply excellent (no, really, excellent) image-stabilizing adjustments to it, and even do it in the background (see Figure 13). You can carry on working on your comp, sipping your green tea, and thinking about the universe while it does its work.
You can tweak a few settings on the Warp Stabilizer effect, but it keeps things simple (see Figure 14). Simple is good. Simple is the way to No Mind.
Quite a few features "under the hood" have improved with After Effects CS5.5. Disk caching is now turned on by default, and the size is automatically larger. The default Memory and Multiprocessing settings are tweaked and tuned in CS5.5 as well.
It's common for new users to give too much memory to After Effects, starving the operating system, which fights back by using the slow, hard-drivebased page file to store information it otherwise would have kept in memory. Of course, it makes little sense to call memory "memory." It would be more meaningful to call it "consciousness," but that's just a little too close to "sentience" for comfort.
After Effects manages system memory as well as whatever you set aside for your creative applications, so it's okay to leave a little (or a lot) for your operating system to use. You may need to experiment with these settings a little to get optimal performance for your particular system hardware.