Adobe After Effects CC 2013: hands-on review

Adobe has released the new After Effects CC. We've had a look at it – what's been updated, what's new and whether it's worth moving to the subscription-based Creative Cloud.

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Our Verdict

A must-have upgrade for anyone working in 3D. The integration with Cinema 4D is the standout feature here, speeding up workflow and reducing frustration massively, plus there are plenty of other cool features to get your teeth into if you're not working in 3D.

For

  • Live 3D Pipeline with Cinema4D
  • Free copy of Cinema 4D Lite
  • Improved rendering engine
  • New Refine Edge tool
  • New Pixel Motion Blur filter

Against

  • Subscription model may not suit some After Effects users not working in 3D who are happy with an older version.

After Effects CC is version 12 of Adobe's motion graphics stalwart, and subscribers to the software giant's Creative Cloud service will be getting the updated tool automatically as part of their subscription.

Whereas in the past you've been able to buy a boxed version of After Effects either standalone, or as part of a suite of tools, Adobe announced in May that it was moving all its core tools to Creative Cloud only. This means that to get the latest version, you'll have to take out a subscription to the online service for a monthly fee, downloading the software rather than installing from disc.

What's new?

Adobe has added a useful set of upgrades to the latest version of After Effects including some all-new features, as well as improvements to existing functionality.

The biggest change is the introduction of the new Live 3D pipeline. This has been well teased in advance of the release, but in case you’ve missed the hype it means that you can work natively with objects and scenes generated inside Cinema 4D without having to render them first. Imported files retain a live link too. This is a major boon, and makes it possible to quickly prototype changes to materials, lighting and camera angles without the pain of having to re-render continuously. It also means that you don’t need a copy of C4D to work with files generated with it.

To complement this move to embrace 3D, Adobe have persuaded Maxon to ship a free Lite version of C4D with After Effects CC, which means that you can edit files generated with the full version, and create some basic 3D scenes that take advantage of the Live 3D Pipeline without having to buy the full version.

The rendering engine has been further improved to take advantage of multiple processors and multithreading, alongside upgraded NVidia GPU acceleration. The interface has seen a bit of an upgrade at the same time, making it easier to find assets and effects.

There have been improvements to the 3D Camera Tracker, and Warp Stabilizer has benefitted from these updates, now offering new capabilities and rebranded Warp Stabilizer VFX.

Top 5 new features in After Effects CC

01. Live 3D Pipeline

After Effects CC: Live 3D pipeline

For the first time there's no need to pre-render scenes generated inside Cinema 4D to use them within After Effects. Objects and scenes can now be used directly as footage without the need to render first, making it substantially quicker to tweak scenes and objects, experiment and explore different approaches to camera angles.

02. Cinema 4D Lite

After Effects CC: Cinema 4D Lite

Adobe have signed a deal with Maxon to provide a lite version of Cinema 4D for all users of Creative Cloud, opening up access to the world of C4D to many creatives for the first time. As you would expect, the cut-down version works with live 3D pipeline, but it is the ability to open and edit C4D files that makes this worthy of inclusion as a top five feature - even 3D novices will be able to experiment with producing sophisticated models and rendering them within their compositions.

03. Refine Edge Tool

After Effects CC: refine edge tool

The new refine edge tool automatically applies analysis on feathered and soft-edged areas, making a cleaner matte in the process. It’s particularly useful when creating composites that involve hair, grass or foliage, and motion-blurred backgrounds. In practice it works pretty well, and is a very usable alternative to keying or manual rotoscoping by adjusting masks frame-by-frame.

04. Warp Stabilizer VFX and 3D Camera Tracker

After Effects CC: Warp stabilizer VFX

This updated tool first debuted in CS5.5 as Warp Stabilizer. Adobe have upgraded the tool as well as the name, adding VFX to the end to indicate that you can now use Warp Stabilizer as a creative effect to selectively stabilize portions of your frame, while allowing other areas to move as shot. 3D camera tracking and solving has been upgraded, making for faster analysis and the ability to both delete tracking points, and define a ground plane and origin. This becomes useful once you export to Cinema 4D or bring in 3D assets to your AE composition.

05. Pixel Motion Blur

After Effects CC: Pixel motion blur

This new filter effect adds motion blur to moving elements within your scene by analysing the difference in position per-pixel across frames. It's a nice addition for situations where you want to achieve a more filmic look by dropping the fps rate to 24 from footage captured at 50 or 60 fps, but it is quite slow to render so won't suit every project.

Is it worth the upgrade?

Whether or not you upgrade to After Effects CC is going to depend upon how you use the software, and what previous version you have. If you're using version CS6, and have no compulsion towards 3D, there’s not a huge reason to make the jump. If you've got CS3 or CS4, however, you'll notice quite a lot of new, time-saving functionality that might well make it worth the cash.

For the pros, the new workflow tools, and the integration with Maxon in particular, will be a big benefit to motion graphics specialists who need to quickly generate and turn out stings, trailers and idents for TV, but it won't just be professionals that benefit from the latest version of After Effects...

Because the Creative Cloud service includes every tool previously in the Creative Suites (bar a couple of noticeable apps that have been retired), it's likely that many users who have never used After Effects before will be getting their hands on the tool for the first time as a result of their decision to upgrade to Creative Cloud for Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.

How much does it cost?

Adobe say that by moving to a subscription-only service, they can roll out new features more often and rapidly than was possible with the boxed software model of the past. For many users this decision caused outrage, although the pricing over a typical product lifecycle of 18 months is broadly similar to the old upgrade cost between releases, and is substantially more cost effective if you use several of the tools and tended to upgrade with each release.

If you're only interested in After Effects itself, you can buy a single license for a monthly fee of $19.99/£17.58. This is reduced to $9.99/£8.78 a month for the first year if you have a previous license for CS3 or later, although you have to commit to a minimum of 12 months if taking up the offer.

If you use After Effects with other tools in the suite, the complete package of every Creative Cloud app (including the likes of Dreamweaver, Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom and Photoshop) costs $49.99/£46.88 per month with a minimum one-year contract (or a whopping $74.99/£70.32 per month without the contract), but again there's an offer available for the first year.

If you're upgrading to Creative Cloud from a previous boxed version of the Creative Suite CS3 or later, and make a 12-month commitment, you can get a discount of almost 40 per cent on your first year's subscription rates, bringing the cost down to $29.99/£27.34 per month.

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The Verdict

9

out of 10

Adobe After Effects CC 2013

A must-have upgrade for anyone working in 3D. The integration with Cinema 4D is the standout feature here, speeding up workflow and reducing frustration massively, plus there are plenty of other cool features to get your teeth into if you're not working in 3D.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he’s worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella. Follow him on Twitter @tom_may.