Review: Adobe After Effects CC 2017

The latest release of Adobe’s hugely powerful animation and compositing tool is triumphant.

Our Verdict

The ultimate tool for creating incredible animations and slick motion graphics – and a superb compositing tool, to boot. Just don’t expect to learn it in a weekend.

For

  • Vast motion toolset
  • Essential Graphics panel is excellent
  • Collaboration tools look great

Against

  • Steep learning curve
  • Need a fast machine to reap full benefits

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For motion graphics, animation and video professionals, After Effects is as important as Photoshop is to designers and photographers – if not more so. It’s an all-encompassing application with a professional toolset designed for anything from titling to character animation, compositing and more. 

Its timeline and node-based approach makes it very easy to quickly animate anything, and as you delve deeper into the feature set you can soon see why animators and artists on major motion pictures like Iron Man 3 and Oblivion make it their tool of choice (you can see exactly how it was used on these films here). 

After Effects CC 2017 features some welcome creative updates

Across the board with the CC 2017 releases, we’ve seen evolutionary updates (rather than revolutionary) and After Effects 2017 is no exception. But it does add some very nice collaborative features and creative updates that will speed up your workflow. So let’s take a look at what’s new.

Team Projects

After Effects CC 2017 has been updated three times: once in November 2016, then in January 2017 and again in April. All updates have a strong emphasis on collaboration. That’s because as a post-production artist you’re almost certainly working as part of a team, with different people and different specialisms. 

The ability to work on projects together in real-time shaves an enormous amount of time off projects, and that’s why Adobe introduced the beta of Team Projects last November. 

The idea of Team Projects isn’t anything new in the world of professional post-production. Media files are referenced from a central server or the cloud, and saved as proxies locally. It means anyone in your team can work simultaneously on a project – editors, motion artists, keying professionals and so on, without any bottlenecks. 

This is only available to CC Enterprise or CC Team users, but elevates After Effects even further as a pro tool. Team Projects can be converted to regular .aep files at any point (this functionality was introduced in the miner update in January 2017). 

We can’t really give a definitive verdict on this feature as a) it’s in beta and b) we’re not on a CC Enterprise or Team license. We’ve reached out to studios using the tool and will update this review shortly.

Essential Graphics panel

Flitting over to the April 2017 release, you'll find yet more collaboration tools – this time in the form of the Essential Graphics Panel, and indeed the Essential Graphics workspace. This basically enables you to create motion templates to hand to editors or other animators. Trust us: it’s functionality is hugely exciting. 

Create motion templates to hand over to colleagues

How does it work? Well, from your normal composition, you right-click on the name and choose Open in Essential Graphics, which opens up the Essential Graphics workspace. You can then pretty much drag-and-drop different properties – animation controls, text, colour controls or so on – from your timeline (by first clicking the Solo Supported Properties button) into the Essential Graphics panel. You can also add comments to provide specific instructions to colleagues. 

Exporting your template will package up all your files, and editors can even open  the package in Premiere Pro to make tweaks to titles and footage. It’s very intuitive and will save a load of time – especially if you’re working remotely with different freelancers on a project (and if you only want editors to have access to certain controls on a project).

Cinema 4D Composition Renderer

So let’s look at some more new features across the 2017 update. Next up, there’s the Cinema 4D Composition Renderer, which gives you more control and enhanced speed when creating 3D objects – probably logos and text – within AE compositions. 

What we love about it is the fact you can use a single slider to control the quality of your 3D objects within your comp, whilst everything – camera, lighting and so on – remains the same. And it’s pretty quick working off the CPU. To use it rather than the Ray Traced Renderer, just tweak the drop-down in your Composition Settings dialog.

Lumetri Scopes panel

Colour correction and grading is another area where After Effects excels. And this is bolstered by the Lumetri Scopes panel. Now this is pretty hardcore – and you’re only going to really see the benefits if you’re working in broadcast. 

This new panel gives you total control over colour

It’s a panel that’s been ported over from Premiere Pro and provides complete analysis of your chrominance, luminance and saturation through Vectroscopes, Histograms, Parade and Waveform scopes, so you can maintain consistency between shots.

Camera-Shake Deblur

Shaky footage: the bane of any video professional. And After Effects has some ace tracking controls to resolve this. But with camera shake you also get motion blur, which remains when the footage is stabilised. 

The new Camera-Shake Deblur effect aims to remove some of the blur from your corrected footage. We imported some handheld phone footage into an AE comp, and the effect did a good job, at fast speeds, on our top-end Surface Book. You’ll find it in Effects > Blur & Sharpen. 

New tools help remove the blur from corrected shaky footage

Once you've used Camera-Shake Deblur on your footage, you can  (like any other effect in After Effects) modify properties – such as strength of deblur and the tolerance levels for determining when footage should be deblurred – in the Effects panel or on the Timeline. 

On the subject of effects, there are more GPU-accelerated effects (those that use your graphics processor’s power) in the latest release, including Drop Shadow, Gradient Ramp, Levels and Offset.

Other smaller enhancements include support for high frame-rate footage (specifically slow-mo 120fps, 240fps from iPhones and the like), better organisation options for dealing with footage, and integration of Typekit fonts.

A learning curve

After Effects is a complex application. Its toolset is undoubtedly brilliant and ultra-deep, offering motion professionals the tools they need to create striking broadcast and film-ready animations and titles. 

Of course there’s a huge learning curve: this is an application that requires extensive training. But once you do get to grips with it, it’s blazingly-fast (with the right hardware configuration and a shed-load of RAM, like in any video work) and has an intuitive timeline from which you can control pretty much every aspect of your project. It’s capable of almost anything you can imagine.

System requirements

Mac

  • Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support
  • macOS versions 10.10 (Yosemite), 10.11 (El Capitan), or 10.12 (Sierra)
  • 4GB of RAM (8GB recommended)
  • 6GB of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (you can't install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system or on removable flash storage devices)
  • Additional disk space for disk cache (10GB recommended)
  • 1440 x 900 display
  • Optional: Adobe-certified GPU card for GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer

PC

  • Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support
  • Microsoft Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 (64 bit), Windows 8 (64 bit), Windows 8.1 (64 bit), or Windows 10 (64 bit)
  • 4GB of RAM (8GB recommended)
  • 5GB of available hard-disk space; additional free space required during installation (you can't install on removable flash storage devices)
  • Additional disk space for disk cache (10GB recommended)
  • 1280 x 1080 display
  • Optional: Adobe-certified GPU card for GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer

Buy After Effects CC 2017 or sign up to Adobe Creative Cloud here

The Verdict

9

out of 10

Adobe After Effects CC

The ultimate tool for creating incredible animations and slick motion graphics – and a superb compositing tool, to boot. Just don’t expect to learn it in a weekend.