Seven Overlooked Updates Coming to After Effects

Adobe announces updates to After Effects and seven of the best are overlooked.

On April 3rd Adobe announced the new round of updates to their entire product line. The integration of Cinema4D Lite and After Effects via CINEWARE has grabbed the most press.  I voiced a few concerns about this integration in a previous post.

After analyzing the full list I've decided that there are seven After Effects updates that deserve recognition. Also there is one change that I'm not so happy about. All quotes below have been taken directly from this official Adobe blog.

01. Alpha Edge and Matte Tools

Refine Edge tool: The Refine Edge tool and the associated properties in the Roto Brush & Refine Edge effect provide the ability to improve an existing matte by creating partial transparency for areas of fine detail at the edges of a matte, such as for hair. These new features and their user interface elements are closely related to the Refine Edge features in Photoshop. To use the Refine Edge tool, you must already have an alpha channel defined for the layer. You are not restricted to using the Roto Brush tool to define the initial transparency for the layer; you can also use any other method, such as color keying or conventional rotoscoping by drawing masks.

I am psyched for these tools to finally come to After Effects. These features have been in Photoshop for several versions and I was hoping that they would be ported over. I've been doing a lot of keying lately and the new Matte tools cant get released soon enough.

02. Improved Handling of Footage and Elements

Automatic reloading of footage: Footage that has changed is automatically reloaded when After Effects is brought to the foreground (e.g., when switching back from another application, such as CINEMA 4D).

No more digging through the Project panel to find and manually reload an asset that was just updated. This will be immensely time saving when sitting with a client that likes to make constant minor changes to assets. The ability to reveal an asset's location in Finder/Explorer directly from the timeline will speed up work as well.

03. Improved Scaling

Bicubic scaling (and other sampling) for layers: You can choose between bicubic and bilinear sampling for selected layers, which determines how pixels are sampled for transformations such as scaling. The bicubic sampling in After Effects should perform better than the related option in Photoshop; the After Effects algorithm preserves over-range and under-range values more consistently and works better (with fewer quantization errors) at extreme scales.

After Effects's current scaling is very good, this added feature should make it superb. I'm curious how we will be able to turn this feature on or off for individual layers. Adobe is saying that bicubic scaling in After Effects will work better than in Photoshop. Will After Effects become the new go-to tool for scaling?

04. Layer Feature Snapping and Anchor Point Improvements

Snapping of layer features in the Composition panel: You can now snap layer features to one another while dragging in the Composition panel. Features that can be snapped to one another include the anchor point, the center of the layer, a layer corner, the layer handle at the midpoint of a layer edge, or any point on a mask path (not just mask vertices), the center of any 3D face, or the center of the 3D volume. You can also snap the anchor point of a layer to features of that same layer using the Pan Behind (Anchor Point) tool.

I'm excited about snapping finally coming to After Effects. I've spent way too many hours over the last 10+ years doing the math and typing in 3D position coordinates to ensure pixel perfect layer alignment. Manually building pixel perfect 3D shapes like boxes takes forever. I'm not at all sad to hear that this is going to end. Updating the Pan Behind tool sounds minor but will make a huge difference in practice.

05. Mini Flowchart Improvements

The tapping of the Shift key to open the Composition Mini-Flowchart has been replaced by pressing the Tab key.

The Mini-Flowchart was a nice feature, just not one I wanted to accidentally activate every 30 seconds. Moving the function to the Tab key will help significantly.

06. Improved Missing Frame Dialog

If you had missing frames in an image sequence, previous versions of After Effects would say something like this “After Effects warning: The sequence has 3 missing frames.” In the next version, the message is much more useful: “After Effects warning: Animal[1-6].psd is missing 3 frames (2, 4-5).” Also, there is now a preference, Report Missing Frames, that allows you to turn this warning off if it is annoying.

I never understood why this wasn't a feature from the start. I work with image sequence renders every day and occasionally one or two frames will disappear.  I will not miss going through a comp frame by frame to find the missing frames.

07. Improved Footage Import and Format Support

Import of DNxHD footage: You can now import DNxHD MXF OP1a and Op-Atom files, as well as QuickTime (.mov) files with DNxHD media without installing additional codecs. This includes use of an uncompressed alpha channel in DNxHD QuickTime files.

Speeding up image sequences and increasing the diversity of footage After Effects can handle is always good. I use EXR sequences a lot and having access to the 1.8 versions of OpenEXR and ProEXR will be great. It will also be nice to have more control over RED r3d files.

08. Removal of The Live Update Button

The Live Update button has been removed from the Timeline panel. You can still enable or disable Live Update functionality with the command in the Timeline panel menu and the keyboard shortcuts (Alt on Windows or Option on Mac OS).

I use the Live Update button all the time. It's a standard part of my workflow to lock a comp's Live Update to ON or OFF quickly without the need to hold down a keyboard shortcut button. As a result I'm not happy about it being removed. Nice to know that the keyboard shortcut has been maintained and I hope that Live Update will be ON by default.

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