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Top feature requests for After Effects in 2012

I just spent some time going through all of the feature requests that we’ve received over the past year. This post consists of two parts: first, some notes about the feature requests from last year that we were able to incorporate into After Effects CS6 (including in some recent updates); second, a list of the top feature requests for this year, with some notes about each.

Before I get to it, let me first say how much we appreciate it when you submit bug reports and feature requests. It really helps us to know what to build for you.

Please, do not start a conversation or add feature requests in the comments on this blog post. It is very cumbersome to track requests and conversations with several people in a comment thread on a blog article. The best thing to do is to use the feature-request form to add your own requests. If you want to have a conversation, let’s do it on the After Effects forum; start a thread there, and we’ll see it.

You can also talk with Steve Forde, the After Effects product manager. You can most easily contact him through his blog or Twitter account. For ways to communicate with the After Effects team, see this page.


top feature requests from 2011 that we were able to address in After Effects CS6 in 2012


Last year at this time, I shared the top feature requests for After Effects for 2011. Here’s a summary of which of those requests we were able to address in After Effects CS6:

  • import of AAF (and Final Cut Pro) files: The new Pro Import After Effects functionality built into After Effects CS6 is based on technology from Automatic Duck, which we acquired last year in response to requests like this. With this feature, you can import Final Cut Pro projects, AAF files, OMF files, and Apple Motion files. Related to this, Automatic Duck has made their previous plug-in for After Effects CS5.5 and earlier available as a free download. (BTW, I’m very glad to now have Wes Plate from Automatic Duck as a coworker.)
  • variable-width mask feather: Here’s a video showing how to use the new variable-width mask feather features in After Effects CS6.
  • saving projects backward so that they can be opened by a previous version of After Effects: You can save a project from After Effects CS6 as a copy that can be opened by After Effects CS5.5. You can also save a copy of a project from After Effects CS5.5 in a format that can be opened by After Effects CS5. See this page for details. If you need to go back more than one version, or if you need to go back to After Effects CS4, use Paul Tuersley’s script, pt_OpenSesame.
  • 3D extrusion of vector graphics: We added a ray-traced 3D renderer and the ability to extrude text and shape layers in 3D, as well as the ability to convert Illustrator graphics to shape layers so that you could work with graphics from Illustrator in 3D. See this page for video tutorials and a free download of a 3D material options project.
  • GPU/CUDA acceleration: We added CUDA acceleration for the ray-traced 3D renderer, and we reworked how we use OpenGL to accelerate other aspects of the application. See this page for details of GPU (CUDA, OpenGL) features in After Effects CS6.
  • nodal compositing: Well, no, we didn’t completely overhaul After Effects to be a nodal compositor. But we did ask people exactly what they wanted to be able to do that was easier in a nodal compositor. The answer that we got back again and again was that people wanted to be able to use one track matte as a matte for multiple layers, not just the one layer that the matte was directly over. When I would point out to people that they could do this with the existing Set Matte effect, most people were surprised, not having known that this extremely useful effect even existed. However, there were some people who knew about it but said that it wasn’t useful because it wasn’t a 32-bpc effect. So, we fixed that. In After Effects CS6, the Set Matte effect is now a 32-bpc effect. (We’re looking into solving other specific issues like this to give people the elements of a “nodal” workflow that they need, without giving up the layer-based paradigm that makes After Effects so good for so many things.)
  • import of 3D objects: Though we weren’t able to incorporate the direct import of 3D objects into After Effects CS6, we were able to work with several third parties so that they could use our programming interfaces to create plug-ins and scripts to incorporate 3D elements in After Effects scenes. We’re thrilled to see Maxon Cinema 4D, Jupiter Jazz AtomKraft, Zaxwerks Invigorator, Video Copilot Element 3D, Autodesk 3ds Max, Rowbyte Plexus 2, and others integrating with After Effects and giving people so many different ways to work with 3D objects.

top feature requests for After Effects in 2012

Here’s a quick summary of the most common feature requests that we’ve gotten over the past year or so, with some commentary on each. These aren’t necessarily listed in order of the number of requests.

Note that because the time period under discussion includes several months before we released After Effects CS6, we managed to get some of the top requests for this year into After Effects CS6 (including in some recent updates).

  • use of GT 650M for GPU acceleration of ray-traced 3D renderer: We incorporated this change in the After Effects CS6 (11.0.2) update. Also heavily requested—though not as much as the GT 650M—were the GTX 670 and GTX 680, which we also added in the After Effects CS6 (11.0.1 and 11.0.2) updates.
  • import of Final Cut Pro project files and AAF files: See the entry in the previous list about the new Pro Import After Effects feature that we included in After Effects CS6.
  • paint in the Composition panel: We asked last year for people to tell us exactly what aspects of the old Vector Paint effect they wanted back. (See last year’s post about top feature requests for context.) The overwhelming answer has been that people want the ability to paint in the Composition panel—i.e., to see the composition that you’re painting on, not just one layer. While I can’t promise anything for any specific future version of After Effects, I can say that I am personally working to make sure that this need is satisfied as soon as possible. We have heard this request loud and clear.
  • onion skinning: Similar to the previous item, onion skinning is a specific feature from the Vector Paint effect that you’ve told us you want back. Understood.
  • wiggly, variable-width paint strokes: Same as above.
  • grouping layers in the Timeline panel: This request was also common last year, and my response to it now is about the same as it was then. (See last year’s post.) There are some easy ways to solve this problem poorly, but the right way requires more work. In the meantime, I recommend that folks use the same method that I do to group, sort, show, and hide layers in the Timeline panel.
  • color swatch panel: There are some good scripts and other solutions for saving and reusing color swatches in After Effects. I agree with those who made this request, though: it would be nice to have something built in.
  • import of 3D objects: Though we are glad that so many applications, plug-ins, and scripts integrate with After Effects to provide this functionality (see the previous list above), we think that we can and must do better. We are taking this very seriously. When making feature requests about this, be sure to tell us specifically what you want to do with these 3D objects in After Effects.
  • better integration with Maxon Cinema 4D: The current workflow for working with Maxon Cinema 4D and After Effects is good, but it could be better. We are also taking this very seriously. When making feature requests about this, be sure to tell us specifically what aspects of the workflow could be better.
  • shortcut for showing only properties with keyframes: The keyboard shortcut U shows only animated properties, which means properties with keyframes or expressions. There isn’t a shortcut for just showing properties with keyframes.
  • ability to control individual mask vertices: It would be useful to be able to manipulate individual points on a mask path with expressions and/or parenting to nulls. You can do this with scripts now, but that is not convenient in general.
  • ability to send composition directly to Adobe Media Encoder from After Effects: Adobe Media Encoder (AME) has been getting a lot better lately, and it’s now by far the best way to create output for web and mobile device formats—certainly better than the problematic H.264 export from the After Effects render queue. But it’s still a bit clunky to send compositions from After Effects to AME.
  • per-mask transformation properties: Several folks have commented that they’d like to see the same per-mask transformation properties as are now available for shapes within shape layers.
  • custom keyframe interpolation types: Folks now create complex animations (like bounces and decays) manually using several keyframes or by writing expressions. Ian Haigh has made this much easier with his Ease and Wizz script, which automatically adds expressions based on parameters that you define for various kinds of animation.
  • keyframe looping: You can currently use the loopIn and loopOut expression methods to loop keyframes to repeat animations, but that’s not as convenient as having a proper user interface for keyframe looping.
  • color scopes (waveform and vector): There are scopes in Color Finesse, which is included with After Effects, but they aren’t as integrated as people would like. There are several third-party utilities that provide scopes for After Effects, including Test Gear from Synthetic Aperture.
  • better scaling: The bilinear resampling method that After Effects uses for transformations is not adequate for some people’s needs. Premiere Pro has recently introduced superior scaling algorithms, and it seems time for us to do something similar for After Effects. In the meantime, you can use a plug-in such as Instant HD / Resizer to perform higher-quality scaling within After Effects.
  • ability to find where items are missing: After Effects gives several kinds of warnings about missing items—missing fonts, missing effects, missing footage, missing frames in image sequences—but it doesn’t do a very good job of telling you where in the project and composition the missing instances are. You can type missing in the Project panel to find footage items for which the source files are missing, but that’s about it. Paul Tuersley provides some scripts that make this easier, but it’s still a pain.
  • option to create layers above selected layers, not at top of layer stack: Now, when you create a new layer, it appears at the top of the layer stack. Many people say that they expect the layer to be created immediately above the selected layers, which is useful for creating track matte layers, creating adjustment layers, and just generally creating new layers in the part of the composition where you’re actually working. What would you think if we made this the new behavior, so that a new layer was created above the topmost selected layer, or at the top of the composition layer stack if no layer is selected? Would you want the new layer to also be created with the same duration as the topmost selected layer, or would you like it to continue being created with the same duration as the composition?
  • the ability to specify location of Auto-save files, default import location, and default output location: After Effects remembers where you last imported an item from and where you last exported an item to. The problem is that these are global values, not project-specific values, so many people who move back and forth between projects find themselves continually navigating all over the place to redirect After Effects to the appropriate directories for a specific project. Similarly, there is no control over where auto-saved projects are stored for each project. (By the way, if you aren’t using Auto-save, you should either turn that on or develop the discipline of using Increment And Save. They can save a lot of headaches.)

Of course, we got many more requests than this. These are just several of the most-requested items. If you think that we need to add or change something, submit bug reports and feature requests and let us know. Don’t hesitate to enlist your friends and colleagues to do the same; we very strongly consider how many requests we get for a change when deciding what to work on next.

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