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what’s new and changed in After Effects CC 2015 (13.5)

After Effects CC 2015 (13.5) is now available. For information about what’s new in all of the Adobe professional video and audio applications and services, see this page.

If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can download the new version by checking for updates through the Creative Cloud desktop application. For information about purchasing a Creative Cloud subscription, see this page about plans and this page with current promotional offers.

For more information about Creative Cloud, see this overview video and the Creative Cloud FAQ list.

IMPORTANT: Before installing the new version of After Effects, please read this page about the default behavior of the updater, which is to remove all previous versions of the application, and this page about why you might not want to do that.

Please, if you want to ask questions about these new and changed features, come on over to the After Effects user-to-user forum. That’s the best place for questions (and, if you follow that link, you’ll find more information about how to communicate with us). Questions left in comments on a blog post are much harder to work with; the blog comment system just isn’t set up for conversations. If you’d like to submit feature requests (or bug reports), you can do so here.

new features in After Effects CC 2015 (13.5)

  • re-architecture for interactive performance improvements
  • uninterrupted previews
  • unified, simplified, and customizable previews
  • Creative Cloud Libraries
  • face tracker
  • Adobe Character Animator (Preview 1)
  • improved expression error handling and added debugging information for rendering issues
  • user interface improvements, including customizability and panel tab redesign
  • Maxon Cineware v2.0.16
  • updated RED and OpenEXR importers
  • updated third-party effect plug-ins

resources for learning about these new and changed features

details of new and changed features

Read on for a virtually comprehensive list of changes, with detail beyond the summaries of the top items listed above. We’ll be posting a lot more detail over the coming weeks, and the outline below will be populated with links to in-depth articles and tutorials, so bookmark this page and check back.

re-architecture for interactive performance improvements

When we asked you, our customers, a year ago what you’d like us to focus on in After Effects, the response was enthusiastic and nearly unanimous: You wanted us to focus on making After Effects respond more quickly and smoothly as you carried out your creative work. We listened. The great majority of the After Effects team has been hard at work for the past year on a fundamental re-architecture of the application that lays the groundwork for performance improvements of many kinds, and this major update that we will be releasing soon bears the first fruits of this effort.

The majority of improvements in the upcoming version of After Effects are the result of a major re-architecture that allows the user interface and image rendering to be processed separately by the CPUs. The user interface can now be much more responsive, as it no longer needs to wait for frames to finish rendering. Conversely, frames can continue to render while you work with the user interface.

New behaviors that do not fall into specific feature-like functionality include the following:

  • no more delays or beachballs during render requests
  • smooth interaction with the user interface at all times, even while frames are being rendered
  • the ability to interrupt or cancel frame renders by making a change to the composition
  • fast scrubbing (dragging of current-time indicator), even when the frames take a long time to render
  • faster image caching
  • more efficient evaluation of expressions
  • ability for previews to continue to process while After Effects is in the background

The changes to how After Effects plays previews, detailed below, were either a direct result of these interactive performance improvements or made possible by the architectural changes that were implemented.

uninterrupted previews

You can now make changes to the open project while a preview is playing back in After Effects.

In previous versions of After Effects, after you started a preview in a Composition, Layer, or Footage panel, clicking anywhere in the user interface would stop playback of that preview. In the upcoming version of After Effects, previews will continue until you either click inside the viewer panel or stop the preview with a keyboard shortcut.

When previewing a composition, you can, for example, modify that composition in the Timeline or Effect Controls panel. After Effects will immediately begin to cache the updated frames, which may cause the preview frame rate to slow down until the new frames are cached. You cannot make modifications inside the previewing Composition panel because clicking in the panel will stop the preview; however you can open a second viewer panel for the same composition to make modifications there, which will be reflected in the Composition panel where the preview is playing back.

You can make modifications during a preview in any Composition, Layer, or Footage panel. More examples of what you can do:

  • create, view, and modify other compositions or layers, including nested compositions
  • import footage, change interpret footage settings, or view footage in a Footage panel
  • change the project settings
  • change the view settings of a panel—e.g., show alpha channel, zoom in, or change 3D views

As noted above, any time you make a change that affects the frames being previewed, the preview frame rate may slow down while the new frames are rendered and cached.

unified, simplified, and configurable previews

After Effects has new behaviors for previewing compositions, layers, and footage. Preview behaviors can be customized in the updated Preview panel. New users to After Effects will find the default behaviors more intuitive because they will get real-time playback of cached frames and audio playback when they press the spacebar. Experienced After Effects users can customize the preview behaviors to their liking.

Because these changes have dissolved the differences between the old RAM preview and Standard preview (spacebar) behaviors, After Effects no longer uses those terms. Preview is now considered to be unified, with user-configurable behaviors.

New controls in the Preview panel allow you to configure preview behaviors for each keyboard shortcut: audio, looping, caching, range, and layer controls.

You can now use the Primary Viewer button to choose an open viewer panel or view in a panel to always be used for audio and external video preview, independent of which viewer or view you are currently previewing and separate from the viewer or view with Always Preview This View enabled. This is useful, for example, when you want a particular composition to always be displayed on your external video monitor while you work in other compositions.

For a full description of all changes to previews in After Effects CC 2015 (13.5), read this article.

Creative Cloud Libraries

The Creative Cloud Libraries panel is now available inside of After Effects.

The Creative Cloud Libraries feature set makes various kinds of assets available to you anywhere. Create images, colors, color looks, and more in Photoshop, Illustrator, and mobile apps like Adobe Shape and Hue, and then easily access them across other desktop and mobile applications for a seamless creative workflow. Library sharing makes it easy to collaborate and maintain consistency across projects.

As a Creative Cloud subscriber you have access to thousands of ready-to-use, royalty-free assets in the Creative Cloud Marketplace, which can be added directly to your library.

Through Adobe Stock, you can search millions of royalty-free, high-quality photos and illustrations. Adobe Stock assets are added directly to your library. Click the Search Adobe Stock button at the bottom of the Libraries panel to get started.

In After Effects, the Libraries panel is open by default in the Standard and All Panels workspaces, grouped with the Effects & Presets panel on the right side of the workspace. You can also access the Libraries panel by choosing either of the following:

  • File > Import > From Libraries
  • Window > Libraries

Graphics assets are imported into your After Effects project, like any other asset you would import from your local disks. To import a graphics asset into your project, you can either drag it from the Libraries panel into the Project panel or right-click on a graphic in the Libraries panel and choose Import. PSD and AI assets from Photoshop and Illustrator behave just the same when imported from the Libraries panel as they do when imported by previous means, with all of the power and flexibility that implies. Changing the Drag Import Multiple Items As setting in Preferences > Import will affect how PSD and AI assets are imported from a library.

Looks from Premiere Pro CC 2015 and Adobe Hue CC are files that define color transformation based on color lookup tables. You can apply these color looks to layers in After Effects. Looks are an easy way to infuse a mood or give your project extra punch by affecting the image’s color, or to apply color grading done in another application like SpeedGrade. To apply a look from the Libraries panel, you can drag a look onto a layer or you can first select a layer, right-click on a look in the Libraries panel, and choose Apply Look. After Effects will add the Apply Color LUT effect and apply the look. If the Apply Color LUT effect is already present on a layer, applying a look from the Libraries panel will re-use the existing instance of the effect. This is handy for when you want to try out different looks on the same layer.

Tip: To apply a look to all of the layers in a composition, create a new adjustment layer at the top of the layer stack and apply the look to that layer.

Asset types in your library other than graphics can not be directly applied in After Effects, but they can be viewed and managed in the Libraries panel. You can use the eyedropper tool in After Effects to pick from your library colors, similar to the Adobe Color Themes panel.

After Effects CC 2015 (13.5) can not add assets to a library. The add buttons at the bottom of the Libraries panel are disabled.

face tracker

The Tracker panel now includes new Face Tracking methods for detecting a human face in footage and tracking facial features over time. You can use this feature to quickly track a face to blur it or attach other elements to facial features, or to extract tracking data on prerecorded facial performances for use in Adobe Character Animator.

The face tracker works largely automatically, but you can help it by starting the analysis on a frame showing a front, upright view of the face. Also, if there are multiple faces in a scene, you can draw a closed mask loosely around the face, enclosing the eyes and mouth, to tell the face tracker which face to concentrate on. This can be a very rough mask, since it is just telling the face tracker which face to pay attention to.

In the Tracker panel, there are two face-tracking options:

  • Face Tracking (Outline Only): Use this option if all you want to track is the outline of the face.
  • Face Tracking (Detailed Features): Use this option if you want to detect eye (including eyebrow and pupil), nose, and mouth locations, and optionally extract measurements of various features. This options is required if you want to use the tracking data in Character Animator.

The mask is fitted to the outline of the detected face, with an estimate of the forehead. If tracking Outline Only, you can use this mask with an effect such as Mosaic to blur out a person’s face; use of mask expansion and feather can also improve the results.

If using the Detailed Features option, a Face Track Points effect is applied to the layer. The effect contains several 2D effect control points with keyframes, each of which is attached to detected facial features (e.g., the corners of the eyes and mouth, locations of pupils, the tip of the nose).

Note: If a face cannot be detected within the closed mask on a given frame, or if an open mask is used, regular mask tracking (equivalent to the Position, Scale & Rotation method) is used.

If you have used the Detailed Features option, you can extract even more information in the form of parametric measurements of facial features: Move the current-time indicator to a frame showing a neutral expression on the face (i.e., the rest pose); measurements on other frames will be relative to this rest pose frame. Then click Extract & Copy Face Measurements. A Face Measurements effect is added to the layer, and keyframes are created based on calculations made from the Face Track Points keyframe data. The Face Measurements keyframe data is copied to the system clipboard for use in Character Animator.

Tip: Even lighting on the face can improve tracking results.

Adobe Character Animator (Preview 1)

Adobe Character Animator (Preview) is installed with the upcoming version of After Effects.

To open Character Animator, choose File > Open Adobe Character Animator. You can launch Character Animator independently from After Effects from the Start Menu on Windows or the Applications folder on Mac OS.

Adobe Character Animator was previously known as Project Animal.

For more information, see this post about Adobe Character Animator.

expression evaluation changes and improved error handling

Evaluation of expressions in After Effects has been significantly enhanced. Performance of expression evaluation is generally faster; the improvement will vary depending on the expression.

When an expression fails to evaluate, there are two major changes:

  • Expression errors appear in a warning banner at the bottom of the Composition panel instead of in a dialog box.
  • The expression is not disabled. The expression will continue to evaluate and will display the warning banner until the problem with the expression is fixed.

On the right side of the expression error warning banner are control buttons:

  • The Left or Right arrow buttons display the previous or next expression error when multiple expressions fail to evaluate.
  • The Reveal Expression button will expose the property with the failing expression in the Timeline panel.
  • The Expand Warning button increases the height of the warning banner to display the error text. Click the button again to reduce the height to a single row.
  • The expression error text is clipped to the width of the Composition panel. To see the full expression error in a dialog box, click on the yellow error triangle icon next to the expression in the Timeline panel.

To hide the expression error warning banner, open Preferences > General and disable Show Warning Banner When Project Contains Expressions Errors. Note that when this option is disabled, the warning banner will not appear in After Effects, even when new expression errors occur. Re-enable this option to view expression errors.

Frames that fail to render under certain conditions will display a red warning banner in the Composition or Layer banner banner with debug information about the failure.

user interface improvements, including customizability and panel tab redesign

In Preferences > Appearance there is a new Highlight Colors section in which you can adjust the appearance of interactive controls and focus indicators. This should help people who have had difficulty with the readability of the user interface following some color and contrast changes introduced last year.

Icons for compositions and image sequences in the Project and Timeline panels are now multicolored instead of monochrome.

When you move the pointer over the tab of a Composition, Layer, Footage, Effect Controls, Timeline, or Flowchart panel that is not the frontmost panel in its group, the “X” button to close that panel will appear and you can click it to close that panel without bringing it to the front.

When there are more panel tabs than can fit in the width of a panel group, instead of a scroll bar, a menu ( >> ) appears on the right side of the tab well, from which you can choose hidden panels in the group. When there are hidden panels to both the left and the right of the visible panels, a divider line separates the panels hidden on the left (above the divider) from the panels hidden on the right (below the divider).

Note that you can still scroll left and right through panel tabs when the mouse pointer is over a tab group and you scroll with a mouse scroll wheel or use scroll gestures on a track pad.

Panel Group Settings sub-menu: In panel menus, panel group commands have been moved to the Panel Group Settings sub-menu: Close Panel Group, Undock Panel Group, Maximize Panel Group.

Close Other Panels In Group: In panel menus, there is a new command to close other panels in the same group.

Maxon Cineware v2.0.16

Cineware 2.0.16 for After Effects includes the following bug fixes and enhancements:

CINEMA 4D Layers are no longer automatically synchronized: When adding multiple instances of a CINEMA 4D scene layer in a composition, including adding Multi-Pass layers, Cineware no longer automatically synchronizes CINEMA 4D Layers. You will see an on/off checkbox at the top of the Effect Controls panel that has been relabeled Synchronize AE Layer (to avoid confusion between Cinema 4D layers and After Effects layers). When this is enabled, the Render Settings and Camera options on all instances of the layer will automatically synchronize as before, but Cinema 4D layers can be set independently. If this checkbox is disabled for a specific Cinema 4D scene layer, then none of that layer’s settings will synchronize with the rest of the layers in the composition.

updated CINEMA 4D Layers dialog box: Non-Layer Items has been renamed Items Not On Layers. By unchecking it, all objects that are not associated with any Cinema 4D layers will be turned off.

resizable dialog boxes: The Cinema 4D Layers and Cineware Settings dialog boxes have been updated so they can be resized as needed.

other significant bugs fixed in Cineware v2.0.16:

  • multi-pass workflow with object buffers clipping in over-bright areas
  • failure of rendering a composition with a .c4d source through Adobe Media Encoder on Windows

updated RED and OpenEXR importers

RED camera raw (.r3d) file decoding has been updated with the newest RED SDK. New functionality includes Dragon Enhanced Blacks, REDcolor4, and DRAGONcolor 2.

OpenEXR, EXtractoR, and IDentifier plug-ins from fnord software have been updated.

updated third-party effect plug-ins

Third-party effect plug-ins included with After Effects CC 2015 (13.5) have been updated.

The CycoreFX HD 1.8.0 plug-in package includes the following changes:

  • Fixed an issue with version checking that caused the error: “This plugin is only for use with Adobe After Effects CC (13.x).”
  • CC Time Blend and CC Time Blend FX have been obsoleted and are no longer available.

The Foundry Keylight 1.2v17 includes the following changes:

  • Colour Balance wheels draw properly on Mac OS X.
  • The About dialog on Mac OS X now displays information.

Imagineer Systems mocha AE has been updated to version 4.0.2. Choose Help > Release notes in mocha AE to learn about what has changed.

Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse 3.0.11 for After Effects includes the following bug fixes and enhancements:

  • Fixes a bug on Mac OS X 10.10 that could cause Color Finesse and After Effects both to hang, particularly on systems with a large number of cores (Mac Pro 2013).
  • Fixes a Windows bug that could prevent saving of Reference Images if default location was invalid/non-existent.

Known issues in Color Finesse 3.0.11 in After Effects CC 2015 (13.5):

  • If external video preview is enabled in both After Effects and Color Finesse, the Color Finesse UI can not use the external monitor. Disable video preview in After Effects to allow Color Finesse to use the video preview monitor.
  • If Color Finesse is applied to more than one adjustment layer, clicking the Full Interface button on layers higher in the layer stack will cause After Effects to hang.
After Effects, General, Region of Interest