an unordered, approximately comprehensive list of new features in After Effects CS4
The “New features in After Effects CS4” page in After Effects CS4 Help on the Web lists the 11 features that our marketing folks thought would be most compelling. And they are compelling. But I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks saying that they wanted to know about all of the new features in After Effects CS4, including all of those little features and tweaks that we made to address pain points, save a little time (or a lot of time), and otherwise just make working in After Effects better.
So, here is an essentially unordered list of all of the new features in After Effects CS4 that I can think of. If I forgot something, I’ll blame the fact that this has been a big week for us here.
You can search After Effects Help and community content using the Search Help field in the toolbar or by going to the After Effects Community Help page. We’ve also added nearly 500 links from Help to resources outside of Help, including dozens of video tutorials.
You can search and filter within projects and compositions in the Project panel and Timeline panel much like you’ve been able to in the Effects & Presets panel.
“Search and filter in the Timeline, Project, and Effects & Presets panels”
The Composition Navigator and Composition Mini-Flowchart are efficient, discoverable ways to navigate among and open nested compositions (precompositions).
Double-clicking a precomposition layer now opens the composition in the Composition panel. Alt-double-clicking or Option-double-clicking opens the precomposition layer in the Layer panel. [In previous versions, this was reversed.]
“Opening and navigating nested compositions”
If the disk to which an output module is writing runs out of space, After Effects pauses the render operation. You can clear additional disk space and then resume rendering and exporting. [In previous versions, the render just stopped.]
“Pause or stop rendering”
Each light type has a distinctive wireframe icon in the Composition panel. [In previous versions, the icons looked the same.]
“Create a light and change light settings”
Added context-menu command for duplicating render items. Added context menu in Project panel for selecting the source composition for a render item in the Project panel.
“Manage render items and change render statuses”
When creating or editing a mask, the Info panel tells you how many vertices there are in the mask.
You can now Ctrl-click or Command-click a property group’s triangle in the Effect Controls panel to expand (twirl open) the property group and all of its subgroups.
“Work with effects in the Effect Controls panel”
The aerender application writes its version and build number to standard output.
“Automating rendering with aerender”
Added new opt-in Product Improvement Program system for collecting usage data.
“Adobe Product Improvement Program”
You can now separate the x, y, and z components of position and animate them independently.
“Separate dimensions of Position to animate components individually”
New formats supported for import:
ASND (Adobe Sound Document)
MXF (Sony XDCAM HD variant) [Panasonic P2 Op-Atom variant added in CS3 8.0.2 ]
Sony XDCAM EX
Adobe After Effects CS4 XML projects (AEPX)
“Supported import formats”
Functional content (footage for template projects, etc.) was compressed to save hundreds of megabytes of storage and require less time to download and install.
Layer names, footage item names, and other items can now be much longer (instead of being limited to 31 characters), and they now use Unicode (UTF16) characters so that they move more reliably across platforms. The Unicode improvement is especially useful for people using languages other than English.
After Effects projects can be saved in a new XML project file format, which enables changes to be made manually or automatically with scripts without using After Effects.
After Effects can load and run effect plug-ins written using Pixel Bender. Pixel Bender is a language for creating high-performance image-processing effects that can also run in other applications, including Flash Player and (soon) Photoshop. The Pixel Bender toolkit is included with After Effects CS4.
Added Flip Horizontal and Flip Vertical commands for flipping and flopping layers.
“Scale or flip a layer”
Configuring memory usage is now more direct and intuitive. One improvement is the addition of the RAM To Leave For Other Applications preference. The improvements are even more notable in the context of the Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously multiprocessing feature. The three new preferences for this multiprocessing feature are Minimum Allocation Per CPU, Longer RAM Preview / Faster Rendering, and CPUs To Leave For Other Applications. These replace and refactor the difficult-to-use Maximum RAM Cache Size and Maximum Memory Usage preferences. Now, all of the preferences that affect memory usage are in one pane of the preferences dialog box, instead of split between two (which forced you to go back and forth to tweak settings).
“Memory & Multiprocessing preferences”
A new Auto setting for resolution in the Composition panel adapts the resolution of the view in the Composition panel to render only the pixels necessary to preview the composition at the current zoom level. For example, if the view is zoomed out to 25%, then the resolution automatically adapts to a value of 1/4. This may sound small, but you’d be amazed at how much this one change improves performance, since you’re not rendering extra pixels that then get thrown away when the zoomed preview is drawn to the screen. (Remember, the frame is rendered before it is scaled for preview at a Composition viewer zoom level other than 100%.)
You can now use the Unified Camera tool with a three-button mouse to switch much more easily among the Orbit Camera, Track XY Camera, and Track Z Camera tools. Rolling the mouse wheel forward and backward when the Unified Camera tool is active has the same result as dragging with the Track Z Camera tool.
“Adjust a camera view or working 3D view”
Several improvements were made to OpenGL rendering, so now even more things can be rendered on the GPU. New things supported by the OpenGL renderer: nested compositions, depth of field blur. Also, the OpenGL renderer can now use adaptive resolution to render a smaller number of pixels during interactions, like dragging a layer in the Composition panel.
“Render with OpenGL”
Creative Suite 4 Production Premium edition and Master Collection edition include many improvements and extensions to integration between After Effects and Premiere Pro, including making Premiere Pro a Dynamic Link server (i.e., Premiere Pro can run in the background and send things to After Effects).
“Working with Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects”
“Dynamic Link and After Effects”
The user interface was redesigned to more efficiently use space and be easier to read. The range of UI brightness settings is now larger (so you can make the panels darker). Icons were updated to be easier to distinguish at all brightness settings and screen resolutions.
“Brighten or darken the user interface”
XMP metadata can be imported, used as layer markers, exported, and used in all sorts of workflows. This set of features spans all of the applications in Creative Suite 4. This is a huge deal. I’m working on a document now that provides an overview of XMP metadata across the Adobe digital video and audio applications. I’ll post it soon.
Layer markers and composition markers now have durations. Composition markers now have the same controls that layer markers do, including the ability to set a marker with the * shortcut.
“Layer markers and composition markers”
You can export a composition to the XFL format, which is essentially an exchange format from which Flash Professional can reconstruct an FLA file that matches your composition. If your layers meet certain conditions, they pass through without being rendered, rasterized, or transcoded. So, you can manipulate layers individually in Flash, modify animations in Flash, add interactivity to different layers separately, et cetera.
“Export a composition as an XFL file to Flash Professional”
Shape layers now have more internal blending modes and can blend and render in 32bpc color.
“About shapes and shape layers”
Cartoon effect, which I encourage you to use with more subtle settings than the defaults for video abstraction work.
Here’s a link to a web page that quotes Dave Simons and me talking about the Cartoon effect and its development.
Improved digital cinema workflows and other color management workflows. The biggest notable change is the addition of the Compensate For Scene-Referred Profiles project setting, which also exists now in Photoshop CS4. Added new color profiles for film stocks.
“System gamma, device gamma, and the difference between scene and viewing environment”
You can select a set of devices in Adobe Device Central and automatically create a set of compositions in After Effects that allows you to work in a master composition and preview and output for each of the individual devices.
“Create compositions for playback on mobile devices”
You can directly create masks from text again. In After Effects CS3, we added the ability to create shapes from text. In After Effects CS4, you can do either.
“Create shapes or masks from text characters”
You can choose a line join type—miter, round, or bevel—for text strokes. This makes a lot of text look better, but it’s especially useful for text with complex shapes (e.g., Japanese).
“Choose text stroke line join”
3D object layers in PSD files can be rendered in After Effects so that they honor the composition camera in After Effects. In other words, you can import these 3D objects from Photoshop and composite them into a scene and do camera moves around them.
“Using 3D object layers from Photoshop”
The layout of the Render Queue panel was improved, saving space and putting information and controls in more useful places. Moved information from All Renders heading to status bar at bottom of panel. The Render button does not become the Stop button when the render queue is rendering; the Stop, Pause/Continue, and Render buttons are separate buttons. (This last change addresses an issue in previous versions that was a real pain if you accidentally clicked twice: you’d accidentally stop a render. Ouch.)
“Work in the Render Queue panel”
“Render and export a movie using the render queue”
FF shortcut finds and shows instances of missing effects in the Timeline panel.
“Shortcuts: showing properties and groups in the Timeline panel”
You can drag an output module to the Project panel to import the finished movie or a placeholder into the project for use as a footage item. If you drag an output module from the Render Queue panel into the Project panel before rendering, After Effects creates a placeholder footage item. References to the placeholder footage item are automatically replaced when the output module is rendered; the placeholder footage item itself is not replaced.
“Import footage items”
Compositions with a frame aspect ratio equal to or near 16:9 have two additional center-cut safe-zone indicators. The center-cut indicators show which parts of a 16:9 composition may be cut off when the image is shown on a 4:3 display. Such cropping is a concern when creating images for high-definition displays that may also be shown on standard-definition television sets.
“Safe zones, grids, guides, and rulers”
Auto-save now gives some visual feedback other than in the Info panel, so it doesn’t seem like After Effects has hung when it’s just saving your project periodically.
“Save and back up projects”
Several panel names were shortened so that it’s now less likely that you need to use the little scroll bar to access a panel’s tab when multiple panels are docked together in one frame.
“User interface changes from After Effects CS3 to After Effects CS4”
Keyframes in the Timeline panel have tooltips that show the time and value of the keyframe.
“View or edit a keyframe value”
Added Rename command to context menu for layers, footage items, compositions, and folders.
“Rename and sort items”
After Effects is now available in Korean.
ProEXR plug-ins from fnord (Brendan Bolles) are included with After Effects CS4. The OpenEXR I/O plug-in from fnord improves the import and export of OpenEXR files. The EXtractoR and IDentifier effect plug-ins make working with the various channels from OpenEXR files much better and easier.
“About 3D Channel effects”
Updated several effects to work with 32bpc floating-point color values. Updated effects include all of the 3D Channel effects.
“3D Channel effects”
Pixel aspect ratios for standard-definition formats have been corrected.
“Upgrade pixel aspect ratios to correct values”
Integrated new WDM/ASIO sound output device for audio previews.
“Preview video and audio”
Fine-tuned sensitivity for various controls for pens/tablets. For example, dragging a property value with a pen is much easier now.
Re-ordering render items in the Render Queue panel uses the same controls (including keyboard shortcuts) as re-ordering layers in the Timeline panel.
“Manage render items and change render statuses”
New Welcome screen with the tip of the day and useful controls for accessing resources, creating a new composition, and opening recent projects.
“User interface changes from After Effects CS3 to After Effects CS4”
The middle mouse button activates the Hand tool.
“Activate a tool”
Added Composition Settings command to context menu for compositions in the Project panel.
If a Composition viewer is locked, the Timeline panel for another composition is active, and the Composition viewer for the active composition is not shown, then most commands that affect views and previews operate on the composition for which the viewer is shown. For example, pressing the spacebar can start a standard preview for the composition visible in a locked Composition viewer rather than the composition associated with the active Timeline panel. This behavior facilitates a working setup sometimes referred to as edit-this-look-at-that (ETLAT). The most common scenario in which this behavior is useful is the scenario in which you make a change in the Timeline panel for a nested (upstream) composition and want to preview the result of the change in a containing (downstream) composition.
“Edit this, look at that (ETLAT) and locked Composition viewers”
The Comment column is now on (shown) by default in the Project panel. Now that you can search on values in columns that are shown, this begins to really matter.
“Organize and view items in the Project panel”
New Wiggle Transform path operation for shapes randomizes (wiggles) any combination of the position, anchor point, scale, and rotation transformations for a path. This is especially useful for shaps that also use the Repeater.
“Alter shapes with path operations”
New button in Project panel to open Interpret Footage dialog box.
“Interpret footage items”
Premiere Pro time-remapping is converted to After Effects time-remapping when clips/layers are copied and pasted between After Effects and Premiere Pro and when After Effects imports a Premiere Pro project. Supported blending modes are converted, too.
“Copy between After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro”
Adjustment layers have a default label color and are therefore are in a color label group. This makes it easier to select all adjustment layers. Label names now appear next to the label color swatches.
“Color labels for layers and footage items”
Bilateral Blur effect
“Bilateral Blur effect”
The Turbulent Noise effect is essentially a modern, higher-performance implementation of the Fractal Noise effect. The Turbulent Noise effect takes less time to render, and it’s easier to use for creating smooth animations. The Turbulent Noise effect also more accurately models turbulent systems, with smaller noise features moving more quickly than larger noise features.
“Turbulent Noise effect”
Added F4V as an output type. The FLV and F4V formats are container formats, each of which is associated with a set of video and audio formats. FLV files generally contain video data that is encoded using the On2 VP6 or Sorenson Spark codec and audio data encoded using an MP3 audio codec. F4V files generally contain video data that is encoded using an H.264 video codec and the AAC audio codec.
“Render and export a composition as an FLV or F4V file”
Added Obsolete effect category and moved Basic 3D, Basic Text, Lightning, and Path Text into this category. Effects in the Obsolete category are retained for compatibility with projects created with previous versions of After Effects. When updating projects or creating new projects, you should use alternative effects and techniques rather than effects in the Obsolete category.
Added Copy Expression Only to the context menu for a property in the Timeline panel or Effect Controls panel.
“Save and reuse expressions”
Added Center In View command, which moves a layer so that its anchor point is in the center of the current view in the Composition panel. This is especially useful when working with 3D object layers from Photoshop.
“Move layers in space”
Click the plus or minus button next to an output module to add another output module to or remove an output module from a render item.
“Add output modules to and remove output modules from render items”
Added name to Property submenu in Expression Language menu.
“Property attributes and methods”
Imagineer Systems mocha for After Effects planar tracking software is included with After Effects CS4.
“Tracking and stabilizing motion”
Changed default units to millimeters in Camera Settings dialog box.
“Create a camera layer and change camera settings”
Added three HDTV and DVCPRO HD PAL composition settings presets to Presets menu.
Activate a view in a multi-view layout in the Composition panel without affecting layer selection: Click within the view with the middle mouse button.
“Choose a view layout and share view settings”
New keyboard shortcuts:
Place the insertion point in the search field for the active panel: Ctrl+F (Windows) or Command+F (Mac OS).
Open Composition Mini-Flowchart for active composition: Tap Shift
Activate the most recently active composition that is in the same composition hierarchy (network of nested compositions) as the currently active composition: Shift+Esc
New adjustment layer: Ctrl+Alt+Y (Windows) or Command+Option+Y (Mac OS)
Center selected layers in view (modifies Position property to place anchor points of selected layers in center of current view): Ctrl+Home (Windows) or Command+Home (Mac OS)
Show only instances of missing effects in Timeline panel: FF
Increase or decrease Opacity (or Intensity for light layers) of selected layers by 1%: Ctrl+Alt++ (plus) or Ctrl+Alt+- (minus) on numeric keypad (Windows); Control+Option++ (plus) or Control+Option+- (minus) on numeric keypad (Mac OS)
Increase or decrease Opacity (or Intensity for light layers) of selected layers by 10%: Ctrl+Alt+Shift++ (plus) or Ctrl+Alt+Shift+- (minus) on numeric keypad (Windows); Control+Option+Shift++ (plus) or Control+Option+Shift+- (minus) on numeric keypad (Mac OS)