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GPU (CUDA, OpenGL) features in After Effects CS6 and After Effects CC

After Effects CS6 (11.0) and After Effects CC (12.0, 12.1, 12.2) make use of the GPU (graphics processing unit) on your graphics card for some specific kinds of processing.

The GPU features in After Effects CS6 and later can be thought of in three categories:

  • GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer (CUDA on specific graphics cards)
  • Fast Draft mode and Hardware BlitPipe (OpenGL with somewhat stringent requirements)
  • OpenGL swap buffer (OpenGL with looser requirements)

IMPORTANT: A common misconception is that After Effects requires CUDA features of one of a specific set of Nvidia GPUs. That is not true. Only the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer requires this. The other GPU features work on any GPU that meets certain basic requirements, including AMD and Intel GPUs. See below for details.

One important point for users of After Effects CS5.5 and earlier: The previous OpenGL renderer is gone. It was unreliable and problematic, and most people (rightly) turned it off except for OpenGL-Interactive mode. The OpenGL features in After Effects CS6 and later have been built fresh and do not attempt to solve the same problems as the previous OpenGL renderer. In other words, you no longer need to be scared by the appearance of the word ‘OpenGL’ as it relates to After Effects.

If you have questions, bring them to the After Effects forum; don’t ask in the comments on this blog post, which far fewer people will see.

Be sure that you’ve applied the After Effects CC (12.2) update and After Effects CS6 (11.0.4) update, which include fixes and changes regarding the OptiX library for the ray-traced 3D renderer that make VRAM handling better, prevent crashes, and otherwise improve the experience in this area.

GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer

After Effects CS6 and later includes a ray-traced 3D environment, within which you can bend 2D layers, extrude text and shapes, and more.

The ray-traced 3D renderer can run on the CPU, but the CPU-based ray-traced 3D renderer is rather slow in Final Quality mode. That’s why After Effects also has a GPU-accelerated 3D renderer. To use the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer, you must have one of a specific set of Nvidia graphics cards. The GPU acceleration of the ray-traced 3D renderer depends on the OptiX library from Nvidia, which requires CUDA on an Nvidia GPU.

If you get a warning that the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer does not have enough free memory to operate, see this page for details about how to address this issue.

The graphics cards that After Effects can use for the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer are listed near the bottom of the system requirements page.

You need to install the latest driver for you graphics card. You can update the CUDA driver via the CUDA panel in System Preferences or by going to the NVIDIA web site.

After Effects CC (12.1) and later require CUDA version 5.0 or later because of the updated OptiX 3.0 library from Nvidia. See this page for details of OptiX 3.0 and other changes in After Effects CC (12.1).

If your GPU is not supported, or you have an old driver, the ray-traced 3D renderer will render on the CPU using all physical cores.

If you have multiple GPUs installed, the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer will use the CUDA cores on all of them, as long as they are of the same CUDA compute level. (See the technical specifications of your GPU for its CUDA compute level.) After Effects will also use all of the VRAM on the installed GPUs, with the caveat that both cards will be treated as if they each have the amount of VRAM on the card with the lesser amount of VRAM.

The reason that the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer is limited to working on only specific GPUs is simple: testing. We are committed to making After Effects stable and reliable—as well as fast—so we must thoroughly test every card that we say After Effects will use to provide these features.

If you want to request that a specific piece of hardware be added to our list, please submit a feature request.

Danny Princz maintains an excellent set of After Effects CUDA benchmark testing results, which show that the GeForce GTX category of cards does very well in terms of performance/price for After Effects GPU acceleration of the ray-traced 3D renderer.

Fast Draft and Hardware BlitPipe

Fast Draft is a preview mode created to make working with the ray-traced 3D renderer much, much faster. It is not a high-fidelity renderer, and it makes many sacrifices of visual fidelity for speed of manipulation. It is intended to be used when setting up 3D scenes, when working in Final Quality mode would be too slow. (See this video for a visual demonstration of this mode.)

The “Hardware BlitPipe” feature is a GPU acceleration feature that is only engaged when using color management output simulation on the screen and when using the exposure control in the viewer panels. The option to enable this feature is a preference: Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer, And Footage Panels.

This level of GPU acceleration requires OpenGL 2.0 or higher (with Shader Model 4.0 or higher on Windows), and at least 256MB of texture memory. Most ATI, NVIDIA, and Intel GPUs released in the past five years meet these requirements.

If your GPU does not meet these requirements, these features will be disabled:

  • Fast Draft mode
  • Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer, and Footage Panels

After Effects CS6 (11.0) and After Effects CC (12.0) check a list of Intel graphics cards before enabling these features. Only the following Intel graphics cards are included on this list:

  • (Windows) Intel HD Graphics Family, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Intel HD Graphics P4000
  • (Mac) Intel HD Graphics 3000

After Effects CC (12.1) and later have removed this check against a whitelist for these OpenGL features on Intel graphics cards. See this page for details of this change and other GPU-related changes in After Effects CC (12.1).

OpenGL swap buffer

The OpenGL swap buffer feature relates to the drawing of pixels to the screen, which can be a performance bottleneck, especially with large monitors. Using the OpenGL swap buffer feature to accelerate the drawing of pixels to the screen makes working with After Effects much faster and smoother.

This level of GPU acceleration simply requires OpenGL 1.5 or higher with Shader Model 3.0 or higher. Most ATI and NVIDIA cards meet these requirements, as do the Intel HD Graphics 3000 and Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipsets.

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