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top After Effects feature requests of 2013, plus a peek at what we’re thinking about for the near future

I want to thank everyone who submitted a feature request (or bug report) this year. We put a lot of stock in the feedback that comes in through this channel. I think that a lot of you have gotten that message, since the number of feature requests and the amount of specific detail in the requests have both gone up quite a lot over the past year. Thank you.

I just finished going back through all of the feature requests that we received in 2013, as well as reviewing the list of top requests from last year, 2012. I thought that it might be useful to reflect on what we accomplished in 2013 based on these feature requests and then also share some of what we’re thinking about for the near future.

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 Twitter account. For ways to communicate with the After Effects team, see this page.

For complete lists of what is new and changed in After Effects CC, see these pages:

top feature requests from 2013 that we were able to address in After Effects CC (12.0, 12.1, 12.2) in 2013

Note that last year, I did a summary of feature requests from 2011 that we were able to address in 2012. This year, because of our greater ability to respond quickly through Adobe Creative Cloud, I am listing top requests from 2013 that we were able to address in the same year.

  • Make it faster: We don’t get all that many feature requests that use the exact words “Make it faster”, but a large number of requests do ask for essentially this in more specific terms.

    In After Effects CC (12.0), we improved performance when working with imported OpenEXR image sequences, improved the automatic defaults for memory settings (Memory & Multiprocessing preferences), and made it easier to manage the disk cache.

    In After Effects CC (12.1), we greatly improved the performance of the Warp Stabilizer and 3D Camera Tracker effects, extended OpenGL functionality to all Intel GPUs, integrated the new OptiX 3.0 library for better GPU performance with the ray-traced 3D renderer, added 21 entries to the CUDA whitelists for tested and supported GPUs for the ray-traced 3D renderer, opened the GPU acceleration to untested and unsupported GPUs, and improved performance when importing DPX image sequences.

    One common category of requests asks that we test and support a specific GPU for CUDA acceleration of the ray-traced 3D renderer. The four most commonly requested GPUs in 2013 were the GTX TITAN, GTX 680, GTX 675MX, and GTX 680MX. We tested and added all of them (and many more) for After Effects CC (12.1), as well as adding a mechanism for you to try untested and unsupported GPUs at your own risk if you wish to do so.

    There’s more commentary regarding “making it faster” in the section below about plans for the near future.

  • import of 3D objects and better integration with Cinema 4D: Now that After Effects includes Cinema 4D and can import .c4d files, importing 3D objects into After Effects is as easy as importing them into Cinema 4D and bringing the .c4d scene files into After Effects. With each incremental update to After Effects CC, the integration with Cinema 4D is getting tighter and better.
  • conversion of parametric shape paths to Bezier shape paths: You can convert a parametric path to a Bezier path after the parametric path has already been created by context-clicking the property group for the parametric path and choosing the Convert To Bezier Path command from the context menu. See the “command for converting a parametric shape layer path to a Bezier path” entry on this page for details. This request was likely so common because people didn’t realize that they could create shapes as Bezier paths to begin with (by holding the Alt or Option key), so we also made that much more obvious by adding a Bezier Path checkbox in the Tools panel.
  • option when precomposing to trim precomposition duration to duration of selected layers: When you precompose, you have a new option: Adjust Composition Duration To The Time Span Of The Selected Layers. Choose this to create a new composition that has a duration that is the same as that spanned by the selected layers. This was added in After Effects CC (12.1).
  • shortcut for showing only properties with keyframes: The U keyboard shortcut now only shows properties with keyframes, not properties that have expressions but no keyframes. See the “improvements to keyboard shortcuts for showing properties with keyframes, expressions” entry on this page for details.
  • ability to send composition directly to Adobe Media Encoder from After Effects: See the “commands for sending composition to Adobe Media Encoder (AME) encoding queue” entry on this page for details of the closer integration between Adobe Media Encoder and After Effects.
  • better scaling: We made two big strides forward in this area, with bicubic scaling in After Effects CC (12.0) and then with the Detail-Preserving Upscale effect in After Effects CC (12.1).
  • report of which images are missing when importing image sequence: 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 After Effects CC (12.0), the message was made 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.
  • user-defined location for Auto-save, plus turning Auto-save on by default: In the Auto-save category in the Preferences dialog box, you can choose to either save the auto-saved projects next to the original project (the behavior in previous versions when Auto-save is enabled) or in a custom location. This was added in After Effects CC (12.1).

    In After Effects CC (12.2), due to popular demand, we made the default settings such that Auto-save is turned on.

    Note: An even better approach than relying on auto-save is to use the File > Increment And Save command regularly and habitually. The Increment And Save command has a couple of advantages: it allows you to determine exactly when to save, and it does not overwrite previous saved versions. Once you have developed that habit of using Increment And Save, you may choose to turn off auto-save. That’s what I do.

  • effect instances: This is an example of where we took a somewhat narrow feature request (for effect instances) and created a much more powerful and general solution: copying properties with property links. You can select any property or set of properties (including effects, of course) and choose Edit > Copy With Property Links and then paste those properties on any layer in any composition. The result is that the pasted properties remain connected to the layer from which the properties were copied, such that any change made to the original property is reflected in all of the instances of the pasted property links. There’s more detail in the “property linking” entry here.
  • preference to create new layer above selected layers, not at top of layer stack: In versions of After Effects before After Effects CC (12.1), most commands that created a new layer would create the new layer at the top of the layer stack, regardless of whether any layers were selected. In After Effects CC (12.1), most commands that create a new layer create the layer immediately above the topmost selected layer. If no layer is selected, then the new layer is created at the top of the layer stack. The original request asked for a preference to do this, but we realized that we should just change the behavior without a preference because the new behavior was nearly always the right one. There’s more detail in the “layers created immediately above topmost selected layer” entry here.
  • creation of a containing folder upon output of image sequence: This is another example of a narrow feature request that we decided to implement as part of a much broader, more general, and more powerful feature. We extended the output file name template feature to allow you to specify output file locations in a general fashion, including (optionally) automatically creating new folders for output. See the “file name and location templates, plus automatic creation of folders for image sequences” entry on this page for details.
  • ability to find where effects are missing: In After Effects CC (12.0), we added new commands for finding where there are instances of missing footage, missing effects, and missing fonts.
  • features for collaboration with other After Effects users: We get a lot of feature requests in this area, sometimes phrased as asking for Dynamic Link between instances of After Effects. I’m listing this among the features that we implemented in 2013 entirely because of the collaboration features made possible by the After Effects integration with the Adobe Anywhere platform. This is in its early days, though. Stay tuned.
  • option to center anchor point in shape layer: The requests for this only ever mentioned shape layers, but we decided to make this a bit more general, so that you can set the anchor point to be in the center of the visible layer content (e.g., to the center of the masked area) for other kinds of layers, too. See the “command for moving anchor point to center of content” entry on this page for details, including the keyboard shortcuts.
  • HiDPI for Mac computers with Retina displays: After Effects will now take advantage of a Retina display on a Mac computer to show each pixel of content in a viewer as a single pixel on the display. This affects the contents of the Footage panel, Layer panel, and Composition panel, including both your video content and some UI overlays and widgets within the content area. For more details, see the “HiDPI content viewers for Retina displays on Mac computers” entry on this page.
  • creation of shapes from multiple selected vector layers: The Create Shapes From Vector Layer command works on multiple selected layers, beginning with After Effects CC (12.1).

top feature requests for After Effects in 2013 that we have not yet implemented

First, a very important disclaimer: This blog post is not a promise, and I can’t see into the future. If I suggest here that we are considering working on something in the near future, it means just that: we are considering it, and we may be working on it. This does not mean that we will certainly release any specific feature at any specific time. (I had to say that, lest someone yell at me a year from now when something mentioned here didn’t happen the way that I guessed that it might.)

Also, the following is by no means a complete list of things that we’re thinking about for the future. It’s just a list of the top requests. We are cooking up some very big things that are outside of the incremental improvements that common feature requests tend to encompass. Progress is both incremental improvement and surprising innovative leaps. I’ll leave it to our product manager, Steve Forde, to talk about the surprising innovative leaps when the time is right.

  • onion skinning: For those of you who aren’t aware, “onion skinning” refers to a feature that overlays a previous or subsequent frame’s imagery onto the screen so that you can use it for reference when drawing the current frame. This is a terrific feature of many animation programs, and it’s clearly a feature that would benefit many After Effects users. We’re currently thinking that we’d like to tackle this in the near future, while we’re working on some other features that are especially useful to character animators. This was a feature within the Vector Paint effect, which has been missed by many folks, but the requests for onion skinning go far beyond that and into all manner of animation workflows.
  • ability to access individual vertices of masks and shapes with expressions: I’m pleasantly surprised by how many people have been requesting this. If you could attach layers (e.g., a null object layer) to the vertices of a mask or shape path, then you could do so many interesting things with motion tracking, linked animations, programmatic animations… The possibilities are endless. We are considering a lot of improvements to how you use and control masks and shapes. If you want this feature sooner rather than later, be sure to submit a feature request and tell us exactly how you’d use it. Do you want/need to be able to control the mask or shape path with a linked item, or is it enough to be able to “read” the vertex positions from these paths and use them to drive the animations of other items?
  • ability to open a precomposition in the Timeline panel of the containing composition: Our internal jargon for this feature is übertwirl, referring to the ability to “twirl” a precomposition layer open in the Timeline panel and gain access to the layers within the nested composition, without leaving the Timeline panel of the composition in which it’s nested. This is a feature that we’ve been wrestling with for years, since it is a) obviously useful and b) really hard to do well. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that this feature is one of two rather different solutions to the same problem. The other solution is…
  • layer folders: A lot of folks ask for the ability to add layers to folders to tidy up their Timeline panels. We get it. So why haven’t we done it? Because we know that merely doing this would be a half-solution. As soon as we create a feature that allows you to put layers into folders in the Timeline panel, many people are going to want/expect to be able to apply, say, effects to just the layers in a folder. That starts to sound like a precomposition, right? So the conversation nearly always ends up getting back to the previous request, übertwirl. Similarly, once you’ve got folders, people will want/expect to be able to put non-adjacent layers into folders. Now this starts to sound like labeling/tagging. I’m not sure how we’re going to solve this, but I think that 1) we will solve this and 2) it’s not just going to be with simple layer folders. We get more requests to implement übertwirl, and it seems to us to be the more robust and useful solution. Personally, I use Zorro to manage my layers, and I strongly recommend that you try it yourself. Also, you can get rather far toward tidying up your Timeline panel and managing layer sets by using label colors and using the commands to select label color groups.
  • GPU acceleration of rendering other than ray-traced 3D renderer: Premiere Pro has done an excellent job over the past few years of showing how powerful the GPU can be for improving performance throughout an image-processing pipeline, and folks are reasonably asking us when After Effects is going to follow suit. We already use the GPU for some things, but not for many of the core image-processing tasks in After Effects. One thing that we are very wary of is creating a dependency on specific hardware for basic tasks when many of our users may not have access to that specific hardware. We are currently attacking this problem from a few different angles, and I hope to be able to share details with you next year. I think that you’re going to like what you see.

    A related request is that we add OpenCL acceleration for the ray-traced 3D renderer. That’s not going to happen. The ray-traced 3D renderer in After Effects is built using the OptiX library from Nvidia, which depends on Nvidia’s CUDA technology. However, this should not be interpreted to mean that we are opposed to OpenCL. Quite the opposite. When we on the After Effects team look at how we can improve performance, we look at technologies that can be used on a broad array of hardware, including OpenCL and OpenGL. There is just this one narrow, current instance in which we are dependent on a third party (Nvidia) for one feature, the ray-traced 3D renderer. Keep in mind that the ray-traced 3D renderer has a rather limited feature set compared with the 3D capabilities of Cinema 4D (now included with After Effects), which does not depend on any specific GPU technology at all.

  • painting in the Composition panel: This one is rather self-explanatory. It certainly would be useful to be able to paint on a layer in context in the Composition panel, where you can see all of the other layers in the composition, as opposed to the current state in which you must paint on a layer in the Layer panel without such context. If all goes according to plan, I think that we’ll be able to add this in the near future.
  • keyboard shortcut editor: Yes, we need a keyboard shortcut editor that is more user-friendly than the current solution of directly editing the keyboard shortcuts text file. That said, I do want to make sure that everyone is aware that that solution does exist. It’s a little cumbersome, but it does work. The easiest way to find the keyboard shortcuts file is to open the Preferences dialog box and click the button at the bottom to Reveal Preferences In Finder/Explorer. The keyboard shortcuts file is named something like “Adobe After Effects 12.2 Win en_US Shortcuts.txt”, depending on your version, language, and operating system. Creating a more user-friendly means of editing keyboard shortcuts is on our prioritized list for the near future, along with several other features regarding a more approachable user interface, including…
  • resizable user interface text: As people use After Effects on larger and larger monitors, on which the size of each pixel is smaller and smaller, the single size for the user interface text becomes a problem. We’re looking into a variety of user interface “skin” improvements for the near future, and this one is near the top of the priority list.
  • animated Camera Raw effect: You’ve been able to import camera raw files using the Camera Raw importer plug-in in After Effects for many versions, but it has always been tedious to try to animate the values for the adjustments. The best that you’ve been able to do is to import the same image with multiple static adjustments and then blend and fade between them. The Photoshop and Lightroom teams have been doing some good work in this area lately, and I am hopeful that we will soon be able to incorporate the Camera Raw adjustments as an effect in After Effects.
  • color coding and grouping of keyframes and markers: This feature is another that is rather self-explanatory. It would surely be useful to be able to select a group of layers with a single command to make manipulating them as a unit easier. We’re looking into this for the near future.
  • import of Motion 5 projects: For After Effects CS6, we added the ability to import Motion projects through the Pro Import After Effects command (integrated from Automatic Duck). Since then, Apple has released Motion 5, and we have received some requests for the ability to import Motion 5 projects. This is not a trivial amount of work, since Apple has significantly changed the Motion project format, but we are investigating this.
  • ability for an effect to refer to a layer with the results of its effects, without precomposing: When an effect (e.g., the Set Matte effect) uses a layer as an input, it is the original layer that is used as input, not the layer with the results of the effects on it. If you want the Set Matte effect to use the layer with the results of its effects, then you need to precompose the layer and point the effect at the new precomposition layer. This creates a hierarchy of nested compositions that may be more difficult to work with and decipher. A request that we often get is for an effect like the Set Matte effect to be able to use the layer with all of its effects without the need to precompose. This would keep composition hierarchies cleaner and clearer. This is something that is high on our priority list, and I am hoping that we can implement it in the near future.
  • per-mask transformation property group: If each mask had its own property group, then you could move a mask within a layer without moving the layer. This would make many tasks easier and reduce the need to use a track matte for such simple tasks as animating a mask. This, along with several other mask improvements, is high on our priority list for the near future.
  • ability to lock a specific property: When you’re working on one aspect of a layer, you often want to prevent accidental changes to another aspect. For this, people often request the ability to lock a specific property or set of properties. We’re looking into this possibility.
  • crop tool: The current means of cropping in After Effects is roundabout and imprecise. A dedicated crop tool with the ability to precisely set cropping marks would be most welcome. A question for all of you: Which application do you think does this best? Answer with a feature request telling us how you want a crop tool in After Effects to work.
  • inverse kinematics with the Puppet tools: As mentioned above, we have some character animation work brewing, and I think that we might be able to integrate some improvements to the Puppet tools as part of that work, including bones and inverse kinematics.
  • arrowhead line ends for shape layers: When I saw that this was one of the top feature requests for this year, I went and talked to the software engineer who does a lot of work on shape layers. He suggested that he should be able to do this without too much difficulty, but he wondered what parameters for arrowheads you would want to specify. Answer with a feature request telling us what properties of arrowheads you want/need to control.
  • resizable interface for the Curves effect: We’re looking at various improvements to the Curves effect. This one, having the ability to resize the interface for the effect to be larger, is currently the most commonly requested improvement. The second most common request regarding improvements to the Curves effect is for histogram overlay, like in Photoshop. Agree? Disagree? Let us know with a feature request.
  • keyboard shortcuts to show shape layer properties: We get this request a lot, but not with any specifics. Tell us exactly what you mean by this.
  • per-effect masks: Instead of needing to add an adjustment layer with an effect and then draw a mask on the adjustment layer, many folks want to be able to draw a mask on a layer but only use that mask to constrain the result of a specific effect. That would be much tidier, doing away with the need for an adjustment layer for each such isolation of an effect. This may fit very well with the various masking improvements mentioned above that we’re considering for the near future.
  • wiggly and variable-width strokes: One of the limitations of shape layer stokes is that they have a constant width, so you can’t make them taper or have irregular, variable width. Illustrator has some nice features in this area. We’re looking into what we can borrow from them to improve this area.
  • color swatch panel: The main problem with this feature is that as soon as we start talking with folks about it, the conversation explodes into a huge variety of feature requests regarding saving, loading, selecting, matching, harmonizing, and suggesting colors. We know that we want to address the common need to load and save sets of colors, but we’re not sure what subset would satisfy your needs in the near term (while we tackle the larger sets of features in the long term). Please, help us out with a feature request that describes the minimal set of features in this area that you need and want us to add. We promise not to stop at the minimal set, but we need to start somewhere.

Of course, we got many more requests than this. These are just several of the most-requested items. If you made a request but you don’t see it on this list, that just means that not as many other folks requested the same thing that you did. 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.

After Effects, General, Region of Interest