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After Effects CS6 added a ray-traced 3D renderer as an option for your compositions. Unfortunately, this renderer can be quite slow, particularly if you've cranked up the quality or if you don't have an authorized NVIDIA card that provides CUDA acceleration for your ray-trace calculations. As a result, Adobe overhauled the Faster Previews options for 3D compositions, and I would like to run through those in this side bar. I'm going to open up my composition RT7_Fast Previews*starter. It includes an environment layer-- identified by this little icon--two extruded and beveled 3D text layers that have some soft reflections in their faces as well as some transparency, and then an ordinary camera and light.
Along the bottom of the composition panel is a Fast Previews button that provides access to these different preview options. As of After Effects CS6, these first three options rely on CUDA acceleration from an approved NVIDIA graphics card. I happen to have a Quadra 4000 inside this 8-core Mac Pro tower. Quite often I'll use two Quadro 4000s gained together to get more speed. If you don't have access to an approved graphics acceleration card, these last two options work with essentially any graphics card.
But, as always, the trade- off is a quality versus speed. For this particular composition, I'm using a Quality setting of 5 rays--a little bit higher than the default 3--and the default anti-aliasing filter of Box. I still have a little bit of noise in my reflections, but it's not too bad. I'm going to start by using the Fast Preview option of Off, which shows you your final render quality. I'm going to press C to switch to the Unified Camera tool and by left-clicking I can orbit around this scene, and as I do so, you'll see how slow it responds.
I'll click and drag and finally it catches up with me. Drag again, it catches up with me. So even though I have a pretty good graphics card, this is not something I would call highly responsive. I'll undo. I'm going to step down to the option of Adaptive Resolution. This basically says, while I'm trying to do something interactively--so just drag a camera around the composition--go down to a lower resolution so that you have fewer pixels to calculate.
Then, when I release the mouse button, calculate the scene at final quality. So with Adaptive Resolution selected, I'll left-click and drag and you'll see it's far more responsive, but as I'm doing so, I have a reduced-resolution image for my 3D layers. So it is a bit of a trade-off. As soon as I release the mouse button, the scene renders at the final quality. You'll notice that the adaptive resolution quality is being displayed in the upper right-hand corner of my comp panel while I drag, and you'll notice that the Fast Previews button is yellow, indicating it's currently engaged.
It's using an accelerated mode. You can set how low After Effects will go with Adaptive Resolution underneath Fast Previews Preferences. This opens up the normal Preferences dialog to the Previews panel and says if necessary, it'll go as low as 1/8th, only draw 1/8th of the pixels across and 1/8th of the pixels down or 1/64th of the total pixels in your scene. If you're working with really large compositions such as high-definition video or even 4K digital cinema, you may need these lower resolutions.
I've personally find 1/8th to be a bit on the harsh side while I'm working, so I'll try not to go below 1/4th personally, but I'm a quality wonk. Do what you need to do with your hardware to make the program responsive so you don't become frustrated using it. I'm going to undo back to my original pose. Let's go down one more step in the Fast Preview hierarchy, to Draft. Draft still uses CUDA acceleration to give me a ray-traced render, but it drops the Render Options down to use only one ray per pixel.
When you did that you lose your soft reflections. You lose anti-aliasing around the edges. But you have a very responsive scene that is at least rendering all the pixels, even if it is sacrificing some of the quality in some of those pixels. And I'll undo that. If you do not have an authorized accelerated card with After Effects, After Effects will probably seem extremely slow doing CPU-only rendering. Therefore, you might need to drop down to one of these other two options.
Fast Draft turns off the ray-traced renderer. It just uses a very simple shader. I have lost my environment layer, which is part of the ray-trace feature set. I've lost my reflections and my transparency, and you also notice I've lost any anti-aliasing. But you now have a very responsive composition. This is what you may need to do on some laptops that don't have NVIDIA graphics chips, etc. I'll undo. And the final choice is of limited use unless you have very complex scenes, and that's Wireframe.
Here you don't get to see any details at all, just a wireframe box that shows where are your extruded, worked, beveled, etc., layers are. But frankly, in the a real 3D program when you have complex scenes, you'll be using this mode as well, just because is too difficult to render all of those surfaces. And I'll undo. There are keyboard shortcuts to quickly access these five different options. You can hold Command+Option on Mac or Control+Option on Windows, then go through the numbers. Command+Option+1 or Control+Option+1 chooses off. Final quality.
Holding those modifier keys and 2 gives you Adaptive Resolution. 3 gives you Fast Draft mode. 4 gives you Draft. 5 gives you wireframes. So if you memorize those, that is a way to quickly switch between different modes depending on what level of interactivity you need. If you anticipate using the ray-traced 3D renderer in After Effects, my first piece of advice for you is get the fastest video chip or card you can afford, with a fair amount of video RAM--2 gigs or more if you can.
The more video RAM you have, the larger environment layer you can load, the more models you can load, etc. But, failing that, there's always manipulating the Fast Preview mode to get you the sort of interactivity that you need.
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