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One of the biggest new features After Effects CS6 for motion graphics artists like Trish and myself is the inclusion of a brand-new ray-traced 3D rendering engine in After Effects. Now the previous rendering engine, which is now called the Classic 3D Renderer, allowed you to put objects in 3D space but didn't give them any depth, no extrusion. They were just a postcard in space. And some people used to call this 2.5D, not true 3D. Well now, you have a choice to use the Classic 3D Renderer or the new ray-traced renderer, where you can take shape layers and text layers, extrude them, bevel them, give them transparency, and then give them reflections, including the ability to support an environment map that surrounds your composition.
You can also take flat layers like still images and movie files and at least bend them and have them also be partially transparent, or to reflect other objects inside your composition. This isn't a replacement for dedicated 3D programs, or even fancy plug-ins like Zaxwerks Invigorator. You can't import 3D models. You cannot put your own textures on the surfaces of these layers in After Effects. But it does creates some really nice graphical looks that look really good for text, logos, and other common elements like that. Now there is a big gotcha with this particular ray-traced rendering engine: it relies heavily on the GPU of your card to accelerate it.
Yes, you can go ahead and use the multi-core CPUs in your computer to render these ray-traced images; however, it's going to be on the slow slide. But you really want is an NVIDIA CUDA, C-U-D-A, card inside a desktop machine to really accelerate this. Now, I am talking massive speed differences here. In my case, where I have a 12-core Mac just using the CPU itself was a 44.5 minute render for a fairly common logo in an HD composition.
Using the previous generation NVIDIA FX 4800 card, that came down to 14.5 minutes. Putting in the new generation Quadra 4000 card brought it under 6.5 minutes. Putting in two Quadra 4000s--yes, After Effects will support multiple GPUs inside your machine-- brought it well under 4 minutes. Huge difference in usability of this feature. Now, currently there is only a limited number of cards that give this sort of acceleration. Now I'm including them in a list here off to the side. However, if you do have one of those cards, I think you will find this feature to be really useful and a lot of fun.
So let's explore it in next several movies.
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