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Working with the persistent disk cache

From: After Effects CS6 New Features

Video: Working with the persistent disk cache

In the previous movie, we discussed updates to the RAM cache in After Effects. Now let's discuss updates to the disk cache. It's now referred to as a Persistent Disk Cache, and I'll show you why. First off, let's see where it is. I'll go to my Preferences > Media & Disk Cache, and as before, After Effects keeps two different cache files. One is the Conformed Media Cache. Some formats, such as MPEG, need to be decoded and saved in a cache file for After Effects to use them. The nicest thing about the Conform Media Cache is some other programs, such as Adobe Media Encoder and Premiere Pro, can also share this cache and use previously cached files.

Working with the persistent disk cache

In the previous movie, we discussed updates to the RAM cache in After Effects. Now let's discuss updates to the disk cache. It's now referred to as a Persistent Disk Cache, and I'll show you why. First off, let's see where it is. I'll go to my Preferences > Media & Disk Cache, and as before, After Effects keeps two different cache files. One is the Conformed Media Cache. Some formats, such as MPEG, need to be decoded and saved in a cache file for After Effects to use them. The nicest thing about the Conform Media Cache is some other programs, such as Adobe Media Encoder and Premiere Pro, can also share this cache and use previously cached files.

You can clean the database, the pointers to this cache, but you need to go manually empty it if you want to get rid of old cached files. Separate from that is the disk cache. This is where After Effects stores previously calculated frames that no longer reside inside RAM. You can set your disk cache size, choose where to place it, and indeed empty it out from this preference. You'll notice there is a little comment: "For improved performance choose the cache folder on a fast drive separate from your footage." That's to speed up the performance of retrieving previously stored frames from this disk cache.

And in general, Adobe recommends that you have multiple drives, one for your sources, one for your cache, one for your renders, so that your drive isn't thrashing, seeking between the location of all these different files. This has become even more important for After Effects CS6 because it really takes advantage of this disk cache, and that's why one of the performance tips for After Effects CS6 is to buy a really fast drive, like a solid-state drive, and dedicate that just to your cache and maybe your operating system. It will really speed up operation. Anyway, I've been working in this project, I have a couple of compositions queued up in RAM, but now I decide that I'm finished for the day.

I am going to quit After Effects. It's going to give me a chance to save this project. Again, I open up a CS5 project. I need to save to the new CS6 format. I am going to put it in a separate folder and call it CMG5 Chapter 1CS6, and After Effects will quit. Now I come back the next day and want to work in the same project, so I'll boot After Effects CS6. In general, booting seems to be a little bit faster in this release than prior releases.

And I'll say let's go reopen that old project. But when I do so, notice this blue line above my Timeline. Whereas green is the RAM cache, blue indicates frames saved to your disk cache. And when I quit After Effects, what it did was took all of my RAM-cached frames and saved them to my disk cache. That way, when I come back to this project later on, I don't need to recalculate all of these frames. These layers have already been composited and saved to disk. So now when I do a RAM Preview, all it needs to do is load from that disk cache into RAM, which happens somewhat quickly.

This is why they recommend you have a very fast drive for your cache, such as an SSD. This would load that much faster if I had a faster drive. And I'm done. I'll go back to my other composition and you'll see that its previously cached frames have also been saved to the disk cache. There are some gaps here. After Effects does make a calculation: would it be faster for me just to retrieve the original frame from disk, or to save it and retrieve it from a disk cache? When I don't have a lot going on, there is no real benefit to the disk cache.

When I have several layers composited, there is an advantage to caching those frames off to the disk drive. Now I want to point out that this is not just your most recent project. Let's open up another project I was working on earlier. This project has some particularly render-intensive compositions, which I previously RAM Previewed. I also chose this project because it gives me a chance to show you a couple of gotchas in After Effects CS6. Some things are no longer included in CS6. The Digieffects FreeForm After Effects plug-in is no longer bundled free. Also, Photoshop 3D layers are no longer supported in After Effects CS6.

If you really relied on those, that'd be a reason why you want to keep an older version installed on your computer. Anyway, I'll click OK, and I see from these blue lines that After Effects took all of these compositions that I had previously RAM Previewed and saved those frames off to disk. So now rather than having to wait through a very render-intensive RAM Preview, I press zero and it just quickly loads from disk into RAM, and I get near- immediate playback. In general, the After Effects team has put a lot of work into speeding up and streamlining After Effects CS6.

And one of their biggest focuses has been this area of RAM and disk caching. It's not something that's really sexy where you see something new onscreen, but I think you can see how it would save you a lot of time during the course of a real project.

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After Effects CS6 New Features

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Chris Meyer
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