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By Michael Ninness | Sunday, June 12, 2011

Author Chris Meyer talks about his new After Effects course

As you may have heard by now, Adobe recently released Creative Suite 5.5. Some programs in the suite, like Photoshop and Bridge, received minor upgrades, and are labeled as version CS5.1; others, such as Adobe After Effects, received more significant upgrades, and are known as version CS5.5. After Effects expert Chris Meyer recorded a training series, After Effects CS5.5 New Creative Techniques—available on lynda.com the day Creative Suite 5.5 shipped—that demonstrates how he takes advantage of his favorite new and upgraded features. Now that he’s been using the release version for a while, we thought we’d catch up with him and see what continues to stand out for him in his motion graphics work.

Q: The most buzz surrounding After Effects CS5.5 was for its new Warp Stabilizer effect. Is it just a flashy technology demonstration, or is it actually proving useful in the real world?

A: I think it’s turning out to be the main reason many are upgrading to AE CS5.5. For those in a real-world production environment, its ease of use has been a huge time saver—just apply it to a clip, do other work while it processes in the background, and now the bumps in the camera movement have been smoothed out without any user intervention required. A single parameter allows you to adjust the amount of smoothness; a simple popup allows you to completely lock down the shot. It was the first thing I demonstrated at an advanced training session I recently led at a cable network. At the end of the first morning, they were ready to upgrade and start using it on jobs they already had in production. You no longer have to think, This is a visual effects shot; I have to stabilize it; this is going to be work. Now it’s just an effect you apply to any piece of footage with undesired camera movement in order to improve it.

Aside from the Warp Stabilizer’s automated capabilities, there is a lot of additional power under the hood that users are just starting to play with, such as the ability to synthesize new edges for stabilized frames based on frames that happened earlier or later in time. And, like any semi-automated tool, there are times when it’s going to guess wrong. That’s why I spent some time in New Creative Techniques showing you how to put it back on the right path in the event it starts stabilizing the wrong object in a video, or warps the background in unanticipated ways.

Q: Stereoscopic video is also a hot topic these days. I’ve heard that After Effects CS5.5 has some new tools to make that easier as well?

A: Yes, it does. There’s a new 3D Stereo Rig tool that creates a chain of compositions to create stereoscopic output from a 3D scene set up in After Effects, as well as an enhanced 3D Glasses effect to help resolve alignment and convergence issues in already-shot stereo footage.

I admit to originally being a stereo skeptic. And I think it’s still too early to know whether or not it’s really going to catch on this time. But it’s undeniable that more people are demanding stereo content, including for broadcast, not just major films. As a result, I’ve been putting more of a focus on how to create stereo imagery that produces less strain when viewed through 3D glasses, and that also is more watchable by those without glasses. The secret is a combination of managing the convergence parameters in AE CS5.5′s Stereo 3D Rig to lock onto the most important layer in your composition, plus adding depth-of-field blur to put objects in front of or behind the convergence point out of focus. By doing this, the ‘hero’ in your frame will be in the stereo sweet spot for those with glasses, and not have colorized halos for those without glasses. Plus, those halos will be blurred rather than sharp for those without glasses, making them far less distracting. This is also demonstrated in New Creative Techniques.

Q: Speaking of depth-of-field blur, that feature also received an update in After Effects CS5.5, correct?

A: Yes! The 3D camera in After Effects has long supported depth-of-field blur, but it was slow to render, and frankly didn’t look that great when it was done. As a result, few used it; many didn’t even realize it was in there because so few of their peers were using it. But in AE CS5.5, they’ve greatly improved the quality of blur. It’s a true camera simulation now, with control over iris settings and more. Plus, it renders a lot faster. As a result, I think the default will become to use it, rather than avoid it.

In addition to the improved depth-of-field blur for the 3D camera, 3D lights also received a much-requested upgrade in AE CS5.5: lighting falloff, where a light’s strength weakens over distance. In typical After Effects fashion, they’ve implemented this feature in two ways: one that is realistic, for visual effects artists; and one that has unrealistic controls, for motion graphics artists. In general, it’s nice how the After Effects team keeps their focus on easing real-world production tasks, rather than sticking to a theoretical or engineering-based ideal.

In addition to the topics discussed above, Chris also demonstrates numerous other new and improved features in his After Effects CS5.5 New Creative Techniques course. This includes taking advantage of Adobe’s advanced audio program, Audition CS5.5, which has now been ported to the Mac and is available in both the Production Premium and Master Collection suites. Whether you’ve recently upgraded, or are still deciding whether or not to upgrade, take a look at Chris’ After Effects CS5.5 New Creative Techniques to quickly get up to speed with After Effects CS5.5.

Also, be sure to check out Chris and Trish Meyer’s After Effects Apprentice series, an indepth project-based series of courses designed to help you get the most out of this powerful motion graphics software. Seven of the nineteen total installments are available now in the Online Training Library®. The series is appropriate for the CS4, CS5, and CS5.5 versions of After Effects.

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