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The new Cartoon effects replicates that cartoon stylization popular in TV commercials.
3D support is one of the major upgrades you’ll find in this version of After Effects. Of course, After Effects has been creating 3D environments for years, but the individual elements making up those environments were actually 2D, simply animated in a 3D space. The new After Effects, however, can import true 3D objects contained in the PSD files created by Adobe Photoshop Extended. A 3D object—a car, a plane, a gun, a purse, or whatever—will keep its 3D depth as you animate a camera around it, apply lights, and other effects. One caveat: After Effects can’t model in 3D, and it doesn’t apply advanced lighting effects, such as interactive reflections or specular highlights, to objects. These features are still the realm of dedicated 3D modeling/rendering programs, but After Effects’ 3D approach will still pay off handsomely for tons of different projects, letting animators skip the learning curve and hassle of using dedicated 3D software.
After Effects CS4 also offers much-improved motion tracking—for example, you can place a 2D image on a moving surface, such as a billboard on the side of a truck. Motion tracking isn’t new to After Effects, but while its earlier rendition worked fine for simple projects, it could fall apart in a few scenarios. If tracked pixels moved out of the camera’s frame, for instance, or if they got blurry, lost contrast, or became distorted as your tracking subject or the camera changed orientation, motion tracking could lose its effectiveness. The new After Effects, on the other hand, includes a standalone program called Mocha that handles many of those tracking challenges in stride. Mocha does this by using better edge detection technology and also by letting you draw multipoint mattes around objects that are important in the scene, helping Mocha determine where to focus its attention. The end result is that many tough tracking projects can now be accomplished in a few minutes, but the drawback to Mocha is that it requires you to learn a new interface and import your tracking data back into After Effects. Mocha isn’t rocket science, however, and going through a couple of tutorials will be enough to get you up to speed.
Another set of new features in After Effects helps you stay organized and efficient as you work with large, complex projects. A QuickSearch text box now appears in your Project and Composition panels, giving you a fast Spotlight-style keyword search that encompasses every element in your project. Begin typing the partial name of a composition in your Project window, and you’ll see everything else disappear but your matches. Type a layer name into the Composition panel, and you’ll see that layer showcased on the Timeline. Type in the name of an effect or a property, such as rotation or position, and you’ll see only the layers using that criteria, along with their relevant keyframes. What’s more, a new flowchart view can show all your nested compositions flowing into their parent compositions, helping you visualize how your project is organized.
Adobe has given After Effects many more nips and tucks as well. You’ll get a few more effects filters, such as Cartoon. There’s also metadata support, letting you search through metadata that came with your original media and then add your own. And now you can export your compositions to Flash, keeping layers and keyframes intact. The list of tweaks is long. Suffice to say that there are plenty of new tricks to interest long-time users in an upgrade.After Effects may be mature, but it’s hardly showing its age. Thanks to smart, relevant new features and upgrades, After Effects remains the gold standard for Mac motion graphics and compositing.