After Effects 5.5 ‘lights’ the way in 3D: 3D Invigorator, bundled with AE 5.5, gives users an easy, elegant path for placing 3D elements within their compositions – Review

After Effects 5.5 ‘lights’ the way in 3D: 3D Invigorator, bundled with AE 5.5, gives users an easy, elegant path for placing 3D elements within their compositions – Review – Brief Article

Randall Simpson

When Adobe released After Effects 5.0, they evolved an already powerful and widely used 2D compositing tool into the world of 3D space. With the release of Version 5.5, After Effects furthers its 3D evolution with the inclusion of the 3D Invigorator plug-in from Zaxwerks. This plug-in allows for the creation inside AE of some of the most commonly used 3D elements, such as logo and font animations. There are also a set of other new features which AE power users will surely appreciate, including new 3D lighting effects, advanced lightning, a new effects palette, multiple 2D and 3D views, and Advanced RealMedia output for Web streaming.


Most users of earlier versions of After Effects remember spending countless hours trying to simulate 3D effects by warping, shrinking, skewing and otherwise tediously manipulating images in 2D to simulate a 3D look The results were passable but never completely satisfactory, Additionally, any true 3D elements previously had to be created and rendered outside of After Effects and then imported and composited. The AE 5.5 with the 3D Invigorator plug-in allows for the creation of true 3D elements within your AE composition. This is an incredible time saver: The 3D Invigorator imports standard Adobe Illustrator vector-based graphic files for the highest quality and converts them into 3D objects. Lighting effects can be placed on these elements by using either the lights created and manipulated within the Zaxwerks plug-in or by using the lights from After Effects itself. Also, any AE layer can be used as a moving texture map on those 3D elements. The version of the 3D Invigorator bundled with AE 5.5 is called the “Classic” version and contains all the basic tools you need for creating and manipulating 3D objects. An upgrade from Zaxwerks is available from the Classic to the “Pro” version, and I highly recommend it for more advanced effects and greater flexibility. The Pro version allows you to import 3D models from most of the major 3D programs. It also allow for the morphing of a 3D object over time. All in all, bundling the 3D Invigorator with AE 5.5 was a great move on the part of Adobe, giving AE users an easy and elegant path for placing 3D elements within compositions.


One of my favorite additions in AE 5.5 is the new Light Transmission property. There are several incredible effects that were impossible in prior versions. One basic example is that of light passing through a pane of stained glass. Each layer can be set for how much light is transmitted through it and, of course, this property can be keyframed over time so you can create glass that appears to vary in thickness as a light passes behind it. Also, since all layers can be set to cast shadows from any given light source, you can have objects behind a pane of stained glass that are backlit and that cast shadows upon the stained glass. Another interesting effect now possible with the Light Transmission property is the ability to create a slide-or movie-type projection of a layer forward onto another layer In previous versions of AE, you could simulate this effect by using opacity settings on a layer and applying a blur filter, but it was only moderately effective for a true projection look With the Light Transmissio n property, as light passes through a layer it picks up a controllable amount of color from that layer and carries it to the next layer as a colored shadow. With AE 5.5, you can easily create a 2D/3D composition of a drive-in theatre complete with movie screen, movie, silhouettes of the cars in front of you, and even people’s shadows or obnoxious headlights from cars passing across the screen.


In addition to those mentioned above there are several new effects that Adobe has added to 5.5. There is an Advanced Lightning effect that gives you much more control over the creation of lightning. This new effect is more complex than the older Lightning and takes some getting used to, but the learning curve is worth it. Don’t worry though, Adobe has kept the previous Lightning effect as well so you can use it as you master the new one. Another nifty new effect is Roughen Edges, which allows you to put torn and rough-looking edges on layers and these edges can change over time. There’s also a new Grid effect allowing you to place a customized grid pattern on a layer or turn the layer into grid pattern. This can create some interesting possibilities depending on what kind of transfer mode you use to apply this effect. Another new goodie in AE 5.5 is an effect called Cell Pattern. As the name implies, you can create a variety of cell-looking structures, some of which remind me little bit of the old stained gla ss filter in Photoshop, however these can evolve and change over time and are far more interesting and complex. In addition to the new effects, AE 5.5 gives you a way to organize and use all your effects with the introduction of a new Effects Palette. Adobe has also made 5.5 even more open and flexible in its exporting and importing features. It can now bring in 3D camera data from other programs and can import MPEG-I files. AE 5.5 can also create Webready streaming video with Advanced Real-Media output.


I didn’t touch on all the new features in this brief article, but the bottom line is, if you make your living compositing in After Effects or use it frequently, then 5.5 is a definite “must-have” upgrade. The 3D Invigorator plug-in and Light Transmission property are worth it just in themselves. As Adobe continues to evolve After Effects into an ever more powerful, flexible and open combination of 2D and 3D compositing, it is ensuring that this amazing piece of software will continue to be the standard that other compositing software will have to keep pace with.

Others can perhaps do a few specific things better than After Effects, but in this user’s opinion, no other can do so many things so well.


MANUFACTURER: Adobe Systems Incorporated

PRODUCT: After Effects 5.5

PRICING: AE 5.5 Standard, $649; AE 5.5 with Zaxwerks plug-in, $1,499; upgrade from V5, $99 (with $250 coupon for Zaxwerhs plug-in)


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