Ultimate AE is my attempt to influence the AE public, and therefore the development of AE CS5.
Like a lot of shops in the business of creative, mine relies on AE for itís design work. Because of the ubiquity of the software we can easily contract out to different artists as needed, and assemble shots in-house for final output. Workflow-wise AE is pretty much an unmatched creative tool on the desktop, but itís facing some new competition.
This year Autodesk announced Smoke on the mac. Smoke has some better tools than AE in several areas, but the main difference is workflow. Particularly three things: nodal compositing, disk based playback options, and 3D.
We canít expect AE to make up all the gaps. After all, a complete AE system will run you between $5K-$8K, and a Smoke is more like $30K for the same specs. But we can expect the good folks at Adobe to help make up some of the difference. If not shops like mine will start thinking $30K is pretty good deal.
Ultimate AE is a simple paint over designed to illustrate the workflow for the two biggest drawbacks in After Effects: lack of disk-based playback, and lack of good 3D compositing.
The first thing to add is an NLE style timeline that can be used to edit projects and render them to disk. Why would this be such a big deal?
Well, first off it lets you map out your projects using something like an NLE timeline, the best kind of cutting timeline for everything from music videos to feature films. This addition alone makes After Effects much more viable as a finishing tool. Add effects to your timeline comps and you can color correct to your hearts content. Sync that timeline to your layer view and you can easily track your animations against an audio waveform.
More valuable is the ability to render this timeline to disk. Premiere and Final Cut render preview files to disk using pre-determined codecs. You can render whatever your system will play back, and once youív rendered a timeline you can play it back whenever you like. You only every need to re-render the parts you change. This allows After Effects to reach its fluid creative potential.
Last, but certainly not least, would be the ability to commit the comps to disk. That would allow you to save all of your animation out, and work with speedy files for finishing.
More than nodes, more than 64 bits, more than a proper 3D workspace, the integration of the NLE timeline into AE is the single biggest thing Adobe could do to close the gap between AE and Smoke.
Note: this is exactly where combustion was headed, so itís not surprising that Autodesk has let it slip into obscurity.
2. 3D Workspace
A real 3D workspace is a necessity for a motion graphics application. And AE is, primarily, a motion graphics application. Those of us who make our living in this field know how competitive it can be, how short the deadlines are, and how efficient you have to be to succeed. Sure, you can lay out camera paths in a 3D program and bring them into AE, but why do that when you should be able to accomplish this inside one package?
Fusion and Motion both have pretty solid 3D environments. In Fusionís case this includes support for 3D objects without the use of Photoshop as a bridge. This is really a requirement for modern motion graphic design, where effects, graphics and live footage are often integrated. Making the 3D environment as complete as possible, with adjustable motion paths and predictable behaviors, is also a necessity in a world where changes come often and turnarounds are short.
The Rest of the Shortlist
Those are the two most important things. Here is a quick list to round out the top ten.
Tracking and Stabilization - everything, and I mean everything, is better at this than AE.
Rotoscoping and paint - shake has about the best roto and paint on the desktop, and AE would do well to copy and paste. Combustion is a good template too.
Schematic view - AE is not a nodal compositor, it probably never will be, and it probably doesnít need to be. But a functional schematic view would be very handy (combustion is once again a good model to follow).
Graphics acceleration -slated for the next version, and very welcome.
Nucleo - tied right in to the guts, with true multithreading.
64 bit - again, itís coming, but it wouldnít be anywhere near as big a deal if disk based workflows were in place. In fact, it probably wouldnít be a big deal at all.
Colorista - donít bother trying to make it. Just license it.
32 bit everything - itís long past due.
As a professional I have no problem paying $3500+ a seat for a version of AE that does whatís on that list. I also have no problems switching to another platform, and Iíd certainly consider paying the $20,000 that Autodesk is asking for a license of smoke. Why? Because that money is an investment that helps my company maintain itís billing rate and saves production time.
These are the features that would make commercial, music video, and title production quicker and more efficient. Thatís where I think AE is strong and needs to be stronger. What do you think?