Adobe has unveiled its latest update to After Effects CC, overhauling the core architecture for improved performance, particularly for previews, and introducing a new face-tracking system.
The update – it isn’t officially numbered, but it would be CC 2015 – also comes with a preview of Character Animator, a new 2D animation product that automatically generates facial animation from video footage.
Improved core performance
While the most eye-catching feature of After Effects CC 2015 is its new animation tools – of which, more later – the one that will probably make the biggest difference to most users is the update to the core architecture.
The “first fruits” of an ongoing overhaul that enables rendering and updates to the user interface to be performed separately, the most obvious effect is to the way previews work.
Users can now make changes to a project in real time – via the timeline, layers or Effect Controls panel, or by changing the view settings – without stopping the preview. Instead, it will update dynamically.
Previews have now been unified (the differences between the old RAM and Standard previews have “dissolved”) and made more customisable, particularly when defining the behaviour of shortcut keys.
More generally, the re-architecture should smooth interactions with the interface while frames are being rendered, particularly fast scrubbing; and speed up image caching and the evaluation of expressions.
However, the most eye-catching features in the update – quite literally – are After Effects’ new Face Tracker and Character Animator toolsets.
Shown in the video above, the Face Tracker automatically tracks the outline of a human face in video footage, starting from a rough user-created mask.
A Detailed Features mode also extracts parametric information about the movement of individual facial features, including the eyes and mouth, which can then be used by Character Animator.
Previously known as Project Animal, Character Animator is a new standalone application for creating 2D animations. A preview will be installed alongside After Effects and can be launched from within the software.
Users can import a character as a 2D source image, rig it, then puppet the animation in real time using the mouse and keyboard shortcuts.
The toolset also makes use of both data captured by the Face Tracker and audio recordings to generate facial animation automatically, complete with lip synch.
In his blog post, product manager Todd Kopriva describes Character Animator as an “utterly delightful creative application”, and comments: “I have never had more fun with a piece of software”.
Other new features
Other new features in After Effects CC 2015 include the integration of the Creative Cloud Libraries panel, providing access to libraries of shared assets directly within the software.
Libraries can include assets created in both desktop tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, and in mobile apps.
Cineware, the live link between After Effects and Cinema 4D, has also been updated, enabling users to control how Cinema 4D layers in an After Effects composition are synchronised; and making dialog boxes resizable.
In addition the importers for OpenEXR files and RED .r3d files have been updated.
Pricing and availability
After Effects CC is only available via a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. New subscriptions cost $19.99/month for AE alone; Complete subscriptions to all of Adobe’s creative tools start at $49.99/month.
So far, Adobe hasn’t announced a release date for the new CC 2015 features, beyond “coming soon”.