Mythbusting (Part Three)

In the last part I played pundit, looking at the field of compositing software from the point of view of high-end, feature film compositing, where Shake and Nuke duke it out, and where Nuke is clearly on the ascendant while Shake’s days seem numbered.

Why, you might ask, if I can acknowledge that After Effects isn’t the software of choice at most feature effects studios, do I persist in writing books about doing feature-quality visual effects work in After Effects? Two reasons come instantly to mind:

1) Today and for the forseeable future, more shots will get done in After Effects than in all of the others combined.
2) I can comfortably argue that After Effects is more powerful than the competition, because of the breadth and depth of work you can do with it.

Number one is a no-brainer. There are way, way more copies of After Effects out there than Shake, even now that it costs half as much. Even if, out of the dozen or two highest-end vfx shops, only a handful use After Effects, when you add the full range of artists creating visual effects for everything from television to youtube, After Effects moves into the dominant position. And with good reason – you can deliver the highest quality results with it. In the previous post I acknowledged what specifically about the workflow hangs up film compositors about After Effects, but there have still been an awful lot of film shots done in it, and will continue to be.

Number two is also a no-brainer, if you consider this: try to create the highest-end motion graphics and the highest-end visual effects in a single compositing package. The only other software that is even a candidate to do this is probably Combustion, and because I don’t use it, I can’t make a meaningful comparison – I just know that it’s the only one that even has a comparable feature-set, because it offers both nodes and a timeline. In my books I refer to the After Effects timeline as its “killer app” – ask a shake artist to create a shot that involves lots of intricate timing, the choreography of numerous elements and type, and then listen for the howls of pain.

And maybe that’s the point – most feature film effects don’t involve the type of animation and timing artistry that requires the timeline, and so feature film artists end up paying the price of pre-composing and nesting compositions without typically getting the benefit of this fantastic feature.

So, while I can put on my pundit hat and admit that After Effects CS3 doesn’t add anything that would win over the feature effects houses – except maybe the forward-looking Color Management features and the amazing Puppet toolset, along with a few other features I’ll mention in my next post – I know that I, and many other artists, will be creating uncompromising effects and graphics in After Effects for years to come. As for Nuke and Motion – well, they make things interesting. We’ll see if the former can become user-friendly enough, and the latter deep enough to sway After Effects die-hards like me.

2 May 2007 | after effects, punditry | Comments

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