SAN FRANCISCO (01/24/2000) - Within the mysterious world of software version numbering, a point-one upgrade implies only minor improvements: somewhere between fixing typos in a dialog box and adding a feature only 12 people will ever use. That's why Adobe After Effects 4.1 is such a delightful surprise.
Adobe Systems Inc. has added dozens of enhancements to its motion-graphics and video-compositing powerhouse. Some are major, many are minor; taken together, they make a terrific upgrade.
Like previous versions, After Effects 4.1 is available in two flavors: the $699 Standard Version and the $1,499 Production Bundle, which adds features aimed at broadcast and film professionals. (The Production Bundle still uses an ADB hardware key for copy protection, though the box contains a coupon for a free USB key.) Both versions include most of After Effects 4.1's new features; one exception is a set of 3-D filters in the Production Bundle that can add fog, depth-of-field blur, and other effects.
Many of the update's additions are simple productivity boosters, such as a new flowchart view that depicts a composition's structure graphically, making it easier to decipher complex projects. A new set of Favorites commands lets you save and reapply frequently used effects filters. A new keyframe assistant makes it easier to rearrange clips into simple sequences.
The update also broadens the array of media you can import and export. After Effects 4.1 can import gargantuan images as large as 30,000 by 30,000 pixels, compared with 4,000 by 4,000 in version 4.0. This not only enables you to import and then pan across much larger images but also lets you work in exotic film formats such as Imax, which has frames measuring 4,096 by 3,002 pixels.
After Effects 4.1 can import a wider range of 3-D files, including Softimage PIC and RLA formats. Because the new version supports QuickTime 4's export components, you can export projects directly to DV streams, AVI movies, various audio formats, and streaming QuickTime movies.
Adobe has also improved After Effects' text and masking features. You can now apply separate fill and stroke effects to text, and you can animate the stroke effect, making it easy to create text that writes itself onto the screen. You can also animate mask transparency, fading masked elements in and out, among other effects.
Macworld's Buying Advice
After Effects has long been the benchmark motion graphics program for the Mac OS, and version 4.1 only strengthens that position. Don't let Adobe's conservative version numbering fool you; After Effects 4.1 packs enough goodies to make it a must-have upgrade.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Broad array of productivity and effects enhancements.
CONS: Production Bundle uses hardware copy protection.
COMPANY: Adobe Systems (408/536-6000, http://www.adobe.com).
LIST PRICE: Standard Version, $699; Production Bundle, $1,499; upgrade from 4.0, $49.95; upgrade from After Effects 3.0, $299.
Sidebar: Make Waves with Psunami
Atomic power's psunami is a new plug-in that generates astonishingly realistic ocean and water scenes. Psunami has been available for high-end 3-D workstations for some time; indeed, it has created effects for such aqueous productions as Titanic and Waterworld. The After Effects version uses the same physics-based rendering technology.
Psunami generates open seas-it can't create breaking waves or foam. An intimidating array of controls lets you specify and animate lighting conditions, camera position (view the waves from high above, at sea level, underwater, or anywhere in between), wave conditions (animate wind speed and direction), ocean optics (change the water's color and index of refraction), and more.
You can also apply as many as three image maps to create effects such as a logo rippling on the surface. And you can specify that your virtual camera bob along with the waves.
Psunami's image-mapping features enable you to place color or gray-scale images on, above, or below the ocean's surface.
Because Psunami's dozens of parameters may daunt users, the program provides dozens of presets you can summon with a mouse click. These are great starting points for creating your own oceans.
Psunami offers only a few sky controls. You can add haze and rainbows, but you can't, for example, create clouds that reflect in the water. We're hopeful that a future Psunami release will better support the heavens.
Macworld's Buying Advice
At $599, Psunami is among the costlier After Effects plug-ins. If you're still building your After Effects plug-in library, you'll want to first invest in general-purpose plug-ins, such as MetaCreations' Final Effects Complete. But if you need water scenes, get Psunami. It's a one-trick pony, but it performs that trick exceptionally well.
RATING: 3.5 mice
PROS: Stunning realism; convenient presets.
CONS: Limited sky options; pricey.
COMPANY: Atomic Power (760/516-9000, http://www.atomicpower.com).
LIST PRICE: $599.