Adobe After Effects CS5 Review

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 10
      • Total Score:
      • 9.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Huge 64-bit performance gains
    • Roto Brush tool is cool
  • Cons

    • Not much new except 64-bit
    • Pricey

By Dustin Sklavos

Adobe After Effects is the industry-standard for desktop video post-production applications, but does After Effects CS5 bring enough new to the table to justify an upgrade? We break it down in this review.

For those uninitiated, Adobe’s After Effects is an immensely powerful piece of software that any budding video enthusiast should acquaint themselves with in a hurry. While Premiere acquired many features from After Effects when it went Pro (including superior keying and matte functions among many other video effects), and you can get a healthy amount of grunt work done in Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, After Effects is industry standard for a reason.

It’s honestly impossible to articulate everything After Effects CS5 can do. It’s useful for animation (a small word for a vast array of functions), for cleaning up compositing and matte work, in-depth color-correction, and more. Chances are when you’re watching television and you see crazy, glowing animation in commercials, at least some of it was wrung through After Effects.

Composite image from Adobe After Effects CS5I’ve also found After Effects CS5 invaluable for my own work. I simply can’t afford to finance my filmmaking on some grand scale. So when I need a bunch of people for an image, or a scene to take place somewhere that doesn’t exist, (see left) I can shoot a few people on a blue screen, matte out the blue, put a time-lapsed video of clouds moving in the background, put everyone together, and presto. Does it look perfect? No. But does it get the job done?

Moreover, my skill with After Effects is pretty insignificant compared to what I’ve seen some people do; render explosions, flames, lightning, and even have it look halfway decent. A friend of mine put together an entire lightsaber battle in After Effects and honestly, the lightsabers look pretty damn good. So suffice to say, After Effects is awesome, incredibly useful, and at the same time in dire need of an update.


When Adobe dropped CS4 and brought with it a 64-bit version of Photoshop, my big question was…where’s their 64-bit video editing software? It’s true the megapixel race keeps raising the sheer size of raw image files, but the jump from standard definition to high definition video has been nothing short of devastating. It’s true that most of the video being edited on a computer is compressed in some fashion, but here’s the thing: it has to be uncompressed at some point, too. You also need to fit that video in memory along with all the tweaks you’re doing with it.

In Premiere Pro you could probably get away with just letting the program use the 2GB of RAM and call it a day. Most of the work you’re going to do there will be minor animation or color correction. But in something like After Effects? Premiere Pro lets you play back your footage in real time, only gradually starting to chop when your processor just can’t handle the load. After Effects doesn’t work that way.

I harp constantly about the jump to 64-bit and how “omigosh amazing” it is, but After Effects CS5 is the first place you’re going to really feel it. When you’re doing work in AE, you utilize what’s called a “RAM preview.” The program renders out a part of your composition (however much you’ve selected) to RAM so that you can see it how it will finally look. This was great for standard definition video, since a good fifteen or thirty seconds of that will fit in the 2GB of RAM a 32-bit program is going to limit you to.

High definition video brings the program to its knees. I’ve done composites in 1080p that have gotten maybe ten seconds of footage to fit into RAM tops. If any program in Adobe’s Creative Suite needed to go 64-bit, After Effects did with a vengeance, and that’s going to be the big draw for CS5.

Adobe added a couple of extra features, mostly involving tweaks in how it handles rudimentary 3D animation along with streamlining the overall process of using the software. They’ve added additional support for tapeless editing for more formats, continuing the Adobe tradition of being able to edit virtually anything.


I’ll cut to the chase: After Effects CS5 is worth buying for the 64-bit executable alone. If you’ve ever used After Effects, and you honestly don’t care about anything else that’s been added (and indeed, CS5 is mostly refinements outside of that), going 64-bit is going to be a major boon for you. Hope you upgraded to 8GB of RAM in your workstation when it was cheaper (although if you’re working off a notebook with just two slots for RAM you were probably screwed on price to begin with), because After Effects will soak it up like a sponge. I remember seeing the 4GB I had when I was using CS4 redline the instant I clicked “render.” Now at least I don’t have to test render anywhere near as frequently.

I’ve also found After Effects CS5 to be snappier overall, and while I went from an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 at 3 GHz to an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 at 3.6 GHz in the intervening period between major compositions, testing CS5 has nonetheless shown a far more substantial improvement in render times than could be attributed to the faster processor.

Roto Brush image from Adobe After Effects CS5I did try the one big feature Adobe touts with CS5, the Roto Brush, which allows you to basically color out a part of your image and the program mattes around it. It’s very particular, will take more experimentation, and isn’t the kind of freakish witchcraft the Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CS5 is, but it looks like it has the potential to be an extremely useful tool for handling troublesome matte work.


I’ve gone on ceaselessly about 64-bit for this review, but there’s a good reason why. After Effects CS5 remains mostly unchanged from CS4 apart from offering improved performance and a slightly more streamlined workflow. Being able to address more than 2GB of RAM makes a massive difference in the program’s overall functionality and usability, though. I suspect that by making that jump, it helped Adobe improve the program’s threading tremendously, allowing it to better take advantage of additional processing cores. CS4 brought excellent parallelization to the entire suite, offering near-linear improvements in performance with the addition of each core in Premiere and After Effects, but the extra RAM afforded in CS5 really helps solidify those improvements.

If you don’t use After Effects but are a budding video enthusiast, it’s worth trying out. For After Effects CS4 users, After Effects CS5 is a must-buy. It’s pricy, but if you’re spending that much you may want to max out the RAM in your primary workstation while you’re at it. You’re going to need it.


  • Huge 64-bit performance gains
  • Roto Brush tool is cool


  • Not much new except 64-bit
  • Pricey



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