In April, Adobe updated its Creative Suite 5 (CS5). Every Creative Suite update is a massive undertaking for Adobe, because every one of its core products gets updated—from the venerable Photoshop to Web design software such as Dreamweaver and Flash, to graphic design products such as Illustrator and InDesign, to video products such as After Effects and Premiere Pro. This creates a lot of new features in a lot of different packages, so this review will focus on Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro—applications most commonly used in CGI production. All these applications offer increased speed and stability, as well as a number of innovative new features.
The good news is the key applications in CS5 are now 64-bit native. Photoshop still works on 32- and 64-bit systems, but After Effects and Premiere Pro have gone totally 64-bit. In order to use these applications, a 64-bit operating system is required: either Snow Leopard on the Mac, or Vista or Windows 7 on the PC. Sadly, Windows XP is no longer supported. The switch to 64 bit is mostly to increase performance, allowing for faster data processing as well as larger memory spaces, which allow you to work with larger images and process them faster. The switch to 64 bit only also seems to have increased stability.
Photoshop is really the core application of CS5, as it is used throughout the suite for everything from Web design, to publishing, to motion graphics and special effects. This version of Photoshop has a number of new features used in CGI production as well as increased performance.
Probably the most interesting and powerful new feature in Photoshop CS5 is that it is now aware of the content within an image and can use this to create intelligent fills, often eliminating the need for the clone or healing brush when retouching images. This allows Photoshop to automatically do things like use the surrounding content to fill in an image. If you want to delete an object out of the scene, for example, simply lasso it and hit “delete.” The resulting dialog box will allow you to use the surrounding content to fill in the deleted pixels.
A few tests found that the content awareness features work quite well but can be dependent on the type of content it is replacing. Deleting some rocks out of grassy field, for example, worked quite well; Photoshop filled in the grass fairly seamlessly. Deleting an object against a wood-paneled wall didn’t work so well because the pattern of the wood panels wasn’t matched. The more you work with the tool, however, the more you’ll understand how it works. When it does work, it makes things go much faster.
People who do illustration or retouching in Photoshop will appreciate improvements in Photoshop’s brushes, which allow for much more realistic painting. Brushes now support wet edges and much more realistic brush strokes. Of course, these are all tied to pressure sensitivity, so those who use tablets can paint with more freedom than ever.
Puppet Warp, After Effects
Puppet Warp is another interesting tool, which is pretty much borrowed from the Puppet Tool that has been part of After Effects for some time. The tool allows you to use puppet pins to deform an image. This is particularly useful for repositioning objects, like a person’s arm. You could place puppet pins at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, then use these to manipulate the arm, much like a puppet.
After Effects CS5 also benefits from the 64-bit switch, and the added speed and increased memory space certainly is welcome, particularly for those working with large files, such as HD and film projects. Riding the wave of HD video adoption, After Effects CS5 has added support for some of the more popular professional HD formats. These include RED R3D file compatibility and native AVC-Intra files from the popular Panasonic P2 cards.
Probably the most robust new feature in After Effects CS5 is the new Roto Brush tool. This tool works similarly to the Quick Selection tool in Photoshop, and can considerably help the process of cutting out foreground objects. In many ways, Roto Brush makes rotoscoping a lot easier, and opens up rotoscoping to a much broader audience.
For special effects artists, Adobe has bundled the DigiEffects FreeForm 3D warping tool with After Effects CS5. This tool is similar to the 2D Meshwarp tool that was already part of After Effects, but with an added dimension. Images and elements can be warped and stretched not only in 2D screen space, but also along a Z-axis to push things toward and away from the camera. This can help significantly when integrating flat, 2D content into a live-action 3D scene.
Premiere Pro CS5 probably experiences the greatest speed increase of the bunch, and most of the improvements are under the hood. Not only is the software full 64 bit, which gives it the requisite speed boost, but Premiere Pro also contains a new way to speed things up—and it is called the Mercury Playback Engine. This is a software mechanism that uses the GPU of a qualified graphics card to speed up playback by a significant amount. This technology is built upon Nvidia’s CUDA parallel processing architecture and works with Nvidia’s Quadro cards as well as some of the higher-end GeForce cards.
The speed increase over CS4 is very noticeable and is most apparent when using multiple tracks and layers within Premiere Pro. Usually multiple layers would need to be rendered, but the hardware acceleration turns Premiere Pro into a real-time editing and effects system. The higher-end Nvidia cards can support multiple HD streams with effects. Adding to the HD workflow are support for new HD formats, such as R3D, as well as support for most of the HD files used in popular DSLR cameras.
In terms of new features, Premiere Pro CS5 offers some nice enhancements. Probably the most cutting-edge is the ability to natively edit 3D stereoscopic content. This is done using the Cineform Neo3D plug-in, which offers features not found in any major nonlinear editing application. For those who do compositing in Premiere Pro, the new Ultra Keyer will help considerably with chroma-keying greenscreen shots and types of footage. Another nice workflow feature with Premiere Pro CS5 is the enhanced ability to exchange files with other popular video-editing software, such as Avid systems and Apple’s Final Cut. This is nice because this version of Premiere actually takes quite a leap forward in speed and reliability, and even surpassing other nonlinear editors in raw power.
Overall, the CS5 suite is a very good upgrade. Those who skipped CS4 will appreciate the added speed and stability of CS5. The new features also offer another incentive to upgrade. Adobe has stabilized and enhanced CS5 in all the right places.
George Maestri is a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World and president/CEO of RubberBug animation studio. He also teaches Maya for Lynda.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.