Photoshop on iPad, Easy Interactive AR and AI, Streaming Everywhere
Image: Adorama’s Interactive Challenge found Adobe MAX attendees confronting a live model in a Victorian-era set with five minutes to capture an image. Photo by @slashvisuals
by Joseph Herman
This week saw Adobe’s annual MAX conference unreel in Los Angeles. Thousands of creatives and coders swarmed the exhibition halls for the three-day extravaganza – some 14,000 came to last year’s show, so this is a considerable event to pull off for all involved.
For the curious, it’s a chance to hear from the folks behind the San Jose-based company, yielding a better appreciation for how they see the future of these important software apps.
Of course, those in the crowd came for their own reasons, whether gaining know-how about a particular program, networking for that next freelance job, or hoping for a spark of creative inspiration from one of the top trainers.
Big names on hand lent some sheen including photographer David LaChapelle, director M. Night Shyamalan and musicians Dave Grohl and Billie Eilish. For a full list of speakers at the conference and the announcements themselves, visit the Adobe MAX website at max.adobe.com.
To coincide with the event, Adobe has upgraded their key applications and have introduced a few others. For example, there is a new version of Photoshop for iPad. An iPad Illustrator version is promised by next year’s show. (Photoshop for iPad is now available via the App Store.)
The iPad versions of Photoshop is something that many designers and motion graphics will want to take note of. What’s nice is that if you start a Photoshop project in your studio, you can continue working on it where ever you are — at home, on the train or even on vacation. It doesn’t yet have all the features found in the desktop versions of those apps – regular upgrades will keep adding new capabilities. I’ve tried Photoshop on the iPad and can report that this isn’t a dumbed down version that many were fearing, but rather it delivers a smarter UI that quickly starts to feel intuitive. Photoshop soars with the Apple Pencil and tablet. You start thinking that this is the way it was meant to be – artwork made intimate by a tablet and pencil you can hold while working about anyplace you like.
There’s a slew of new mobile software too, such as the “AI-powered” Photoshop Camera. Available now as a preview for iOS and Android devices, the smart shooter is expected to roll out to everyone next year.
But it’s time to take a closer look at the updates to the mainstays of Adobe’s video and storytelling apps. That means, of course, what’s happening with Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition and Character Animator?
Adobe Premiere’s Continues to Make Gains
Adobe Premiere Pro continues to make inroads in the world of high-end editing. Top Hollywood productions such as Terminator: Dark Fate use Premiere. While Media Composer is still entrenched in some Hollywood suites, the rise of Premiere Pro over the last several years has been remarkable and I predict it will continue to gain market share.
Premiere Pro’s user friendliness, integration with other applications in the Creative Cloud and ubiquity have made it the top NLE outside of those in Hollywood and other markets. However, Adobe must continue to innovate in order to maintain their momentum and keep in the front of other companies such as Blackmagic who have been trying to sway people to their own post-production solution. Needless to say, it will take a long time (if ever), for them to catch up to Adobe’s dominance.
Apple’s Final Cut Pro continues to drift in and out of relevance. The company’s seeming reluctance to push the app’s development might change, to some extent, with the final release of the reconfigured Mac Pro. But with its $6K starting price, the machine looks like a niche play to most creatives.
Adobe is a multibillion-dollar international company, so it has few hurdles in the long term. Its marketing might remains considerable. Yet the other NLEs also have their fans, Maybe the motion market is big enough for each to have their share. Nevertheless, most editing suites that I visit these days are running Premiere.
Premiere Pro New Features
Nowadays, people design their productions to fit a wide range of platforms and devices. To help optimize your content for different outlets (including social media) Premiere Pro now includes a feature called Auto Reframe (powered by Adobe Sensei AI technology). You can now reformat your video to square, vertical, cinematic or custom aspect ratios on the fly, something that can be difficult to pull off to anyone who isn’t a software jockey. Auto Reframe works by identifying the action in your video so that the important part stays within the frame you are resizing to. Naturally, you don’t want to leave things all up to the algorithm so there are options that let you adjust its sensitivity depending on the motion in the footage. After it’s done its thing, you can further refine the results by adjusting the keyframes it generates.
The latest updates to Premiere offer more control over motion graphics templates, a powerful way to implement customized graphics into your edit through design templates that were made by professional motion designers in After Effects.
Premiere Pro includes improved time remapping; that’s handy when you need to vary the speed and playback of your footage over time. Time Remapping now supports speed changes up to 20,000 percent without requiring you to nest your clips into multiple sequences.
Expanded audio gain is another useful new enhancement. The range for audio gain has been expanded to +15dB. This allows you to boost the volume of clips which, in turn, will help them stand out in the mix.
There have also been under-the-hood refinements such as improved handling of H265, HEVX and Apple ProRes formants. For example, ProRes HDR is now up to ten times faster.
To avoid driver issues and conflicts, Premiere Pro now has a built-in System Compatibility Report that checks your drivers to make sure that your system is tuned correctly for editing. There’s also an easier way to delete your media cache to free up disk space and newly expanded native format support for Canon C500, Canon XF-HEVC, Sony Venice V4 with high frame rate recording and Apple ProRes Export in MXF on Windows and macOS.
After Effects New Features
After Effects will always hold a special place in this artist’s heart since I spent many fond formative years inside of that program, exploring its creative horizons – and I still do.
When it comes to high-end compositing for motion-picture visual effects, many VFX artists sing the glories of a node-based approach as can be found in Fusion or Nuke. However, After Effects’ layer-based approach has its own benefits (some people prefer it) and it especially continues to appeal to mainstream motion designers — those who create broadcast graphics, typography, flying logos and 2D motion graphics as well as VFX artists. In addition, After Effects integration with Photoshop and Illustrator is very deep. Long live After Effects.
Improvements to After Effects now include real-time playback of cached previews. Improvements to CPU threading and a new GPU architecture for processing pixels allows you to interact with the application while previewing your work in real time. This means less wait and better frame rates.
One thing that really caught my eye in the new version is After Effects’ new way of handling multichannel EXR files. Not only are they up to 10-12 times faster, but you can directly import EXR files as layered compositions complete with the proper transfer modes applied to each layer. There is also native support for Cryptomatte, an advanced system for interpreting masks defined by 3D animation programs. It has a handy Contact Sheet view to quickly locate specific passes. The new multichannel EXR and Cryptomatte abilities are both useful for those who create VFX compositing.
Expressions in After Effects have gotten an upgrade in the latest release which improves their overall performance. There is also now expression access to text style properties and the ability to save your expressions as presets for later use.
Those who create motion graphics templates will be happy to learn that you can now create custom dropdown menus along with Slider, Checkbox and Color controls. In addition, the latest version of After Effects now includes an updated version of Maxon Cinema 4D Lite (based on C4D R21). New features include enhanced Caps and Bevel tools and a new denoising filter that helps to reduce render times. Those who wish more 3D functionality can step up to the full version of Cinema 4D which has a new, more affordable, recently introduced subscription model.
Like Premiere Pro, there are new native format support in After Effects including Canon XF-HEVC, as well as import support for two legacy formats: Animation with delta frames and MJPEG. Plus, there’s improved performance for 10-bit H.265 HD/UHD, HEVC HD/UHD and Apple ProRes formats.
Adobe Character Animator
I love character animation and spend a great deal of time learning about it and doing my best to get better at it. CA isn’t easy, so when I first found out about Adobe Character Animator, a new program for the easy creation of 2D character animation a few years ago, I was excited to find out more.
I was intrigued by what I first saw. However, I came to understand that Character Animator was more of strong tool for performance capture rather than animation. It allows you to create an animated character super-fast and is thus great for newcomers who can be overwhelmed by the intricate process of traditional character animation.
Adobe Character Animator allows you to animate a character based on your body’s own movement. Your computer’s built in video camera tracks your movements, transfers it to your character and even automatically generates the lip sync (an aspect of character animation that is notoriously tedious and time consuming). You can also create triggers for your characters which can be controlled in real-time with control surfaces.
However, for those who are used more traditional keyframe-based systems which lend themselves to a more iterative approach to animation, Adobe Character animator seemed to lack the fine controls that those systems had. Yes, I could immediately see it being useful for a live stream where the character could interact with the viewers in real time — an animated host if you will – but not so much for someone who wants to sit in their studio and refine and polish their animations to their heart’s content.
Therefore, I was excited to learn that the new version of Character Animator does a lot to bridge the gap between its approach to live capture and more traditional computer-based animation workflows.
First off, Adobe Character Animator now adds animatable scene cameras. Now you can set up shots within your scene for wide views, close-ups and zooms and create camera moves between them. With scene cameras, you can cut between two characters in a scene or smoothly pan back and forth between them. You can also create triggers for your scene cameras.
Importantly, Adobe Character Animator now also has keyframes. Of course, this is probably the feature that makes it most like, you guessed it, traditional keyframe-based animation systems. Keyframes add fine levels of precision and creative control. They allow you to position and time a character or prop in your scene as well as control the physical behaviors of interactive elements such as wind strength and gravity. You can now keyframe camera moves across your scenes and create triggerable keyframe sequences. With the addition of keyframes and scene cameras, I may just have to finally take the deep dive into Adobe Character Animator that I’ve been meaning to for a while. Stay tuned for further details.
Character Animator also includes other new features such as Audio triggers for things like a character’s signature sound, applause, music clip or a laugh track on cue. Also new are Motion Lines which add secondary animations to your character’s rig.
Adobe Audition New Features
Adobe Audition has long been a useful and comprehensive post-production audio solution for many kinds of sound production work with tight integration with Adobe Premiere.
The new version of Adobe Audition includes improved routing for multichannel effects which helps channel audio effects to the correct outputs and track channels in and out of those effects. For producers of immersive media who build wrap-around soundscapes, you can now easily route your mono, multichannel or Ambisonics recordings for accurate sound placement in a 3D environment.
Finally, enhanced audio clip stacking which lets you stack your audio clips like a video timeline so that whatever is on top of the stack is what you hear.
Outside of these major programs, you will want to know about:
Adobe Aero, a free iOS-only app that enables designers to build AR experiences without coding knowledge. The app makes use of other Adobe programs (clever buy-in!) letting users import 3D files from Dimension and 2D layers from Photoshop and Illustrator to create interactive experiences. Aero also works with third-party software like Maya and C4D.
Adobe Fresco is coming to Windows. The drawing and painting app (originally launched earlier this year on the iPad) is meant for pen devices, like the Microsoft Surface Pro or the Wacom MobileStudio Pro. Free for Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers or $9.99 / month for non-subscribers.
Adobe’s Sneaks presentations are always a top draw with their peek at what the R&D folks are up to – and which might very well be included as updates or new product categories. One demo will be part of After Effects at some point: Go Figure delivers automatic tracking of body movements, then applys it to animations. The body tracker detects human body movement in source videos to generate track points for 18 joints across the arms, torso, and legs, which can then be transferred to the character that’s being animated. Adobe’s artificial intelligence platform Sensei does the heavy lifting: it was trained on more than 10,000 images to manually identify the body points, reducing manual keyframing and saving lots of time.
Another Adobe Sensei fueled capability was presented at the #ProjectSoundSeek. Content creators will be able to select specific sounds that occur multiple times in audio recordings by simply selecting a couple of target sound examples, and have a machine find the rest.
Adobe Lightroom gains advanced export options, including exporting as a TIF file. You now also have options to choose output resolution, JPEG compression, metadata, file naming, output sharing, and color space. Lightroom gains GPU processing, which should speed things up considerably. Enough in fact that the post-crop vignette effect will update in real time as you crop or resize a photo. In partnership with White House Customer Color (WHCC), Adobe has built a new Connector into Lightroom that stores your images on Adobe’s cloud servers, which in turn communicate directly with WHCC servers, making printing quick and straightforward.