What if we told you ... After Effects is about to get a whole lot faster?
For years, users have been asking for After Effects to get faster. It turns out that behind the scenes, Adobe's After Effects team has been hard at work revolutionizing the way After Effects handles previews, exporting, and more! In short, your motion graphics workflow is indeed about to get a whole lot faster.
This isn't just one simple update or a bit of optimization. Adobe went through bit by bit to find the best path toward the higher-performing application you've been asking for. The results, so far, have been nothing short of a revolution ... a Render-volution! While there may still be more features to come, here’s what we know about currently:
- Multi-Frame Rendering (faster previews and exports!)
- Reimagined Render Queue
- Remote Render Notifications
- Speculative Preview (aka Cache Frames When Idle)
- Composition Profiler
The After Effects Live Double Feature
To be clear, these features are currently only available in the After Effects public Beta, so you will NOT see them in the public release... yet. (As of this writing, the public release is version 18.4.1, which you probably just know as “After Effects 2021.”) As these features are all still in active development, functionality may evolve, and we’ll be updating this article as new information is released. Adobe does have a history of releasing new features around Adobe MAX, though, so I wouldn’t be shocked if some or all of these are available in a public version of AE later this year.
We’ll have the opportunity to discuss and demo these features in our upcoming live stream — which will include members of the After Effects team and the hardware experts at Puget Systems — to give you the full report on how to use these new features, and the impact they’ll have on your current and future workstation hardware.
If your excitement won’t allow you to wait for the stream to learn about these features, you can learn the major points below.
Wait, “Public Beta?!”
Yep! This has actually been available for a while now. If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber, you’ve had access to it since it launched. Simply open your Creative Cloud Desktop app and click on “Beta apps” in the left-hand column. You’ll find the option to install Beta versions of many of the apps you already know and love, giving you early access to upcoming features and an opportunity to give Adobe feedback on these features before they hit the public release.
It’s important to note that Beta apps install alongside your existing version, so you’ll have two different installs of the app on your machine, with visibly different icons. The functionality of your current version won’t be affected by your work in the Beta, though in many cases you can freely pass project files between them, so you’ll want to pay attention to which one you’re using!
When you’re actually in the software, Beta apps also have a small beaker icon in the top toolbar, keeping you updated on the latest features, and even giving you a chance to rate them. Adobe implemented this Beta program specifically so they could get better feedback from users of all kinds, using different hardware, doing different types of work. If you want to help steer the future of After Effects, get thee to the Beta, and give that feedback!
Gimme That Speed: Multi-Frame Rendering is Here! (...is Back?)
Available in the After Effects public Beta since March 2021, Multi-Frame Rendering means AE will be able to take advantage of more of your system resources. Different frames of your sequence can be processed by the different cores of your machine — happening in parallel — thus letting you preview and export faster. Not only that, but this is all dynamically managed, based on your available system resources and the specifics of your composition.
Your exact improvements will depend on your machine hardware, but in short, you should likely see your After Effects work happening at least 1-3x faster than before. (In some niche cases, you might be able to see … 70x faster?!) The After Effects team has been (and still are) actively gathering results on this, to ensure users of all kinds see improvements. If you’d like to check out the details and investigate how Multi-Frame Rendering measures up on your system, there’s a lovely custom-designed test project (created by… me, actually!) that’ll show you an apples-to-apples comparison with and without Multi-Frame Rendering.
You’ll notice a redesigned Render Queue within After Effects to help you visualize this new feature in action. Just for the record, yes, exporting After Effects projects via Media Encoder (Beta) will also see these performance improvements. Oh, and AE-built Motion Graphics templates being used in Premiere (Beta) are also faster thanks to this new pipeline. Yay!
Speaking of speed, over the past couple of years, many of the native effects have been restructured to be GPU-accelerated, and now to be compatible with Multi-Frame Rendering, to help bring you even more speed improvements. Check out this official list of effects and what they support.
Before we wrap this section, and just to clear up any confusion on the matter, the old “multi-frame rendering” (actually Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously) previously available in After Effects 2014 and earlier was always a non-ideal workaround (it actually spun up multiple copies of AE, overtaxing your system and sometimes creating other issues), hence why it was originally discontinued. This new Multi-Frame Rendering hasn’t just been “waiting to be switched back on” - it’s a totally new method of achieving faster performance within After Effects. As someone who’s been doing this long enough to have experienced both, trust me - you want this new AE in your life.
This may be less of a blockbuster feature (especially if your projects are rendering faster anyway), but it’s good to know when that render is done, right? (Or more importantly, if it DIDN’T finish exporting as intended!) After Effects can notify you when your renders are complete via the Creative Cloud app, and push notifications to your phone or smartwatch. Handy!
Speculative Preview (aka Cache Frames When Idle)
Have you ever wished After Effects would just magically build your timeline preview while you’re grabbing a coffee? Your wish has been granted! Whenever After Effects is idle, the area of your timeline around your Current Time Indicator (CTI) will begin preemptively building into a preview, turning green to indicate the preview is ready. When you come back to AE, much (or all!) of your preview should already be built for you.
Your previews otherwise still function as before, though — if you make changes, the affected areas will revert to unrendered (gray), until you manually trigger a preview or again leave After Effects idle to rebuild the preview itself.
You can adjust this delay to further customize things, and clever users like our own Ryan Summers are already coming up with ways this can be used for some really smart workflow hacks.
We’ve all been there — you’ve got a big project with tons of layers, and your work has slowed to a crawl. You know you could find places to streamline (or at least turn a few layers off while you’re working), but knowing which layers or effects might be weighing you down can be guesswork even for an experienced motion designer. Behold, the Composition Profiler.
Visible in a newly-available timeline column (which you can also toggle with the adorable little snail icon in the bottom-left of your Timeline panel), you can now see an objective calculation of how long each layer, effect, mask, expression, etc. took to render the current frame. This could allow you to temporarily disable (or consider pre-rendering) a render-heavy layer or effect, or have informed answers to a conundrum like, “is Gaussian Blur actually faster than Fast Box Blur?” (Spoiler alert: it is ... sometimes!) In short, Composition Profiler lets you work smarter so you can work faster.
Are You Feeling the Need for Speed?
If all of this has you hyped to check out the After Effects public Beta and see what you’ve been missing … good! That was the point! The After Effects team has been hard at work giving you a variety of ways to do your motion design and compositing work faster and better, and these features could have a pretty revolutionary impact on your workflow.
You can also be a vital part of this process and other future features by providing feedback. I can personally verify that the AE team does indeed read and take your feedback to heart, but only if you actually send it in! The best way to do so is right there in the software, under Help > Provide Feedback. If you’d like to post your outcomes with the new Multi-Frame Rendering features and stay informed of the progress as development continues, you can join the conversation here on the Adobe forums.