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Exploring New Features in After Effects 17.0

By Kyle Hamrick and Ryan Plummer
After Effects

The After Effects 17.0 Update is All About Performance

With new GPU-based motion design apps appearing left and right, many motion designers have been looking to their long-preferred program to "get to up to speed" (pun intended).
It's nearly 2020, and Adobe's latest update is out. Does After Effects 17.0 meet the increasing demand for a faster engine (and other performance enhancements)?
We asked Kansas City-based designer, video editor, SOM Teaching Assistant and alum, and Adobe Community Professional Kyle Hamrick to investigate.
In his After Effects 17.0 breakdown, Kyle covers speed improvements impacting:
  • RAM Previews
  • Shape Layers
  • Expressions
  • Content Aware Fill
  • EXRs
He also reports on:
  • The new Cinema 4D Lite, updated for Maxon's Release 21
  • Essential Graphics Panel Dropdown Menus
  • Access to Text using Expressions
What are the new features in after effects 17 2020 update 2019.png

After Effects 17.0: New Features: Tutorial Video

After Effects 17.0: New Features: Project Files

To follow along, download the project files used in Kyle's tutorial video.
Note: You must have After Effects 17.0 to open and operate this file. The features used in this project are not available in previous versions of After Effects.

Download New After Effects Features Project File

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After Effects 17.0: New Features: Explained

Performance in After Effects 17.0

Before measuring performance in a complex design app like Adobe After Effects, you need to understand what performance means.
The After Effects team divides the app's performance into three categories:
  1. Rendering, or how fast After Effects displays pixels on your screen
  2. Interactive, or how fast the UI responds to your actions
  3. Workflow, or how fast you can complete a task
With that in mind, we look at what has (or hasn't) been upgraded in 2019-2020.
After Effects 17 CC 2020 splash screen.png
In the new version of After Effects, playback has been beefed up.
  • When you've cached RAM preview files, you'll get real-time playback of your composition
  • When playing back your cached frames, you can interact with the UI without affecting playback
Content Aware Fill After Effects 2020.png
In 2019, Adobe introduced Content Aware Fill in After Effects, enabling you to more easily remove objects from your scenes.
In After Effects 17.0, this already popular feature is 10% to 25% quicker and relies approximately two-thirds less on memory — a particularly significant and immediately obvious spruce-up for motion designers with less RAM in their machines.
Expressions are a motion designer's secret weapons. They can automate repetitive tasks, build flexible rigs, and extend your capabilities far past what is possible with keyframes alone. However, you're limited by how well After Effects can keep up with your coding.
Adobe knows this and, to expedite Expressions processing in After Effects, has focused efforts in two primary areas:
Using Expressions with Master Properties
Master Properties After Effects 2020.png
Thanks to some new tweaks and optimizations, you'll notice in the After Effects 17.0 a smoother experience using Expressions in combination with Master Properties.
Want to learn more about Master Properties features that can expedite your workflow? Watch How to Use Master Properties in After Effects:
Fewer Calculations Per Frame
Expressions experts understand there are some calculations that aren't warranted, and some Expressions that simply don't need to be recalculated every single frame.
In previous versions of After Effects, certain codes — like posterizeTime(0);, for example — unnecessarily generated a new calculation each frame; in After Effects 17.0, gratuitous calculations have been removed.
EXR Import dialog box in after effects 2020 update.png
Perhaps the most important performance improvement in After Effects 17.0, the speed at which After Effects reads multilayered EXR files is now 10 to 20 times faster in After Effects 17.0 — drastically expediting 3D and compositing workflows,
Plus, now:
  • Multilayered EXR files can be imported as layered compositions
  • Cryptomatte is natively supported

Shape Layers in After Effects 17.0

Shape layers have also been upgraded in After Effects 17.0; with our work heavily relying on vector-based illustrations, expect a significant speed boost to your workflow.
In earlier iterations of After Effects, to group or ungroup shapes you had to create a new group using the Add drop-down menu and then drag and drop; now, you can group or ungroup shapes with a single right click.
As in Adobe Illustrator, simply hit CMD + G to group or ungroup your shapes in After Effects 17.0.
How to group and ungroup shapes in shape layers in after effects 2020 update-optimized.gif

Cinema 4D Lite in After Effects 17.0

With the recent release of Cinema 4D R21, we had to assume updates to Cinema 4D Lite and Cineware in After Effects were forthcoming — and, fortuitously, we were right.
New Cinema 4D Lite Bevel options in After Effects 2020 Cineware-optimized.gif
The two biggest takeaways are:
  1. New flexibility and efficiency with Caps and Bevels, including Step and Curve Bevel options, and saving and loading Bevel presets
  2. A new denoise filter for cleaner renders, accessible by clicking the Effect button on the left in the Render Settings window

Dropdown Menu Expression Controllers in After Effects 17.0

Design a lot of .MOGRT templates? There's a brand-new feature in After Effects 17.0 that's ideal for animating and rigging: dropdown menus can now be used in Master Properties and are available as Expression Controllers.
To set your options for your dropdown menu Controller, use the Effect Controls panel, and click Edit at the top right of the window.
How to change dropdown expression controller menu items in After Effects-Optimized.gif
To change the number of options, simply click the + or - icon at the top right of the dialog box.
How to add dropdown expression controller menu options in after effects-optimized.gif

Text Style Expressions in After Effects 17.0

If you're working with motion templates or projects adhering to branding guidelines, you'll benefit from now being able to directly access text property options — like font type, size, color, and stroke width — using Expressions.
What does the Text Properties panel look like in After Effects.png
In After Effects 17.0, you can "Get" text properties from other layers, or "Set" text style properties using Expressions.
New After Effects Text Style Expression updates - All expressions available.png
Of course, there are benefits beyond templates, as well.
Imagine setting up Expressions on all your text layers that watch for changes in one main text layer, your Master Layer. Your code is instructing After Effects: if the font changes in the Master Layer, copy those changes and reflect them in all other layers.
Changing Font and Font Size using expression text set-up-optimized.gif

After Effects 17.0, and the Adobe User Voice Platform

To review all the new features and fixes in After Effects 17.0, see What's New.
If you have a bug to report or a change to request, don't forget you can now use the Adobe User Voice platform. The more community votes an idea receives, the more likely Adobe will take action, so be sure to upvote suggestions you'd like to see in future versions of the app.

Mastering After Effects 17.0

Ready to make the most of the world's leading motion design software? There's no better way to master After Effects — and position yourself for further success — than investing in your education, like our 5,000-plus alumni.
Our classes aren't easy, and they're not free. They're interactive and intensive, and that's why they're effective.
By enrolling, you'll gain access to our private student community/networking groups; receive personalized, comprehensive critiques from professional artists; and grow faster than you ever thought possible.
Plus, we're entirely online, so wherever you are we're there too!

After Effects Kickstart

In our After Effects Kickstart course, Nol Honig of The Drawing Room will educate and empower you to excel in a career in motion design, visual effects, character animation, or even UX prototyping.

Expression Session

Want to focus on writing code for motion design? We've got you covered.
Expression Session, taught by the titanic tag team of Zack Lovatt and Nol Honig, will teach you how to use Expressions, and why.