Optimizing After Effects

Table of contents:

In the last edition of this book I rather bracingly inserted a list of optimal Preferences settings near the beginning of Chapter 1. This time around, many of these are embedded in context throughout other chapters, but as we have arrived at the end of Section I of the book it is time to mention a few optimizations that haven't come up yet. Not only preferences, but also settings for memory management and what do to if After Effects crashes.

Setting Preferences and Project Settings

The preference defaults have changed in version 7.0 and you may be happy with most of them. Here, however, are a few you might want to adjust that haven't been mentioned yet:

  • Preferences > Genera > Levels of Undo: The default is now 32, which may be geared toward a system with less RAM than yours. I set mine to 47 so that I always know I was the one to set it; something around there usually gives me enough undos. Setting it to the maximum value of 99 won't bring the application to a grinding halt, but it may shorten the amount of time available in RAM Previews.
  • Preferences General: You may also want to check Allow Scripts to Write Files and Access Network to use some of the scripts included with this book. Use System Color Picker may be preferable on a Mac, but not so in Windows XP.
  • Preferences > Display: Go ahead, set Disable Thumbnails in Project Panel. If you never look at the thumbnails at the top of the Project panel, you might as well disable the feature. Otherwise, be prepared for situations in which you wait for it to update. If you're working on film-resolution files over a network, for example, you can expect delays while you wait for those updating thumbnail images.
  • Preferences > User Interface Colors: You may wish to darken the UI using the User Interface Brightness slider. In the same dialog, consider turning on Cycle Mask Colors so that multiple masks applied to a layer automatically have different colors.
  • The Secret Preferences: Hold down Shift while opening the Preferences dialog and you'll see an extra "Secret" category of Preferences at the bottom of the drop-down list. These relate to memory management, covered in the next section.


To restore Preferences to their defaults, hold down Alt+Ctrl+Shift/Option+Cmd+Shift immediately after launching After Effects, and click OK on the prompt. Hold down Alt/Option while clicking OK, and you're asked if you want to delete your shortcuts file as well (otherwise, they remain).


Memory Management

One area of major improvement in After Effects 7.0 is that the application can handle more physical memory (RAM) than previous versions.

In OS X, After Effects can now see and use more than 2 GB of RAM. Theoretically the amount of space available is 4 GB, but because the system reserves some of that space, it is more like 3.5 GB. Your machine may have more total memory than this, but most applications on a Mac are still limited to 32-bit 4 GB address spaces.

On Windows XP, the maximum amount of memory supported for a single application is 4 GB (again, using 32-bit 4 GB address spaces). According to Microsoft, however, "The virtual address space of processes and applications is still limited to 2 GB unless the /3GB switch is used in the Boot.ini file." Editing this file is out of scope for this book, so check out www.microsoft.com/whdc/system/platform/server/PAE/PAEmem.mspx for specific information.

Close-Up: On the Mac: Forcing a Crash

One benefit of After Effects has historically been that it is among the most stable applications in its category, and when it does crash, it attempts to do so gracefully, offering the option to save before it exits. The new auto-save options, if used properly further diminish the likelihood that you are ever likely in danger of losing project data.

For OS X users, there is an extra feature that may come in handy if the application becomes unresponsive but does not actually crash.

Open Terminal, and enter ps x (then press Return) to list all processes. Scan the resulting list for After Effects and note its PID (Process ID) value.

Now enter kill SEGV ### where "###" is replaced by the After Effects PID value. This causes the application to crash with a save opportunity.

On either platform, extra memory (beyond what the application can use) will come in handy when running more than one version of the application, when using Nucleo (which simulates running multiple versions of After Effects), or, obviously, when running other applications simultaneously.

Some users have found in certain situations that renders that fail due to out-of-memory errors will succeed if the image cache is emptied more aggressively than usual. If you want to try this, hold down the Shift key when opening any category of Preferences, and the Secret category is revealed in the pull-down menu. You can check Disable Layer Cache and specify the number of frames after which the cache will be purged (1 being the most aggressive setting). You can also check Ignore Sequence Rendering Errors, which will continue rendering even if out-of-memory errors occur. Under normal circumstances, neither should be necessary; this option exists only for desperation situations in which renders fail due to memory errors.

Onward to Effects

Section I. Working Foundations

The 7.0 Workflow

The Timeline

Selections: The Key to Compositing

Optimizing Your Projects

Section II. Effects Compositing Essentials

Color Correction

Color Keying

Rotoscoping and Paint

Effective Motion Tracking

Virtual Cinematography


Film, HDR, and 32 Bit Compositing

Section III. Creative Explorations

Working with Light

Climate: Air, Water, Smoke, Clouds

Pyrotechnics: Fire, Explosions, Energy Phenomena

Learning to See


Adobe After Effects 7. 0 Studio Techniques
Adobe After Effects 7.0 Studio Techniques
ISBN: 0321385527
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 157

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