Adobe Creative Suite 5.5

Adobe’s development efforts have been running full bore with several Creative Suite updates in close succession during recent years. 2011 is no exception, with the launch of Adobe Creative Suite 5.5, announced at NAB. This is a point-five release that concentrates mainly on the video products, which are offered in the Production Premium software collection.

In addition to various improvements and enhancements throughout the applications, Adobe CS5.5 signals some big changes. The first is that the Adobe Creative Suite is now available on both a purchase and a subscription basis. For the first time, Adobe customers may access the power of the Creative Suite tools on a low-cost monthly basis. This is designed to cover suite owners who might be ineligible for upgrade pricing, single product owners and new customers who may want to test the waters for a few months. The individual collections (Master, Design, Web and Production), as well as individual products, may be used with a one-year or month-by-month subscription.

The second big change is that Audition comes to the Mac platform. Audition is Adobe’s full-featured digital audio workstation software. As a Windows application, it was originally part of the collection prior to Adobe Premiere Pro’s return to the Mac. Audition will replace Soundbooth and once again be the audio tool within the Production Premium bundle. Unfortunately, if you really liked Soundbooth, it is now an end-of-life product.

Premiere Pro

I’m going to focus this first look on three of the core products in the Production Premium suite – Premiere Pro, After Effects and Audition. In CS5, Premiere Pro made a big splash with tons of native camera format support, 64-bit operation and the Mercury Playback Engine. For many, Mercury Playback seemed to come down to the CUDA processing technology of specific NVIDIA graphics cards. In reality, MPE is a lot more and not just a function of CUDA. The NVIDIA cards do indeed accelerate certain effects and a wider range of NVIDIA cards is now supported; however, Adobe has integrated additional CPU optimization throughout the product. My Mac Pro has the ATI 5870 card installed and I have no problems with RED, ProRes, AVC-Intra or other native camera formats.

Adobe’s optimization for Premiere Pro CS5.5 is most evident with plug-ins. Previously, filters with custom user interfaces, like Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Colorista II, were extremely sluggish in Premiere Pro. This is now a thing of the past, with Colorista II nearly as responsive as it is in After Effects. That’s super news for me, as I much prefer it to Premiere Pro’s built-in color correction tools. Another example is GenArts Sapphire – a plug-in package installed for After Effects, but which also works in Premiere Pro. When I drop one of these filters onto a 1920×1080 ProRes clip in the timeline, playback is still smooth at full resolution without dropping frames.

Premiere Pro has attracted the interest of the RED camera user community as one of the better desktop editing solutions for their needs. It’s one of the few that can actually work natively with the camera raw .r3d files at a full 4K timeline resolution. Premiere Pro CS5.5 uses the latest RED SDK, which gives Adobe editors access to RED’s “new color science” – meaning better color processing from old and new camera files. The beta version I tested did not yet handle files from EPIC – RED’s newest camera, but Adobe plans to support EPIC at launch, including 5K RED timelines. There will be a link to a software extension via the Adobe Labs website.

Another improvement is better XML and AAF translation when importing projects started in Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer, respectively. That often hasn’t worked well for complex sequences when using Premiere Pro CS5; however, it appears to have been fixed in CS5.5. I ran into very few issues importing my XML sequence files from FCP7 into Premiere Pro. To be safe, I first removed filters and embedded Motion projects in Final Cut Pro, but the import worked perfectly with several different test projects. These sequences included video clips, audio files, text and graphics. Premiere Pro properly linked to all of these, plus translated dissolves, opacity changes, speed changes, placeholder text and audio keyframes. Likewise, I was able to move Media Composer sequences, with QuickTime media only linked via Avid Media Access, straight into Premiere Pro and from there into After Effects. This improved interoperability offers the possibility of some exciting alternative workflows for the future.

Audition

Soundbooth was a simplified, task-specific “lite” audio production and post tool. Audition is more sophisticated and can easily hold its own against competitors, like Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic or Soundtrack Pro. Unlike some of these other applications, it’s designed specifically around audio production, editing and mixing and isn’t bloated with tons of audio loops and MIDI features. This makes it very streamlined for easy use by a video editor. It can be launched and run by itself or as part of a roundtrip with Premiere Pro CS5.5. There is also OMF support for audio post with projects started on Media Composer or Final Cut Pro systems.

Moving from Premiere Pro to Audition is simply a matter of right-clicking the sequence in the Premiere Pro project window and “sending to” an Audition multi-track session. All tracks open in Audition and retain the volume keyframing created in Premiere Pro. In Audition, feel free to edit, add filters and mix. To return, simply use the “Export to Adobe Premiere Pro” option. Completed mono, stereo or 5.1 surround mixes can also be exported as a mixdown, which may be re-imported into Premiere Pro (or another application) for final mastering and encoding.

Audition is designed as two applications in one – a multitrack editor/mixer and a clip-based audio editor. These are identified in the interface by the Waveform and Multitrack tabs. Opening a clip directly in Waveform (or clicking a timeline clip to send it to Waveform) opens a clip-based tool to clean-up, process or otherwise alter individual clips. This uses one of the best spectral view displays of any audio tool and permits Photoshop-style “healing” functions to eliminate unwanted background sounds. The Multitrack tab opens a multitrack timeline and mixer window where you would slip or trim clips, add cross-fades, adjust levels and add track-based filters.

Audition comes with a large selection of Adobe and iZotope filters and can access any VST and/or AU filters installed on your system. This includes those used by Final Cut Pro and additional plug-ins, like Focusrite Scarlett and BIAS. Audition is really a joy to use. It’s very responsive, thanks to a new code base that’s been optimized for multi-core, multi-processor systems. You can easily make on-the-fly changes to filters and other parameters without any hiccups as the timeline continues to play.

Adobe still has some unfinished business to round out Audition. There is no control surface hardware support and I/O for the Mac is limited to units that are supported at the Mac system level. For example, my Avid Mbox2 Mini audio interface works fine for stereo monitoring. There is also no automation mixing. If you want to ride levels throughout a piece, you’ll either have to do that by rubberbanding keyframes for each track or use the mixer automation function within Premiere Pro.

Users can access Adobe’s Resource Central web service from within the Audition interface to download a wealth of sound effects and some music tracks. As yet there are no Soundbooth-style controls within Audition to modify the structure, length or arrangement of these music tracks. Presumably that might resurface in a later version of Audition.

After Effects

Adobe has been promoting their products heavily to the Canon 5D/7D videographers, thanks to good native support for H.264 files. As we all know, these cameras suffer from rolling shutter artifacts, which often distort the image within the frame. An impressive, new After Effects feature is the Warp Stabilizer. This filter combines standard stabilization of a moving shot with intraframe correction of the horizontal and vertical distortion due to rolling shutter. Send a clip to After Effects from Premiere Pro using Dynamic Link and apply the Warp Stabilizer. The clip is analyzed in the background and can be tweaked as needed. The result will be much smoother than the original.

Adobe has also enhanced the z-space tools in After Effects, by changing the lighting falloff behaviors in 3D space. Another addition is the new Camera Lens Blur effect, designed to more accurately simulate realistic shallow depth-of-field looks and rack-focus effects. Finally, After Effects CS5.5 now lets you set up a project using existing stereo 3D elements or you can create a stereoscopic output from a 3D project, which consists of layers of 2D elements. Start by creating a Stereo 3D Rig and position elements in z-space. After Effects provides the controls for stereo convergence, left/right-eye adjustments and stereo output.

Conclusion

I’ve covered the 30,000 foot view, but there’s more, including enhancements to Adobe Story, Flash Catalyst,  Flash Pro and Adobe Media Encoder. Adobe Production Premium includes a complimentary one-year subscription to CS Live, Adobe’s “cloud” web site, which hosts Adobe Story. Scripts created in Story can now be directly imported into Premiere Pro from CS Live, without going through On Location first. These scripts can also be used to reconcile speech-to-text translations created in Premiere Pro. I feel speech translation is still a weak part of the application and fails to deliver on the user’s expectation. Using a transcript to correct the translation errors helps make it a functional feature.

The improvements in the three core applications I’ve discussed make this a worthwhile update for most users. Premiere Pro CS5.5 definitely feels more responsive than the CS5 version and Audition seals the deal if you want advanced audio tools at your disposal. I hope that mixer automation will make it into a software update for Audition without having to wait for CS6. If you’re new to Premiere Pro, this is the version to try. Interchange is good with Final Cut Pro, you can work with Media Composer or FCP7 keyboard layouts and it includes Ultra – one of the best green/blue-screen keyers in any NLE.

It’s quite refreshing to see steady performance improvements in subsequent versions. An editor working with Premiere Pro has seen tangible performance boosts with each new Creative Suite version. Once again, Adobe has ratcheted development up a notch and it shows.

Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).

©2011 Oliver Peters

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