Adobe Production Studio Review

A couple of months ago I upgraded all of my Adobe software in one shot by ordering the Adobe Production Studio. This comes in two versions; the regular (Premiere, After Effects Standard and Photoshop for $1200), and the premium (upgrades After Effects to pro version, and adds Encore, Audition, Illustrator, and several third-party plugins for $1700). I went for the premium version because almost all of these additions would be worth the extra $500 on their own, so getting them together is quite economical.

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while, because this bundle is quite a step forward, both in terms of the individual upgrades, and in the added integration between the applications. Adobe has built a suite of software that builds on itself and makes a number of production task faster due to the enhanced connectivity. As a result, the individual applications get a boost in power and flexibility. It’s a solution that can be the foundation for many different production pipelines and accommodate many project types.

For example, the first thing I did with it was a reasonably complex commercial animatic. I used the Adobe Bridge (a file manager that connects the programs, stores metadata, and more) to get some stock photos from internet libraries, sent them to Photoshop so I could cut them into layered PSDs, which After Effects imported as layered compositions. I arranged the layers in 3D so I could simulate camera moves, and then imported that animation into Audition for the final music and sound effects edit. A seamless process taking only a few hours, using four different programs.

Premiere Pro 2.0

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Premiere has several new features now, including the spiffy-looking multi-camera switching, and it’s all new fully docked interface, but there are some serious changes under the hood as well. For example, it now handles virtually all SD and HD file formats, mixing different frame rates, in resolutions up to to 4096×4096, and has native support for the Xena HS encoding card for real-time uncompressed HD work. Premiere is also piggybacking on After Effect’s 32-bit colorspace render engine, and there are a lot of new color correction tools to take special advantage of that.

All this extra power is sped up by GPU acceleration, and the editing process is faster with the new simplified and prettified interface, and some new labor-saving features. For example, Clip Notes. Now Premiere can export a PDF file containing an embedded video file of the project and text field for entering comments. This would be only slightly more helpful than sending a regular video attachment for feedback, but the PDF can then be loaded back into Premiere, and the individual comments appear as markers in the edit timeline exactly where the comments were entered. Neat, eh?

And Premiere is good at sharing other things as well. There are export and input setting for EDLs and other project types, making integration with film labs and other studios easy. And for DVD projects, there is a very capable encoder and options to burn DVDs with chapters and interactive menus straight from the timeline, or Premiere projects can be opened as Encore DVD authoring projects. There are also many ways to seamlessly share project files and assets between Premiere and After Effects.

After Effects 7.0

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Like Premiere, After Effects Professional Version also sports a new customizable interface, adoption of OpenHD standards, and a much revamped 32-bit HDR render engine with OpenGL acceleration. Compositors and colorists will appreciate the many export and preview color modes available, the ability to match any film stock or HDR display, and the new color correction filters. If the built-in tools aren’t enough, Adobe includes Synthetic Aperture’s Color Finesse, The Foundry’s KeyLight, and plug-ins from CyCore.

There is also a new and very powerful multi-layer graph editor, “behavioral animation” presets, support for (and many of examples of) a new template system for animating graphical elements, new scripting and expression support, and new options for per-character animation of text. For even more control over time, there is a new optical-flow time remapper, that uses motion vectors to warp and interpolate frames. I find the quality comparable to RealViz’s Retimer, which happens to cost more than the entire Adobe package.

But in spite of all these great features, many of which I’ve wanted for a long time, I’m almost more excited about the integration between Premiere and After Effects. Any Premiere project can be imported into AE, and vice versa. Any After Effects composition can be dropped into an editing timeline just like a normal video clip, even if it hasn’t been rendered yet. This solves nearly all of the common “If only Program A had Feature B in it” complaints. Oh, and it can also export Flash encoded FLVs or SWFs as raster or vector. That’s something I’m going to experiment with in future…

Encore DVD 2.0

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Encore can also open any Premiere or After Effects files, regardless of whether they have been rendered yet. It’s high time that I point out this feature is called Dynamic Link, and there’s another benefit to it that I haven’t mentioned. If I load a gigantic, RAM-hogging file into AE, I can have that same file open in other Adobe programs without it taking up any more memory. This makes it even easier to work on the same project in four different applications without a performance hit.

And there isn’t aren’t any interface hiccups either, because the all look the same. In fact, I had to change Encore’s layout, because it looked too much like Premiere’s, and as the deadlines get longer and the hours got later, I occasionally got confused when I couldn’t find my Premiere tools in the Encore timeline. It is easy to work in, though. I generally use DVDlab Pro for DVD authoring, and I think it is a more powerful tool for building complex DVDs, but Encore is nice and fast.

It comes with boatloads of background and menu templates, or you can load layered PSDs (or After Effects comps) into it, and they automatically become menus with individual buttons. You can chain video and audio files in a timeline or flowchart hierarchy, easily mix different aspect ratios and build complicated chains of multi-audio, multi-subtitle movies and unlike DVDlab, it has built-in encoding for video and audio.

Audition 2.0

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Speaking of audio, Audition has made great strides. Previously a mid-range waveform editor called Cool Edit, it now supports SMPTE timecode-locked multitrack editing with unlimited tracks and video preview (Dynamic Linked from Premiere or After Effects, of course). There’s a complex mixer supporting 16 effects sends per track, with full automation and preset saving. It’s great for sound effects work, both in design and mixing. And yes, it also has the new Adobe Interface in all its shaded, adjustable glory.

It also comes with 5,000 uncompressed music loops that can be mixed and matched, and pitch-shifted and tempo-changed and matched to other elements. We generally compose, record, and mix music in Cubase, using Gary Garritan’s fantastic Personal Orchestra instruments, but since Audition has low-latency ASIO hardware support, MIDI tracks, and VST plug-in compatibility, I’d like to experiment with it in that areas as well.

Illustrator CS2

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Illustrator isn’t a program that I use much, so I’m not sure how to review it. I usually only use it to extract elements from EPS logos so I can animate them elsewhere, so I’m not particularly familiar with it. There are some fun new functions, though, like Live Trace and Live Paint which are neat ways to create artwork. You’ll also note that it has the CS interface, and not the new video one, which is understandable. Full Adobe Bridge support and great Photoshop connectivity, though.

Photoshop CS2

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Photoshop also has the CS interface. Most of it’s new feature are also under-the-hood additions, like support for 32-bit HDR images, and the Digital Negative and Camera Raw 3.0 standards. However, it is happily obvious that we can finally see in-menu font previews, and the ability to select multiple layers at a time. Matte painters (like me) will enjoy the new Vanishing Point tool, and the Image Warp feature. Most of the features are geared to photographers, such as noise and grain reduction filters, red-eye fixers, and the new Spot Healing brush, but there are several video-specific features, like the Firewire preview, and again, this is an integral part of many of the other programs.

In short, this is a fantastic suite of software, and the price is unbeatable. Almost any two of these applications would cost more than these six, not to mention the third-party plug-ins that are included. However, the main selling point is the synchronicity between the individual applications. The ability to share such divergent file types and have instant previews and feedback across the whole suite is immeasurably valuable.

Unfortunately, it’s not completely perfect yet. Extremely large Premiere projects are unwieldy in After Effects (logically so, however), and Audition still has a few bugs, although these seem to be limited to interface glitches and not real performance issues. In two months of long use, only Photoshop has crashed, and then only once. I’ll be writing more about my experiences in the future, but for now I give Production Studio nine stars out of ten.