Pros: TONS OF EFFECTS
Ability to combine effects
Massively customizable Effects
Cons: Resource Hog
High Learning Curve
Too many controls in a small interface
So, I'm a nerd. I said it, I'm a nerd. What makes me a nerd? Well, after photoshopping pictures of nearly everyone I know (and a monkey) with a lightsabre, I decided it was time to start producing videos featuring lightsabre battles. It's the nerdiest thing a person can do, but it helped break an interest into video editing and production. In this case, I've been using Adobe After Effects to aid me as I satiate my endeavor.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up this software is a user's manual that rivals War and Peace. At first, I just disregarded the manual. Meh, who cares. The software installed with some minor compatibility issues on my Vista Laptop. When it was over, I opened it up. There are more options than any other video production software I've ever played with. So many in fact, that I have had to check the user's manual more than a few times while working on projects.
Where to start? After Effects is like most Adobe software in that you have your viewable window, but you have to work with a large number of tools in a very small space. For me, I have a dual screen setup (when I'm at home). I found that After Effects could've benefited from dual screen support, since there are more tools displayed than I really know what to do with. To avoid sounding like a manual, I'm just going to highlight a few. There's the pen tool which allows the user to create masks and other effects. Using the pen properly, you can pull only a certain portion of a video and add effects behind it. With one of my lightsabre videos, I had to make sure the lightsabres didn't stay on top of the combatants and looked as if they naturally hid behind the fighters. The pen tool is great for this. There are varying select tools which allow different selection of video area. In addition to this, there's your text tool. Text tool is just like in Photoshop, as it allows you to add text easily to a document/video.
Well, the tools are the simple end of the software. It's the effects that matter most. There are more customizable effects than I care to count. These range from distorts to even time line adjustments. For instance, you can add depth to an image by distorting portions of it. In addition to this, After Effects can create 3D effects. I've played with some of these effects like the wave generator. It works nicely for making a rippled water effect.
The drawback and strength of the effects is that they're all 100% customizable. I've used Sony Vegas Studio as well as other video editing software. When it came to effects, it was simple stuff, like adjust the color. When you're adjusting an effect in After Effects, it's more like adjusting the color, positioning, length, dithering, glow, radius... etc. Though you don't have to adjust all of that, the options are there to create more complex and robust effects. In addition to this, you can combine various effect settings into presets. A preset allows much more robust editing. Using presets makes accessing effects even easier. There are about 20 presets I've familiar with, and a ton more that I haven't touched. (probably over 200). You can also download presets from the internet, as other users have created their own.
When editing videos, the layout is much like Adobe Flash. There are layers, and whatever is closer to the top layer will appear on top of items closer to the bottom layer. Layering is just one of many strengths. Like Photoshop (but unlike Flash), you can set varying layers to have effects. They can be used as an overlay, light source, or screen to affect layers behind it. This increases the number of possible effects. A nice feature is the ability to make a layer 3D. 3D layers can be rotated in any direction. Rotating a 3D layer to intersect or align with other items already in the screen can cause additional effect possibilities to open.
With all these options, After Effects comes to the area I've learned to hate. After Effects is seriously resource intensive. You have to figure that it's not only rendering the project, but it's also compiling the effects. This is done frame by frame and it can take a while. I'm running a laptop with an AMD Turion 64-bit x2 (1.9 Ghz dual core) and 2GB of Shared RAM. Because Vista takes a bit of memory, I was expecting somewhat of a slowdown, but at this rate, the 2GB I have isn't sufficient. I find my self having to upgrade to 4GB in the near future. To counter this, there are options for caching images on your hard drive and using a swap file. This is something that hasn't improved performance, despite my allowing 10GB of hard drive cache exclusively for After Effects. The software will crash at times due to a lack of memory. This may be partially because I'm running Vista, and this software was meant for Win2000 & XP. Regardless, for the most part, I have managed to keep this to a minimal. The only issue that is still unresolved is that after working in After Effects for a period of time, the software will disable certain drivers. I simply reboot my system, and I have sound again.
In the grand scheme of things, it's the geeks wanting to reenact scenes from Star Wars that really make this software look cool. What you don't know is that it takes more than just a few clicks to have that awesome scene reenacted in your living room. The benefit is that After Effects will give you all the power you need to create Hollywood quality productions, just at a steep cost in time and effort. At an initial sticker price of over $1,000, After Effects isn't for everyone. Yet, if you manage to pick it up second hand (like I did), you could get it for much cheaper.
I STRONGLY RECOMMEND this software for the serious video enthusiast. If you're looking to just play around with making videos, get Sony Vegas. It'll offer a very slimmed down experience, but you won't have to pay a month's income to own it.