Adobe's new CS3 Production Premium software package is a solid upgrade for the growing number of professionals and enthusiasts creating film, Web and mobile phone content. For instance, an agency could use CS3 Production Premium to create a comprehensive advertising campaign in which TV commercials, Flash-based Web sites, and smart phones can share motifs without forcing creators to duplicate work (the CS3 Master Collection takes this a step further).
Installing the five-disc Adobe CS3 Production Premium took about an hour on both Windows XP and Vista PCs. The process was relatively free of surprises, and custom installation lets you pick or reject third-party content, codecs, and libraries. This package requires at least 32 GB of hard drive space, a 32-bit video card, and a 1,280x1,024 resolution monitor. We also worked on a laptop with a 15 inch, 1,280x800 monitor, which felt cramped. Mac users must have an Intel-based machine to run Premiere, Soundbooth, or Encore, or to use the Dynamic Link and Capture features in After Effects; Windows and BootCamp are required for OnLocation.
Once the programs are open, interfaces have changed somewhat, as former Macromedia properties resemble Adobe's style. The Production Premium bundle offers shared keyboard shortcuts, enhanced tweaks to workflows, and streamlined management of palettes. There are plenty of panels to drag and dock on the screen. But unfortunately, as with the rest of CS3, the many tabbed and drop-down menus with tiny labels prevent newbies from diving in without first investing hours with manuals and tutorials. That said, we found the interface changes an improvement, while Bridge can smooth the workflow. And if you already know your way around, creative tools, such as Puppet animation in After Effects, are easy to tinker with.
Shared CS3 file formats and dragging and dropping allow you to move content briskly between the applications. In the process, the programs will keep layers, color settings, and styles intact. Flash provides native support for Photoshop files; Illustrator files get the same treatment in Flash. You can also export Photoshop layers to Flash or Flash Video, and export its video layers to After Effects and Premiere Pro. Adobe's Dynamic Link technology enables video editors to move content throughout Premiere, AfterEffects, and Encore while maintaining editing access.
Although Apple has enhanced Motion's creative goodies within Final Cut Studio 2, AfterEffects reigns for postproduction video effects and animation. Adobe AfterEffects CS3 offers powerful new toys that are a snap to check out, once you've already learned the ins and outs of the interface.
New creative tools include Puppet, Shape Layers, and Brainstorm. Puppet enables you to make lively character animations, and copy and paste them onto multiple figures, without dealing with paths and Bezier shapes. It's easy to add simple pinpoints, say, to hands and feet, and then stretch them with the stroke of a mouse. The Starch option can fix a stable point while you choose for others to flop around. We turned photos of friends into Gumby-like jumping figures in a few quick steps.
Shape Layers allow you to create vector shapes and text without opening Illustrator. We had tested this feature before its final release, and thought it was a piece of cake. However, suffering amnesia months later, we cursed Adobe's user manual for making something simple seem nearly impossible. Once you master the basic steps, however, you might enjoy the relief of tweaking new, preset Brainstorm animations to your liking. And the results of After Effects' new capabilities are already starting to surface in commercials that feature fancy, exploding, fractal-like animations. Creating 3D models from flat Photoshop photographs is relatively easy as well. You can also apply 3D effects to individual text characters.
While the last version of Premiere was known to improve stability, this upgrade expands its creative tools. There aren't as many fun toys as in AfterEffects, but Premiere does offer less-complicated controls if you want to slow down, say, the last moments at the finish line in footage of a foot race. Time Remapping lets you create slow-motion and other time effects with keyframe precision within the timeline--but not during real-time playback, which would be much more elegant. And while Premiere's color correction tools are good, they're shallower than those offered by Color within Apple Final Cut Studio 2.
Once you add an effect in After Effects, Dynamic Link can make the change live in the attached Premiere clip--a big boost if you're making round trips throughout the CS3 applications. Unfortunately, there's no Advanced Video Codec High Definition support. We wonder if this might come in the future, as Apple rolled AVCHD support into its first update for Final Cut Studio 2.
Rather than including the more complex Audition in CS3, Adobe designed the Soundbooth audio editor to appeal to visual thinkers. For instance, you can see hisses, pops, and cell phone rings easily in Soundbooth's colorful Spectral Frequency display, similar to Apple Soundtrack Pro's Frequency Spectrum View. We like that removing an unwanted noise is as easy as using the eraser, marquee or lasso tools in Photoshop. Auto healing considers what's before and after the selection when cleaning up pops and clicks, but it could be smarter. Nondestructive effects allow you to restore an original file, should you slip up.