Spin the wheel, get an app! The Adobe wheel of icons, as realized (CC-BY) Charles Williams.

When Adobe announced 64-bit After Effects in the fall, they listed a number of benefits users would reap from the transition:

  • Performance for high-resolution formats, like working with 4K images from the RED camera. (They even went so far as to describe SD as a “legacy delivery format,” which I think is probably fair.)
  • Heavier comps, with additional layers.
  • Longer RAM previews, more intermediate renders in your cache.

The future of After Effects is 64-bit native

There’s no question both Mac and Windows machines are ready for the move. Windows Vista and 7 can do it, and really, if you’re doing high-end rendering work, you deserve a new machine – and there’s absolutely, positively, no reason whatsoever to be running XP on that machine. (Anyone who tells you otherwise is certifiably nuts.) Intel Macs running 10.5 or later are ready, too. If you don’t need the bleeding edge, it seems like you’d stick with an older version of After Effects and be reasonably happy.

But I’m interested – partly as technological-cultural phenomenon as much as an After Effects story per se – in posts like this one:

What 64 bit really means for After Effects, and your workstation…

Writer Sebastien Perier rants on about the difficult transition to 64-bit. It’s clear from an edit that he was under the mistaken impression that Mac OS X 10.6 was required to run 64-bit apps; it’s not. (And since you need a 64-bit Intel chip anyway, upgrading to 10.6 probably isn’t a bad idea when you upgrade to the next After Effects.)

The other point he makes, though, is relative to plug-ins:

If you’re like me, you probably won’t be able to make serious work without some Trapcode plugs, and some « insert your favorite plug here» plugs. The good news is that plugin developers are working on 64bit version of their plugs, and Michael Coleman assures us that a lot will be available during the AE 64 launch window.

This raises 2 questions: will the plug upgrades be free ? will all the plugs be converted to 64 bit ?

Simple answer: probably no and definitly no.

This is a familiar story to those of us in the music world. Ironically, in music land, the transition has been far easier. Take Cakewalk’s SONAR, for instance: you can easily “bridge” 32-bit audio plug-ins to 64-bit computing and run the lot in your 64-bit host. Given this is at the computational level, and pixels and audio bytes aren’t really different, I’m surprised Adobe hasn’t offered a similar bridge.

But to me, the point is actually deeper: people become dependent on commercial, proprietary software, without considering the costs, consequences, and future upgrade path.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, but it’s a trap the creative community needs to learn to spring. I’m not saying dump all your Adobe software and switch to open source. I’m saying people could become more aware of the choices they make.

Can you identify all the tools you’re using, on which you depend? How many of them are essential?

What happens if a future version path does break? Are you prepared to maintain a “legacy” machine to continue to support those tools?

Add up the amount of money and time you’re investing in tools. Could you better maximize that time and money by reducing dependence on plug-ins? Is there a place for open source software in your workflow?

I don’t doubt that the 64-bit transition to After Effects will yield both pain and pleasure. But I have to observe, as the fatigue with these kinds of transitions appears to grow, are we really doing the calculus? Are users really taking an active role in their toolchain, or are they allowing themselves to become dependent on someone else, becoming reactive rather than proactive?

Ironically, I think if you do the calculus, you might determine that it’s worth paying to upgrade a set of plug-ins, or using a commercial tool. But it’s long past time for users to begin doing the math themselves rather than letting someone else do it for them.