Before After Effects: A Timeline of the Software’s Development on Its 20th Anniversary

Editors Guild by Joseph Herman

Versatile, flexible, innovative, ubiquitous — all of these words are appropriate when describing Adobe After Effects, the robust application that seems to practically do it all. Compositors use it to seamlessly merge layers of green-screen footage, live action back plates and 3D renderings. Visual effects artists utilize it to create intricate special effects such as laser blasts and explosions. Motion graphics artists employ it to create typography and design for television commercials, network promos and broadcast design. There are even those who use it to animate characters and tell stories. It’s also popular with editors who dip into it from time to time for a quick effect, lower third or title design for films and TV shows on which they are working.

Aside from being a very useful piece of software, After Effects also has a great interface that belies its extraordinary power. While it may take years to become a good compositor, animator or motion designer, After Effects’ straightforward and logical approach is easy enough to grasp by newbies and pros alike. The deeper you get into it, the more there is to explore.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of After Effects and is the perfect time to take a look back at its development over the years and how it has come to be one of the most beloved applications in the business of making moving pictures.

They Called It CoSA
In 1990, four graduates from Brown University — David Simons, David Herbstman, David Foster and Greg Deocampo — decided to form a new company, which they named CoSA, short for the Company of Science & Art. The preponderance of Daves in the company would eventually become a running joke. Like many start-ups, their original plan was quite different from what they ended up doing (See Figure 1).

What was the initial idea? The answer might surprise you. At the time, CD-ROM was a hot new technology (remember Myst?) and the founders of the company set out to be content providers for the new medium — not necessarily just games, but cross-linked multimedia otherwise known as hypermedia. Yes, that’s right, CoSA set out not to create a compositing application that would help foster the desktop video revolution, but to make mass-market multi-media CD-ROMs. Of course, the Internet would eventually eclipse CD-ROMs, making them obsolete, but that’s another story. read more...

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