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Adobe Creative Suite 5: A Developer's Perspective

There's no doubt that Adobe's Creative Suite compilation of tools for graphic arts professionals is as required in that field as the Autodesk suite of tools is for architects, or even Microsoft Office for most knowledge workers. So why would an application developer be one of the audiences well served by Adobe's latest Creative Suite release? In this article, I examine the 5th iteration of the suite look at what each member of the Creative Suite may bring to a developer's toolbox.

There are four configurations of Creative Suite: Design, Web, Production Premium and Master Collection. The version matching most developer's needs and budgets is the Web Premium edition, though to completely cover the product, I consider the Master Collection -- the largest and most expensive suite configuration.

While some developers have the fortunate gift of codifying logic as well as expressing aesthetically arresting visual design, few developers I know (including myself) have this hybrid left brain/right brain skill. There is something about shades, perspectives ,and the patient nuance of sketching a competent drawing that baffles my analytical engineering mind. And yet, like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know good art when I see it. It is within this context that I dove into the programs offered in the penultimate and most expensive collection of Adobe's intellectual assets which consists of the following design and programming tools:

  • Audiovisual Tools
    • Adobe After Effects
    • Adobe Encore
    • Adobe OnLocation CS5
    • Adobe Premiere Pro CS5
    • Adobe Soundbooth CS5
  • Document Tools
    • Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro
    • Adobe Bridge
    • Adobe InDesign

  • Graphic Tools
    • Adobe Illustrator
    • Adobe Photoshop Extended

  • Web Tools
    • Adobe Contribute
    • Adobe Device Central
    • Adobe Dreamweaver
    • Adobe Fireworks
    • Adobe Flash Builder 4 Standard
    • Adobe Flash Catalyst
    • Adobe Flash Professional

Audiovisual Tools

Adobe After Effects is a brilliant compositing tool for video and imagery. Broadcast-quality effects such as video overlays, 2D, 3D, image and vector graphic effect compositing, dozens of visual effects (distortion, smoke/sparks, wave reflections, lightning bolts, smart motion blurs and numerous transition effects), 32-bit audio effects support and much more. Notably in the CS5 release are full 64-bit support, Adobe's Roto Brush (identifying foreground elements from backgrounds and letting After Effects do the rest - no expensive rotoscoping required), color lookup table (LUT) support to apply more consistent color across projects, enhanced multiprocessor and multicore support for significantly faster rendering times, a unified user interface and more seamless integration with other CS5 applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere.

[Click image to view at full size]
Figure 1: Adobe After Effects CS5 offers video compositing and a scriptable interface.

Of primary interest to developers and workflow experts is After Effects support for Adobe's Expressions for application-centric and command-line driven automation instructions. Scripts can be edited via the program's built-in text editor that supports keyword highlighting that can be user-defined, and debugged via After Effects script debug menu. Another welcome aspect is the fact that After Effects project files can be exported in XML format so that they can be further automated via script manipulation. The extensive scripting model included with After Effects provides a broad degree of flexibility when leveraging the program in highly customized video effects and compositing workflows.

Encore is Adobe's Blu-ray and DVD authoring application. This was an application that personally held the least amount of interest for me since as a progressive technologist, I rarely have any need to consume video via physical transport medium. With the advent of numerous streaming media devices such as the Apple TV and Google TV, Blu-ray and DVD's days are numbered.

Adobe does offer a web-friendly format called web DVD (a Flash-based titles viewer for streaming content), but its implementation seems to be an out-of-sync attempt to emulate the disc menu experience on the web. Nevertheless, for those who require their video projects to be consumed via Blu-ray or DVD, Encore supplies several new features that make it as modern as any other interactive disc menu authoring package. New features include support for multi-page menus, native AVCHD camera support for Blu-ray output (no video transcoding necessary, keeping the purest digital video information intact) among other things. OnLocation is another application that developers may call upon during video capturing via the application's direct-to-disk recording. Metadata logs can be simultaneously recorded into the data. This can be programmatically extracted while working with Adobe Premiere's non-linear editor.

Speaking of which, Adobe Premiere Pro is the uber-editor for high-quality professional video editing. It's feature set is easily at parity with Apple's Final Cut Pro, but offers the added incentive of cross-platform support. While the version I tested was Mac-based, the behavior and performance on the PC should be identical on a comparably spec'd system. Premiere Pro CS5 leverages both 64-bit and GPU-accelerated processing for the fastest, most optimal number-crunching use of available hardware. Seamless integration between the other CS5 applications (particularly After Effects, Encore, OnLocation and Photoshop) coupled with new features like variable playback resolution, speech search (metadata-generated speech to text transcripts and analysis), AI-like face detection, individual still frame export, CineForm Neo 3D editing and exporting and the literally hundreds of filters and effects make Premiere a top video editing application.

[Click image to view at full size]
Figure 2: Adobe Premiere CS5 is a sophisticated, powerful and cross-platform non-linear video editor.

Developers will appreciate its support for Open Media Framework (OMF) and Premiere's broad video playback and encoding support (including optimized encoding for FLV, WMV and MP4 mobile device playback). And because the application is so well integrated with other CS5 components, scripting automated workflows for recurring builds is not only possible but encouraged.

Adobe SoundBooth completes the audiovisual editing package with a sophisticated multitrack audio editor complete with a number of filter and mastering effects, over 130 royalty-free Soundbooth Scores, FLV or XML export cue markers for precise audio coordination with After Effects, Flash Pro and Premiere Pro projects.

[Click image to view at full size]
Figure 3: Adobe SoundBooth CS5 provides extensive audio editing and manipulation capabilities.

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