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Letter to the Editor:
VisionLab vs. After Effects


Awesome [review] on VisionLab [Studio]!! I currently use Sony's Vegas 8 as my film editing program and have been looking closely at both the VisionLab and Adobe After effects. I really want to add awesome effects to my work and Sony Vegas just doesn't cut by itself. This leads me to search for a program that I can import pre-programmed effects and make them appear somewhat realistic. I went to and they have some pretty good effects to import to Vegas, but I have to believe there has to be a better way (maybe not).

Question: Do you have a preference (or article) that leads you to one program or another? Has FxHome (as of now) answered a lot of your "ease of use" issues? I can find (on-line) After effects CS3 Pro ($349) A LOT cheaper than VisionLab ($500), but I don't want to be penny-wise and pound foolish! Sorry for being so complicating and confused, but at this point, I trust the people use really review these products more than the people who sell them.


Greenville, NC



Excellent question. I'll be happy to share my personal thoughts with you on this.

Before I go on, I want to encourage you to make sure that you run any online e-stores that you buy from through before doing business with them. The reason I caution you on this is because AE CS3 is normally a $1000 program. As such, for it to be sold for $350 (unless you're a student, but I think it's cheaper than that if you are one), would be highly suspicious and usually indicative of a seller who isn't on the level. Take the time to make sure you're not getting scammed by the online locations.

Here's the deal with VisionLab Studio. It provides a whole lot of content with the program that AE does not. It provides a particle generator, as well as easy to use muzzle and laser effects, chromakeying, and a number of color grading options straight out of the box. As such, for out-of-the-box bang for the buck, you can't beat VisionLab Studio.

However, compared to After Effects, it's much less polished. This means that the animations and tweaks that you'll want to do in VisionLab Studio are just not as easy or as intuitive as AE is. Additionally, the final output of the effects created in VisionLab Studio are not quite as professional looking as those created in After Effects with plugins. Finally, if you are using any of Adobe's other products (like Photoshop or Illustrator), the integration won't be nearly as streamlined or powerful as it is in After Effects CS3, especially through the CS3: Production Premium package.

With that said, let's get into After Effects. It's probably the most common program you will find in the arsenal of filmmakers around the world, both in no-budget filmmaking and in big budget filmmaking. As such, if you learn how to use it well, you have a skill set that can help you get jobs to pay the bills while you're working on your movies. Additionally, it's got some of the best ability to create polished final projects out there, and some of the best integration with Adobe's other products (like Premiere Pro, Encore, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash) and with 3D programs like Maxxon's Cinema 4D.

Because it's so popular, there's lots and lots of training options available for AE. (My personal favorite is Total Training, who we've reviewed a number of products for.) As such, if one trainer doesn't work for you, you can readily find others that will. This is good because After Effects' learning curve is actually higher than VisionLab. However, once you understand how it behaves, it's performance and smoothness are extremely addictive.

Now, with all the good things said about it, let's get to the meat of After Effects. Out of the box, AE is somewhat limited. It will allow you to do motion graphics, animation, moving shapes, basic 3D work, and motion tracking, while basic plugins that are included will allow you to create cool transitions, color correction, general color grading, and green/bluescreen chromakeying. However, to get all the bells and whistles that VisionLab comes with, you will have to buy plugins for AE. (The following plugins are ones we've actually reviewed. There may be some other providers that provide similar functionality for a lower cost. If you find some of these providers, encourage them to contact us and we'll see about reviewing their plugins in future issues.) For something comparable to VisionLab's ParticleGenerator, you'll need something like Trapcode's Particular (which runs $299). For color correction, you'll want something like Magic Bullet Colorista ($199). For color grading (for post color look), you'll likely want a program like Magic Bullet Looks ($399). As you can see, this can add up pretty quickly.

I love everything After Effects can do, but it's a large initial investment you'll be making for the future--and a larger investment than VisionLab Studio. (Personally, if you have gotten at all tired of Sony Vegas, I would recommend getting the entire CS3: Production Premium package. You can check out our review of it in our software section to see why it makes an awful lot of sense.)

My encouragement would be that you download both demos and then go through any online or trial training you can find for them. (I think Total Training gives you a seven day trial of their online site.)

Now here's my personal recommendation: If you can afford it (and the plugins you will likely want), go to After Effects CS3. (Especially in the CS3:PP package.) It is the industry standard for a reason and the polish and productivity it brings are very powerful.

Now if you can't afford it, then spring for VisionLab Studio and realize you will still be getting a good product, just not one that has as many resources, options, or trainers. (Now, if you're finding the price tag of VisionLab Studio a bit of a stretch *and *you just want the effects features of VLS--without the greenscreen features or some of the color grading features--you can also pick up EfectsLab Pro, which is only $149.99, which we reviewed a while back.)

Hopefully I've been able to give you some ideas and help in this area.


P.S. Adobe has now officially announced the CS4 edition of their product line which is even more powerful than CS3. I had the chance to get hands on training with their programmers in New York City in July and was quite impressed. [Check out the preview article on Adobe CS4's Production Premium in this issue.]




I really do appreciate you taking the time to explain your professional opinion on the 2 products. I also find your articles to be very helpful too. It says a lot about you to take the time out of your busy schedule to help some of us, so-called, less informed people.

Thanks again, I really do appreciate it!!



JeremyHankePicture The director of two feature length films and half a dozen short films, Jeremy Hanke founded Microfilmmaker Magazine to help all no-budget filmmakers make better films. His first book on low-budget special effects techniques, GreenScreen Made Easy, (which he co-wrote with Michele Yamazaki) was released by MWP to very favorable reviews. He's curently working on the sci-fi film franchise, World of Depleted through Depleted: Day 419 and the feature film, Depleted.

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