The article documents the hardware and software considerations for using OpenGL and GPU with After Effects

What GPU should be used for the best performance?

New GPU chipsets are always being introduced, and the After Effects team does not qualify or recommend individual GPU chipsets, however, here are some guidelines you can follow to get the best GPU for your workflow.

  • Individual GPU technologies are less important than overall GPU performance. After Effects supports OpenGL, OpenCL, CUDA, and Metal to varying degrees. Choose a high-performance card that meets your individual budget and system needs.
  • Premiere Pro utilizes the GPU more broadly than After Effects currently does, and its technology is shared with After Effects. The list of recommended GPUs for Premiere Pro (see Adobe Premiere Pro CC system requirements) is a good place to start.
  • Other applications in your workflow may have a GPU requirement that is higher than After Effects. Take all of them into consideration.
  • Check if you have Multiple GPUs in the same machine.
  • Check if you have unsupported GPUs on your Mac machine.

After Effects features that use GPU

Features natively available in After Effects

There is a host of After Effects features that use GPU to accelerate rendering. To view these effects, select Project Settings > Video and Effects Rendering. For a list of GPU-accelerated effects and features, see GPU-accelerated effects.

Third-party effects

Some third-party effects, like Element 3D by Video Copilot uses the GPU independently of After Effects. Refer to the documentation from the publisher for guidance on what GPUs and technology are supported. Effects such as Magic Bullet Looks, hook into the Mercury GPU Acceleration pipeline (such effects are also GPU-accelerated in Premiere Pro).

Hardware considerations for OpenGL, the GPU, and After Effects

When working with ray-traced 3D compositions, it is important to have the proper hardware installed in your computer to work smoothly. An NVIDIA video display card that has on-board CUDA technology is required for working with ray-traced 3D compositions with GPU acceleration.

Requirements for GPU/OpenGL features (ray-traced 3D and Fast Draft)

The following GPU and OpenGL-based features in After Effects require that features be categorized based on the capabilities of your GPU:

  • Ray-traced 3D renderer
  • Rendering on the GPU
  • Fast Draft previews mode
  • Faster blitting to the screen (OpenGL SwapBuffer)
  • Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer, and Footage Panels preference

OpenGL, the GPU, and After Effects

OpenGL is a set of standards for high-performance processing of 2D and 3D graphics on the graphics processing unit (GPU) for a wide variety of applications. OpenGL provides fast rendering for previews (Fast Draft mode).

After Effects can take advantage of GPU (graphics processing unit) on your graphics card for some specific kinds of processing.

The GPU features in After Effects are of the following categories:

  • GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer (CUDA on specific graphics cards)
  • Fast Draft mode and Hardware BlitPipe (OpenGL with stringent requirements)
  • OpenGL swap buffer (OpenGL with looser requirements)

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In general, After Effects does not require CUDA features of any specific set of Nvidia GPUs. Only the GPU-accelerated ray-traced 3D renderer requires this. The other GPU features work on any GPU that meets certain basic requirements, including AMD and Intel GPUs.

Setting preferences for OpenGL and the GPU

OpenGL supports the drawing of interface items, such as, composition, footage, and layer panels. Other drawing functions like grids, guides, rulers, and bounding boxes are operated by OpenGL, as well. This feature is also known as the Hardware BlitPipe.

To enable OpenGL support for drawing interface items, click the Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer, and Footage Panels check box in Edit > Preferences > Display (Windows), or After Effects > Preferences > Display (Mac OS).

To access the information about the status of GPU in After Effects, use the following steps:

  1. To open the GPU information dialog box, select Edit> Preferences > Previews (Win), or After Effects > Preferences > Previews (Mac OS).

  2. Click the GPU Information button to launch the GPU information dialog box.

  3. In this dialog box, view information about the OpenGL capabilities for your installed GPU. The information helps you determine the feature support levels for your GPU.

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To enable Fast Draft, click the Fast Previews button on the Composition panel, and choose Fast Draft. Fast Draft causes slight appearance differences in the Composition panel, best suited for quick previewing. Fast Draft is useful for setting up, and previewing a composition for later rendering in ray-traced 3D.

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If your GPU is not supported or you have an old driver, ray-traced 3D compositions render on the CPU using all physical cores. If you have a GPU-supported configuration in a headless environment (for example, a render farm), you can  force ray-traced 3D compositions to render on the CPU by setting the Ray-tracing option in the GPU Information dialog box. Renders done on the CPU match renders done on the GPU.

Video: Optimizing for high performance

Video: Optimizing for high performance
In this video, Brian Maffitt of Total Training shows how to optimize your computer to work with ray-traced 3D compositions.
Brian Maffitt and Total Training

Mercury GPU Acceleration

Mercury GPU Acceleration allows After Effects to render supported effects using the GPU, which can significantly improve render time.

You may recognize the Mercury name from Premiere Pro. After Effects uses the same technology that is used by Premiere Pro Mercury Playback Engine for rendering. (The playback engine in After Effects is otherwise different from Premiere Pro, so After Effects only uses the rendering component of that technology.)

Mercury GPU Acceleration is a project setting. To enable it, select File > Project Settings, click the Video Rendering and Effects tab, and set the Use option to Mercury GPU Acceleration. Depending on your computer and GPU, you may see multiple such options. After Effects supports the following GPU technologies:

  • OpenCL (macOS and Windows)
  • CUDA (Windows only, with an Nvidia GPU)
  • Metal (macOS only, 10.12 and later)

More information about GPU

A couple of technical points worth noting about the above list:

  • All of the VR effects such as VR Blur only work on the GPU. Unlike the other effects, they do not currently have a CPU fallback. We recommend a GPU with high VRAM, 4GB or better, to use these effects. Their advantage for VR over other effects is that they are seamless, and they wrap the ends of the VR image together. Also, some of them are useful on non-VR footage because they are wholly new to After Effects, like VR Chromatic Aberrations.
  • Layer transforms and layer quality require layer motion blur to be enabled because by themselves, they do not render significantly faster on the GPU. But rendering motion blur on the GPU requires it to be aware of the transforms and quality, so these calculations are done on the GPU when motion blur requires it. This is an opportunity to point out that in a mixed CPU and GPU rendering environment, there is a performance cost to moving frames between CPU and GPU memory. If an effect is not faster to render on the GPU than on the CPU, you lose performance time while copying the frames back and forth.
  • The Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer, and Footage Panels option in Preferences > Previews is enabled by default, and uses OpenGL to prepare the rendered frames for screen display during previews/playback. Once After Effects renders the frame, it next prepares that frame for display, taking into account the screen resolution, scaling, overlays like guides and layer handles, and color management. Specifically, View > Use Display Color Management, when a working space color profile has been enabled for the project. When the Hardware Accelerate option is disabled, After Effects processes all of that on the CPU, but the GPU can accelerate this process, especially color management. The GPU requirement for this is very low, and any modern video card with a small amount of VRAM is adequate.

Types of features and the required level of GPU support

  • For OpenGL SwapBuffer: This level requires a GPU that can do OpenGL 1.5, or greater, with Shader Model 3.0, or greater. Most ATI and NVIDIA cards, and the Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset (available in the MacBook Air, Mac Mini, various Windows machines, and so on) and 4000 (Windows only at this time) are supported. If your GPU does not support these requirements, software OS blitting like CS5.5 occurs, and there are improvements for software blitting in After Effects.
  • For Fast Draft previews, Hardware BlitPipe, and Cartoon GPU acceleration: Includes Level 1 features. This level requires OpenGL 2.0, or greater (with Shader Model 4.0, or greater, on Windows), and 256 MB, or greater, of texture memory. Most ATI and NVIDIA cards released in the past five years, plus the Intel HD Graphics 3000/4000, support this level. If your GPU does not support these requirements, these following features are disabled:
    • Fast Draft mode
    • The Hardware Accelerate Composition, Layer, and Footage panels preference.
    • The Cartoon effect's Use OpenGL When Available option (the Cartoon effect then runs on the CPU).
  • For Ray-traced 3D rendering on the GPU: Includes Level 1 & 2 features (for machines with attached monitors). This level requires a supported NVIDIA GPU and 512 MB, or greater, of texture memory. For a list of supported GPUs, see the Adobe website.

Install GPU drivers

Before working with After Effects and CUDA features, install the latest video driver for your NVIDIA GPU:

You can update the CUDA driver in the CUDA panel in System Preferences or by going to the NVIDIA website.

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If your GPU is not supported or you have an old driver, ray-traced 3D compositions render on the CPU using all physical cores. If you have a GPU-supported configuration in a headless environment (for example, a render farm), you can force ray-traced 3D compositions to render on the CPU by setting the Ray-tracer option in the GPU Information dialog box (available from Previews preferences). Renders done on the CPU match renders done on the GPU.

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