Compute Cache API

The Compute Cache API provides a thread-safe cache as a replacement or supplement to Sequence Data where effects can compute, store and read data before or during Render. It should be used to cache data that is time consuming to compute. For Multi-Frame Rendering effects it can have a large benefit by eliminating redundant computation across threads. The cache is unified with other caches in After Effects thus memory usage is balanced across other caches. The model also supports the user doing A/B testing with parameters and the cache state persisting for both A and B states thus speeding up workflow. These last two design characteristics benefit both single- and multi-frame rendering effects.

The Compute Cache is implemented in the AEGP_ComputeCache suite and is accessible via AEGP_ComputeCacheSuite1 and AEGP_ComputeCacheCallbacks.





Registers the cache type using a globally unique identifier for the compute class, such as “”.

An object of type AEGP_ComputeCacheCallbacks should be setup with function pointers to the callback methods required by AEGP_ComputeCacheSuite1.

This function will typically be called during PF_Cmd_GLOBAL_SETUP, but can be called any time.

A_Err (*AEGP_ClassRegister)(
  AEGP_CCComputeClassIdP  compute_classP,
  const AEGP_ComputeCacheCallbacks  *callbacksP);


Unregister a previously registered cache type using the globally unique identifier for the compute class.

All cached values will be purged at this time through calls to delete_compute_value.

This function will typically be called during PF_Cmd_GLOBAL_SETDOWN, but can be called any time.

A_Err (*AEGP_ClassUnregister)(
  AEGP_CCComputeClassIdP    compute_classP);


This is the main checkout call that is used to compute and/or return an AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP receipt pointer to the cache entry.

Pass in the AEGP_CCComputeClassIdP that was used in the AEGP_RegisterClass method.

The AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP object will be passed through to the AEGP_ComputeCacheCallbacks, generate_key and compute method as needed. This objects type is opaque to AEGP_ComputeCacheSuite1 and will need to be casted appropriately by the effects implementation of generate_key and compute.

The wait_for_other_threadB bool is used when the cache value needs to be computed. When set to true, the method will always execute the compute step or return a completed receipt to the cache. When set to false, this method will complete the compute step unless another thread is already computing the cache entry, in which case A_Err_NOT_IN_CACHE_OR_COMPUTE_PENDING will be returned. See Impact of wait_for_other_threadB on AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout for more information on this parameter.

The CCCheckoutReceiptP is an opaque pointer that can then be passed into AEGP_GetReceiptComputeValue to get a pointer to the computed value from the cache.

A_Err (*AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout)(
  AEGP_CCComputeClassIdP    compute_classP,
  AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP  opaque_optionsP,
  bool  wait_for_other_threadB,
  AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP   *compute_receiptPP);


Use this method to check if the cache value has already been computed, returning the AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP receipt if available.

If the cache has not been computed, A_Err_NOT_IN_CACHE_OR_COMPUTE_PENDING will be returned.

A_Err (*AEGP_CheckoutCached)(
  AEGP_CCComputeClassIdP    compute_classP,
  AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP    opaque_optionsP,
  AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP   *compute_receiptPP);


Use this method to retrieve the cache value from the compute method.

Pass in the receipt received from AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout or AEGP_CheckoutCached.

The returned CCComputeValueRefconP should be casted to the correct object type that was used in the compute method.

A_Err (*AEGP_GetReceiptComputeValue)(
  const AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP   compute_receiptP,
  AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP    *compute_valuePP);


Call this method after the effect code is done using a checked-out, computed cache value, before returning to the host, passing in the receipt returned from AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout or AEGP_CheckoutCached.

If the receipt being passed in is invalid, error A_Err_STRUCT will be returned. A pop-up error dialog will also be shown with this message, “Trying to check in invalid receipt. Please make sure you are not double checking in or checking in invalid receipts.”

A_Err (*AEGP_CheckinComputeReceipt)(
  AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP   compute_receiptP );


The effect must provide implementations for these callbacks.




Called when creating a cache entry and when doing a cache lookup. Should be fast to compute. All of the inputs needed to uniquely address the cache entry must be hashed into the key. If a layer checkout is needed to calculate the cache value, such as with a histogram, then the hash of that input must be included. See PF_ParamUtilsSuite::PF_GetCurrentState to get the hash for a layer param. Note this is the hash of the inputs needed to generate the frame, not a hash the pixels in the frame, thus a render is not triggered when making this call.

The AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP will contain the data passed into the AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout or AEGP_CheckoutCached methods.

The AEGP_CComputeKeyP out_keyP returns the hashed key value, see the AEGP_CCComputeKey definition in the AE_ComputeCacheSuite.h for type definition.


The AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP parameter passed into generate_key and compute must contain all inputs to calculate the hash key for a cache value / to compute the cache value itself. This will frequently include many or all of the effect parameters and any layer parameters needed to calculate the cache value. See the Real-world Integration Example for more details.

A_Err (*generate_key)(
  AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP   optionsP,
  AEGP_CCComputeKeyP   out_keyP);


Called by AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout when a cache value needs to be computed.

The AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP will contain the data passed into the AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout method.

Set out_valuePP to point to the result of the computed cache value, casted to the AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP type.

For example:

*out_valuePP = reinterpret_cast<AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP>(myComputedResultP);
A_Err (*compute)(
  AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP   optionsP,
  AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP   *out_valuePP);


Called by the cache system to determine the total footprint of memory being used by the computed cache value. The computed value is not required to be a flat structure.

The size is an input to the cache purging heuristic.

The AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP is the computed cache value that can be used to generate the size value to return.

size_t (*approx_size_value)(
  AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP   valueP);


This is called to free the value when the cache entry needs to be purged. All resources owned by the cache value must be freed here.

void (*delete_compute_value)(
  AEGP_CCComputeValueRefconP   valueP);

Generating a Key

The generate_key callback must return a unique key within the Registered Class to be used as the cache key for an entry in the cache but for future-proofing, we’d strongly suggest the key is globally unique across all registered classes. The AE SDK provides the AEGP_HashSuite1 suite to assist in generating a GUID that can be used as the key.

The result of generate_key must be provided as a AEGP_CCComputeKey object which is type defined from the following struct:

typedef struct AEGP_GUID {
  A_long bytes[4];


The AEGP_HashSuite1 can be used to generate a unique key for use within the AEGP_ComputeCacheCallbacks generate_key() callback method.

After the suite is acquired, call the AEGP_CreateHashFromPtr() method with a buffer; we suggest a character array with a recognizable string so you can easily recall what’s being stored in the cache entry. Then call AEGP_HashMixInPtr() with any effect parameters, layer checkout hash results, etc., that should result in a different cache key and entry.




Call this to begin creating the hash which will be returned in hashP that can be used for returning from generate_key.

A_Err (*AEGP_CreateHashFromPtr)(
  const A_u_longlong buf_sizeLu,
  const void *bufPV,
  AEGP_GUID *hashP);


Call this for each effect parameter, layer checkout hash or other data that would be used in calculating a cache entry.

  const A_u_longlong buf_sizeLu,
  const void *bufPV,
  AEGP_GUID *hashP);

Here’s an example of using the AEGP_HashSuite1 where Levels2Histo_generate_key_cb() is a callback called for generate_key():

A_Err Levels2Histo_generate_key_cb(AEGP_CCComputeOptionsRefconP opaque_optionsP, AEGP_CCComputeKeyP out_keyP)
    const Levels2Histo_options&  histo_op( *reinterpret_cast<Levels2Histo_options*>(opaque_optionsP));
    A_Err err = Err_NONE;

    AEFX_SuiteScoper<AEGP_HashSuite1> hash_suite = AEFX_SuiteScoper<AEGP_HashSuite1>(

    // define a simple buffer that is easy to recognize as a starting hash
    const char* hash_buffer = "Level2Histo";
    err = hash_suite->AEGP_CreateHashFromPtr(sizeof(hash_buffer), hash_buffer, out_keyP);

    // Mix in effect parameters that would create a different compute result and should generate a different cache entry and key.
    if (!err) {
      err = hash_suite->AEGP_HashMixInPtr(sizeof(histo_op.depthL), &histo_op.depthL, out_keyP);

    if (!err) {
      err = hash_suite->AEGP_HashMixInPtr(sizeof(histo_op.bB), &histo_op.bB, out_keyP);

    // mix in any other effect parameters that should affect the cache key
    // ...

    // out_keyP is returned as the generated key for use as the cache key.
  catch (...)
      /* return most appropriate PF_Err */

Compute or Checkout the Cache Value

When adding cache support one of the first questions to answer is if a single render call needs to checkout more than one cache value. If more than one cache value is needed to complete a render, then the multi-checkout pattern can be applied to concurrently calculate the caches across multiple render calls and thus avoid serialization of the compute.

Single Cache Value

If a render call only needs one cache value for rendering a frame, then set the wait_for_other_threadB parameter in AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout to true. The checkout call will return a receipt, possibly calling the compute callback to populate the cache; or waiting on another thread that had already started the needed computation.

Multi-Checkout Cache Values

If a render call needs multiple cache values, then the multi-checkout pattern can be used to keep the render threads utilized and thus avoid serializing the compute.

The concept of using multi-checkout is to have one render (e.g. rendering frame 3) thread take advantage of any other render threads (e.g. frame 1, 2) that are computing needed cache values concurrently with the thread (e.g. frame 3 needs data from frames 1 and 2). If no other threads are computing the requested cached value, then the render thread (frame 3) will execute the compute. Once all the cache value checkout calls have been made, the render thread (frame 3) can then wait for any other threads (frame 1, 2) to finish their compute before executing the pixel rendering. Once the pixel rendering is complete, make sure to check-in any cache values that were checked out (frame 1, 2 and 3).

Below is example pseudo-code to illustrate this approach.

    // Make a request for each cache value that is needed to complete the render
    bool first_err = AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout(first_options, do_not_wait, first_cache_receipt);
    bool second_err = AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout(second_options, do_not_wait, second_cache_receipt);
    // Add as many additional do_not_wait checkout calls here as needed.

    // Once all the requests have been made, check to see if any of the Checkouts did not return
    // a valid checkout receipt.
    if(first_err == A_Err_NOT_IN_CACHE_OR_COMPUTE_PENDING) {
        AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout(wait, first_cache_receipt);
    if(second_err == A_Err_NOT_IN_CACHE_OR_COMPUTE_PENDING) {
        AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout(wait, second_cache_receipt);
    // Add as many additional waiting checkout calls here as needed

    // All cache values are now available via AEGP_GetReceiptComputeValue for use in the Render

    // ... complete the render steps

    // Check in all cache values now

Impact of wait_for_other_threadB on AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout

Calls to AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout will return a checkout receipt for the cache value in nearly every permutation of the parameters, except when wait_for_other_threadB is set to false and another thread is already rendering the requested cache value.

Cache State

wait_for_other_threadB set to False

wait_for_other_threadB set to True

No cache for key

Compute and checkout receipt returned

Compute and checkout receipt returned

Being computed by another thread


Note that After Effects will not report this error to the user, it is only for the effect to respond to.

Wait for another thread and return checkout receipt upon completion


Checkout receipt returned

Checkout receipt returned

Checking Cache State

  • There may be scenarios where an effect needs to check if a cache value has been computed but doesn’t want to actually execute or block while waiting on another thread to complete the compute. This can be achieved through the AEGP_CheckoutCached() method.

  • This call could be used to implement a polling pattern where another piece of code is expected to populate the cache. For example, a UI thread could poll the cache for a histogram that is generated on a render thread.

  • If the cache value is available, the AEGP_CCCheckoutReceiptP parameter will return a checkout receipt that can be passed to AEGP_GetReceiptComputeValue() to retrieve the cache value. If the cache value is not available, the method will return a A_Err_NOT_IN_CACHE_OR_COMPUTE_PENDING error code.

Persistence of Cache

  • Unlike flattened sequence data, the contents of the Compute Cache are not stored with the project and anything computed will need to be recomputed when the project is reopened.

  • Entries in the cache will automatically purge if memory is needed for other operations by After Effects. Code relying on the cache value being available should be written assuming the compute step will need to be completed each time.

  • The approx_size_value callback should return quickly but provide a reasonably accurate measurement of the data being held by the cache entry. This will allow After Effects to make better decisions on what to purge and when.

  • Unregistering the cache class will remove all data of that class from the cache. It will cause a delete_compute_value callback to be made for each entry in the cache associated with the cache class.

  • The delete_compute_value callback should free any resources related to the cache entry. The Compute Cache only contains a void * pointer to the resources and cannot free the resources on behalf of the effect.

Real-world Integration Example

The Auto Color plugin that ships with After Effects is an effect that now utilizes the Compute Cache and the HashSuite1 suite to cache histogram and level data used when the effect parameter, Temporal Smoothing, is set to a value greater than 0.

The initial steps in integrating the Cache and Hash suites were to identify what data was being computed by Auto Color’s Temporal Smoothing, what portions of that computation are time-consuming, and then what effect parameters would cause a re-compute to be needed.


Each effect will need to compute and cache different data, so you’ll need to do this review uniquely for your effect.

For Auto Color’s Temporal Smoothing, the frame being rendered needs both histogram and level data from the frames surrounding it. The number of surrounding frames that are needed is based on the temporal smoothing parameters value. Both the histogram and levels data can be expensive to calculate but in general can be calculated once for each frame, cached, and then reused as needed.

However, in the Auto Color effect are a number of other parameters that are used to calculate the cache values including the Black Clip, White Clip, Mid Tones and the Auto Color mode. Accordingly, these parameters need to be included in the generate_key and compute methods.

With that information in hand, we began the integration of the Compute Cache:

  1. Define the class registration id and add calls to register and unregister the checkout cache class and callbacks

  • The call to AEGP_ClassRegister is executed during PF_Cmd_GLOBAL_SETUP.

  • The call to AEGP_ClassUnregister is executed during PF_Cmd_GLOBAL_SETDOWN.

  1. Implement the callback functions for generate_key, compute, approx_size_value and delete_compute_value.

  • generate_key utilizes the AEGP_HashSuite1 to generate a unique key mixing in the black clip, white clip, mid tones and auto levels mode. It also mixes in the frame time and time step to ensure the cache is unique for the specific frame being computed.

  • compute calculates the histogram and levels and stores those two data structures into a single struct that is set as the out_valuePP parameter from the compute callback.

  • approx_size_value adds the sizeof() the histogram and level data structures that are in the cached value to return the size of the memory being used by the cache entry.

  • delete_compute_value clears the memory held by the histogram and level data structures for the cache entry.

  1. Integrate the compute/checkout call into Temporal Smoothing

  • The Temporal Smoothing code was updated to include calls to AEGP_ComputeIfNeededAndCheckout. The calls are made for each frame time / time step needed for the Temporal Smoothing algorithm, utilizing the results from other rendering threads computing surrounding frame histogram and levels data.

  1. Integrate the cache check-out and check-in

  • Once all the required cache values were computed for a frame, the effect code checks out the cache values needed using AEGP_GetReceiptComputeValue.

  • The cache values are then used as part of the temporal smoothing algorithm to make the adjustments to the color of the frame.

  • Once the cache values are no longer needed by the current frame, a call to AEGP_CheckinComputeReceipt is made for each cache value receipt.

  • Auto Color does not use AEGP_CheckoutCached at this time.

  1. Testing sequence_data versus Compute Cache implementations

  • Auto Color was using sequence data to store the histogram and levels data, and prior to using the Compute Cache, it would have a unique copy of sequence_data on each rendering thread. This meant that every histogram and level required for a frame would need to be rendered on every thread.

  • With the change to use the Compute Cache, each frame being rendered gained the performance benefits of other render threads computing the histogram and levels data and storing it for future use.

  • The improvement in rendering the Auto Color effect over a piece of footage with the Compute Cache has resulted in at least 3x faster renders than the sequence_data version.