After Effects : The Must have Plugins
June 19, 2011
The weapon of choice for Motion Graphic Designers and Visual Effects artists, After Effects has been my “home away from home”. Countless hours spent and long nights rendering out in the best quality I can fathom. It’s a great piece of software on its own, however where it really comes into the realm of professional post-production is with the array of plugins available for it. I have experienced developing with the Adobe SDK and it’s quite versatile, and with the right team backing you, you can continue to push After Effects towards the outside of that envelope. It almost feels like a fundamental principle in the industry that in order to perform with the best, you can’t do it with just vanilla After Effects.
So without further ado here’s my list of the Must Have plugins for After Effects as per my experience.
Red Giant Software : Trapcode Suite ($899)
First of the bat and with good reason, Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite features several great plugins that always find some working into almost every single video project I’ve worked on. Particular is a very versatile particle system that has added functionality that Cycore’s ParticleWorld doesn’t have. Trapcode Form, well nothing is quite like it. Between the two there’s not all that much that isn’t able to be done when it comes to particles. Trapcode Shine and Lux often find a spot in compositions when a nice flash of light is required, and Sound Keys is very useful when working to music, with the ability to generate usable values from certain frequency ranges.
Although quite a pricey package, if you’re doing motion graphics you’ll find yourself using one of their plugins just naturally with whatever you’re working on.
The following features heavily Trapcode Form, as well as Trapcode Shine.
Video Copilot : Optical Flares ($125 – $140)
If you have no idea who Andrew Kramer is then seriously you need to catch up with the times. Tutorial guru and After Effects king, Kramer’s Video Copilot has a vast repertoire of After Effects tutorials and products that are a great resource for anyone working in motion graphics and visual effects. One of their more recent releases is the Optical Flares plugin. No more stock Photoshop/After Effects looking flares, the mix of natural, organic, and totally epic flares is complimented by a great user interface giving you a huge range of customization at your fingertips. If you’re working with a limited budget then this is one of the few you should make sure you get as the amount of times you will use it will just astound you.
Red Giant Software : Magic Bullet Suite ($799)
Another one from Red Giant, the Magic Bullet suite is focused at the color-correction part of post-production. Featuring plugins like Magic Bullet Looks and Magic Bullet Colorista II it will bring a new level of professional looking footage to your work. The suite also features some good plugins for scaling and cleaning up footage, and a number of plugins can also be used with Photoshop or Final Cut Pro at no extra charge. However it is pricey so unless you’re doing a lot of color-correcting then not a necessity.
Rowbyte : Plexus ($200)
Relatively new compared to the others listed, Plexus is unique in its own right if only for what it actually does. Simply put it used a bunch of operators to create points and lines to create a very polygonal wireframe look. Previously in order to achieve this look you would need a 3D graphics program like 3DS Max or Cinema 4D. With the ability to utilize groups of lights, paths, imported object data, and interact in a number of ways, Plexus is worth a look at. Download a free trial and give it a go.
The following utilized Plexus for the particles…
Frischluft : Lenscare ($200)
Frischluft hasn’t got too many After Effects plugins available, however what they do have is quite good. Lenscare is a Depth of Field generator for After Effects, Photoshop, and OpenFX. Before CS5.5 the vanilla After Effects DoF engine wasn’t the most natural one. It seems to have improved somewhat with the release of CS5.5 so I’m yet to compare Lenscare to the stock DoF engine. In any case Lenscare creates nice bokeh, while having a natural looking out of focus appearance. Utilized in movies like I, Robot it can prove very useful especially in conjunction with some of the Trapcode particle plugins.
Magnum – The Edit Detector (Up to you)
Magnum – The Edit Detector is a neat script that detects shot changes in your footage and will go through and break each shot into a separate composition. Incredibly useful if you’re color-correcting in After Effects and need to add effects to each individual shot. Will save you a heap of time editing pre-edited footage, and relatively cheap compared to the aforementioned plugins as it’s more donate then pay for the plugin.
DV Rebel Tools (Free)
DV Rebel Tools is a set of color-correction tools in an easy-access panel that makes doing post-production in After Effects that much easier. The biggest plugin in the panel is the “Make Thumbnail Comp” button, which takes a comp containing many other comps and can create another comp with thumbnail views of every comp you had selected (watch the video on the site it’ll make sense) best used with Magnum. Other options are new CC adjustment layers for selected layers, automatically trimmed to be the same length as the layer. Also it designed for color-correction it can automatically create an adjustment layer with Colorista II applied (so long as you have it that is). If you need a basic color-correction tool though, the New Rebel CC button provides another worthy substitute. A mishmash of vanilla effects, the additional expressions make it work similar to a basic Colorista if quite lacking the shiny user interface.
Open to other suggestions of plugins worthy of being in this list, let me know. Overall from my experience these are the ones I most utilize in my day-to-day workings in After Effects.