In Depth: 8 Must-Have Plug-ins for Motion Graphics in After Effects

In Depth: 8 Must-Have Plug-ins for Motion Graphics in After Effects

(Reprinted from Toolfarm.com)

This is a question that I get quite a bit. It’s usually someone who is just out of college and getting started in the biz. They often use the phrase “the best bang for the buck”. Nobody wants to spend money on tools they will never use either. Because this field has some diversity, I’m breaking this into a multi-part feature for motion graphics in After Effects, visual effects in After Effects, editing, and more. Here are my picks must-have plug-ins for motion graphic artists using After Effects.

First, a bit of detail on why I'm breaking this down into multiple articles, since I'm writing for new users (but we'd love your input if you're a seasoned pro). There are a lot of plug-ins out there. So many! I wrote a book called Plug-in to After Effects a few years ago that featured hundreds of plug-ins, and I didn't get to them all, and those were only for After Effects. 

Depending on what you're doing, you'll need different tools. There is a lot of crossover between tools so I'll give you my picks for 

  1. Motion graphics – animated text, generated 3D elements, geometry, particles, light leaks, and other eye candy
  2. Visual effects – compositing to create believable effects, often involving chroma keying, tracking, rotoscoping, beauty effects, lens flares and lots more.
  3. Editing – if you're cutting video you will need transitions, titles, time effects, etc.
  4. Color grading – color grading is needed by all of the other categories
  5. 3D plug-ins
  6. Audio plug-ins
  7. and there's more….

My criteria for choosing plug-ins for these lists:

  1. The plug-in must not be a one-trick pony. In other words, if it's only does one thing and I'll only use it once, it's not worth it. Some bundles will have a handful of throwaway plug-ins, but they'll also have tons of other amazing plug-ins to balance out the less useful plug-ins, so it's all good.
  2. It has to be fairly easy to use and user-friendly. If a plug-in is too complex and I can't get it to do what I want, then I won't likely use it.
  3. Must not be buggy. I can't say this has been a problem with too many plug-ins lately but I do have a few that are not up to my stability standards. If they're buggy or crash on me, I don't use them because I can't deal with the frustration.
  4. It's nice if plug-ins can be used in more than one host. This is not absolutely necessary but it sure is a bonus, especially if you have Creative Cloud and Premiere Pro.
  5. Fun. Yes, we're adults, but it's important to have an enjoyable experience while you're working. 

Bundles are a great way to go if you're new to After Effects. You'll get a nice variety of options at once and it always costs less to buy in bulk, right? There are a lot of bundles out there and these are my favorites.

1. Boris Continuum Complete

Whether you're solely a motion graphic artist or plan to spend some of your days keying, compositing and color grading, BCC is a bundle that has a bit of everything for everyone. Here's my short list of reasons you need BCC.

  1. 3D Elements – fun tools to make simple 3D, like text or shapes. I've used these for titles.
  2. Title Studio – Great for adding text in your mograph projects
  3. Light leaks, video glitch, and grunge effects for adding eye candy to your motion graphics projects
  4. FxBrowser – it's easy to browse through presets and see what they'll look like on your video. Modify as needed.
  5. Chroma Key Studio – It has a great set of tools for chroma keying,
  6. Integrated mocha planar tracking and masking tools, which is great if you're rotoscoping,
  7. Beauty Studio for skin smoothing
  8. Image restoration tools – fix problems with your video
  9. Works in both After Effects and Premiere Pro

I'm sure I'm skipping some of the reasons you need BCC but there are tons of great filters in the bundle. 

Here's a video about the BCC 10.

Buy Boris Continuum Complete for After Effects and Premiere Pro, MSRP: $995.00.
Limited Time Sale: Upgrade from any Boris Continuum Complete Unit at a Discount – Ends January 31st, 2016

Try a free demo of BCC – you must be logged in to download.

2. GenArts Sapphire

Sapphire, like Boris Continuum Complete, is a massive package of plug-ins that cover all sorts of purposes. It has tools for motion graphics, especially great for creating interesting textures, background elements, and video overlays. Sapphire is not inexpensive, but the results are very high quality and the software is extremely stable and dependable.  I asked via Twitter about favorite plug-ins and Michael Christophersson of scratch/post says he "can't live without Sapphire" because of "the diversity, speed and look of a lot of the effects always made me keep coming back". That's a great testimonial!

Why you need Sapphire

  1. Sapphire Builder (S_Effect and S_Transition) allows users to use presets and design your own plug-ins by combining effects in a node-based environment. It's very powerful!
  2. Great presets in Sapphire to get you started.
  3. Beautiful light effects, bokeh, aurora and more.
  4. Grunge, digital distortion effects and more can create edgy looking results.
  5. Cross-host licenses work in several hosts, depending on the package.

Buy Sapphire

Try a free demo of Sapphire – you must be logged in to download.

3. Trapcode Suite

Trapcode Suite includes a bunch of plug-ins that help to create 2D and 3D elements Now, if you are on a limited budget, I'd recommend getting Trapcode Particular in particular, but if you have some cash, I'd recommend splurging on the whole package. Here's what comes with Trapcode Suite.

  • Trapcode Particular – 3D particles in After Effects 
  • Trapcode Form – Words dissolve into sand, a logo catches on fire, and now 3D sequences explode into particles. Form 2 keeps the beautiful organic shapes that you love while adding amazing 3D object support and powerful Particular 2 controls.
  • Trapcode Tao – Generate 3D geometries along a path. Quickly generate procedural 3D geometries using built­ in auto paths, mask shapes, and the motion from After Effects 3D lights.This is the newest Trapcode offering. 
  • Trapcode Lux – Simulates the 'visible light' phenomenon in a dark or foggy environment using After Effects built in lights.
  • Trapcode Mir – Creates quick-rendering 3D shapes that are built on the power of OpenGL, previewing your effect instantly so you can keep on designing.
  • Trapcode Shine – Sunshine through clouds, headlights in fog, or light rays sweeping a logo.
  • Trapcode Starglow – Fast-rendering glow effect that creates colorful star-shaped glints like those created by a camera star filter.
  • Trapcode 3D Stroke – Create glowing shapes and lines, then fly the camera through them.
  • Trapcode Horizon– a camera-aware image mapping tool that ties your After Effects camera to a 3D world.
  • Trapcode Sound Keys – Sync your video to any audio.
  • Trapcode Echospace – Begin with an image, text, footage or composition in After Effects, and Echospace will create multiple versions of that layer.

So why buy Trapcode Suite?

  1. Allows users to create with a lot of variety so the plug-ins can be used over and over with completely different looks each time. You can make so much with Particular, for example – fire, swooshing elements, snowflakes, stars, attacking swarms of bees… your imagination is your limitation.
  2. Presets are included for some, so start with a preset and modify until you have what you need.
  3. Many of the plug-ins work with After Effects native camera and lights so they're easy to integrate with 3D layers.
  4. Industry standard. These are plug-ins I come back to time and time again, particularly Particular (that play on words never gets old). Particular, Form, and 3D Stroke have become industry standards.
  5. There are loads of tutorials out there for Trapcode plug-ins, Particular in particular (sorry).
  6. By buying the Trapcode Suite, as opposed to buying individual Trapcode plug-ins, you'll save a bundle!

Some of the plug-ins will work in other hosts, but many are After Effects only.

Buy Trapcode Suite

Trapcode Suite – MSRP: $999, Toolfarm Price: $949.05

Try a free demo of Trapcode Suite – you must be logged in to download.

4.Video Copilot Element 3D

If you want to create 3D elements like text or bring in pre-made 3D models from CINEMA 4D or OBJ files, look no further than Video Copilot Element 3D. If you want to include 3D in your projects and make 3D particle effects, but don't have time to learn a true 3D program, Element 3D is a great choice. Trapcode Particular also makes particles but they are very different plug-ins.

Reasons to buy Element 3D:

  1. You don't have to learn a true 3D program to bring in 3D models from CINEMA 4D or OBJ
  2. It's pretty darn fast for simple things. It's truly impressive. That said, I've pushed it and created things so complex that it gets crazy slow, but I was also on an old lap and I was trying to break it.
  3. It's fun. I should have put that for a reason for other products too, but I find this plug-in to be very creative and interesting to play with.
  4. There are hundreds templates and shaders to extend Element 3D so you will not get bored with it and use it just a few times.

Element 3D V2 Tutorial – Top 5 New Features (After Effects E3D Version 2) – Sean Frangella

Sorry, no free demo of Element 3D.

5. Zaxwerks ProAnimator AE

ProAnimator is a lot of fun and easy to use, but most importantly it is a versatile and flexible tool for 3D title and logo animation.  "I use it almost every day. It integrates with After Effects very well, it's easy to use, yet it's robust enough to create complicated animations," says Power user Brent Willett. "And it's very affordable.  As a freelancer, I can't afford the 'big' 3D programs, but I can afford ProAnimator."

Brent pretty much sums it up but here are some reasons you need ProAnimator AE.

  1. Integrates with After Effects very well
  2. Easy to use but you can create complicated 3D animations
  3. Affordable
  4. You don't need to learn a full-blown 3D program.

Buy Zaxwerks ProAnimator AE MSRP: $375.00, Toolfarm price: $356.25

Try a free demo of Zaxwerks – you must be logged in to download.

6. Mettle FreeForm Pro

I know, we're heavy on the 3D plug-ins here, but they all do something a bit different. Mettle FreeForm Pro is an awesome tool for 3D mesh warping in After Effects, plus a built-in particle system and shape morphing for really cool effects.

Need some compelling reasons for getting FreeForm Pro?

  1. Flexible/versatile
  2. Affordable
  3. Fun to play with and you can make some pretty cool stuff with it.
  4. Integrates beautifully into After Effects

Buy Mettle Freeform Pro MSRP: $299.00, Toolfarm price: $284.05

Try a free demo of Mettle plug-ins – you must be logged in to download.

7. Rowbyte Plexus

With Plexus you can make really slick looking eye candy visuals with ease. Top reasons to get Plexus?

  1. You can make really beautiful, endlessly diverse visuals with lines, geometrics, and text, with a plethora of options and effectors. 
  2. Powerful, yet fun!
  3. Integrated with After Effects camera and lights
  4. Inexpensive

Buy Rowbyte Plexus, MSRP: $199.99

Try a free demo of Rowbyte plug-ins – you must be logged in to download.

8. Motion Boutique Newton

Physics can be very difficult to program and Motion Boutique's Newton makes it a breeze to add kinematics movement, gravity and more to your text, shapes, or whatever you're animating. 

  1. Use features like collisions, friction, bounciness, and gravity without learning expressions.
  2. Fast!
  3. Create cool, technical animations in Newton!
  4. Inexpensive

Buy Motion Boutique Newton, MSRP: $249.99

Try a free demo of Motion Boutique Newton – you must be logged in to download.

Conclusion

So those are my picks for must-have plug-ins for motion graphics in After Effects. There are a lot of other great tools out there, so my suggestion is to try a demo version of any tool that you think you might be interested in buying. Try everything before buying, if there is a demo version, that is. 

My next article in this series will be must-have plug-ins for visual effects in After Effects. I'll get into topics like keying, compositing, tracking, color grading and more. If you have input, or an idea for a future article, you can always email me, or ask us on Facebook or Twitter