Top 15 After Effects Plugins every Motion Designer Must Know
Adobe After Effects in of itself is a great software, but there comes a point when you might wonder how you can improve your workflow, bump up your creativity and learn new skills. That’s where awesome After Effects plugins come into play. From particle effects, character rigging, color correction, glitch effects, lens effects and more… Plug-ins open a whole new dimension for video editors and motion designers. The nice thing about plug-ins is that you don’t need to get into programming codes or buying other software to make visual effect.
In this article, I give an overview of the 15 best After Effects plug-ins and their features that any serious motion designer and video editor should know about and work with, if they have the budget.
First, let’s go over the pros and cons of After Effects plug-ins before we dive into each plug-in.
Pros of After Effects plug-ins
Allows for a new level of creativity
Should enhance and improve your workflow in After Effects
Create effects much faster than using only After Effects default effects
Allows you to work with 3d objects and elements directly in After Effects
Create beautiful background environments in a few clicks
Doesn’t require knowledge of programming code, script or expression
Cons of After Effects plug-ins
Some plug-ins take a lot of memory and will considerably slow down After Effects while using them
Some plug-ins will take a lot of time to render
Some plug-ins can crash After Effects while using them
The cost of these plug-ins can get very expensive
Advice: Just be aware some plug-ins will slow down your workflow a lot. I recommend to move your plug-in effects into a composition and render it as a Quicktime .mov file with alpha channel and then re-import it in your master After Effects composition.
Alright, let’s start tackling each After Effects plug-ins from list below. They are not in any specific order. I just chose the ones I really enjoy working with and think most motion graphic designers should use or know about.
This one is probably the most well-known plug-in in the industry: Optical Flare by Video Copilot. Optical flares allow you to create beautiful lighted background environments with lens flares. This plug-in come with a library of already-made lights/lens flare presets that you can apply and tweak in a few clicks. One of the nice features that I like is that you can use optical flares in different positioning modes such as 2d,3D, track light, mask and luminance. Optical flare also include transparency so you can add any background behind or in front of the flare.
Another awesome plug-in by VideoCopilot is called Element 3D v2.2. It allows you to import 3D Objects in the actual plug-in and animate and texture them. I have seen a lot of motion graphic designers use Element 3D to make beautiful cinematic videos and it looks amazing and very professional. Here are a few bullet points with the key features of what you can do with this 3D plug-in.
Import 3D Objects & Textures
OBJ & C4D Format
Animation OBJ Sequence
Automatic Texture importing (OBJ with MTL and Cinema 4D files)
Group Symmetry Creation Mode
Dynamic Group Folder Reflections
Matte Reflection mode
Matte shadow with Alpha Channel
Overall, I like that you don’t need to know Cinema4D, 3Dmax or Maya to use Element 3D it was built so anyone can use it.
Plexus plug-in from Rowbyte is one of those particle engines that became rapidly a trend in the motion graphic industry. One of the features allows users to connect dots/triangles with lines and animate them in a 3D space, similar to the picture above. But Plexus 3 can be much more powerful. It lets you create, manipulate and visualize data in a procedural manner. In simple terms, it means that particles can be animated and have a relationship with each other. I strongly recommend to watch to demo reel to understand. 🙂
Plexus 3 Features:
Create lines between particles
Create facets between particles
Import OBJ sequences
Triangulate and create new surfaces
Render custom sprites based on the particle data
There a lot more features feel free to check out their website.
Compatibility: After Effects CS5.5, CS6,CC 2014,CC 2015,CC 2015.3, CC 2017, CC 2018
Trapcode Particular is probably one of the oldest After Effects plug-ins that has remained very effective when motion designers need to animate particles. It has been used heavily in the feature film industry. Over the years, Redgiant have stepped up their game and improved the plug-in user interface with the Particular Effects Builder panel. It is now intuitive for artists to create particle animations. They also have created beautiful particle presets you can you use as a base to start your project.
The Trapcode Form is another particle plug-in similar to Plexus. It allows users to make animated 3d particle grids and particle objects in After Effects. It can also load 3D models or animated 3D sequences, work with multiple particle systems in 3d space. Trapcode form give you the power to quickly dissolve text and logos into sand particles.
Here are some of the Trapcode Form features :
Library of over 60 OBJs
Import OBJ file
New Design Panel UI
Includes over 270 still and animated sprite images
Rigging characters or animals only in After Effects can be very difficult and time consuming. With the DUIK plug-in, not anymore! This plug-in is one of my favorites because it allows you to rig and animate bipeds, quadrupeds, etc… and it has a user friendly interface. Once your rig is setup, it is fast and smooth to animate.
Here is the list of its features:
Bones are layers which replace puppet pins
Autorig bipeds and quadrupeds of any kind (as long as they are vertebrates) and even birds and fish.
The best part is that this plug-in is actually Free. If you love it, please consider giving them a donation.
Newton3 is one of those must-have plug-ins for motion designers. It is basically a 2D physics or mathematical engine integrated to After Effects that allows you to move your layers in a realistic way because it is all calculated for you. Whether you want to show density, friction, bounciness, velocity or gravity, Newton3 does it all. The other thing you can do is create realistic joints between objects, so you can easily create complex motions. Once you complete your simulation, the animation is recreated in After Effects with standard keyframes, so you can adjust the timing to your liking.
Newton3 Plug in features:
2D layers in AE act like solid objects
Handles collisions, friction, bounciness, gravity and much more
6 types of objects (static, dynamic, kinematic, AEmatic, dormant and dead)
Attract or repel objects with the magnetism system
Fast preview, and fast export to After Effects keyframes
I discovered the Pastiche plug-in a few months ago and it really look promising. Let’s say you have bunch of small layers in your timeline. Pastiche allows you to move, regroup and place those layers into a single shape. Pastiche also provides intuitive controllers to fine tune the position, scale, rotation and opacity of the collage layers. I highly recommend you to download the trial version and try it at least once just so you get the feel of it.
Now if you want to challenge yourself, you can even combine Pastiche with the integrated physics calculator of the Newton3 plug-in. How amazing is that?!
Magic bullet suite 13 is a set of tools for color correction in finishing and film. It has over 200 fully customizable presets to get you started. If you are working on shorts or feature length films, this plug-in should help you optimize the look of your footage.
Magic Bullet Features:
Real time color Correction
Cinematic contrast and the sophisticated color
Balance skin tones, reduce wrinkles and remove skin blemishes
Let’s say you are in hurry and looking to animate your After Effects layer in a fraction of a second? Animation composer motion presets might be the best solution. With a few clicks, you can literally get super smooth bounces, easy ease animation. The package has over 1000 of motion presets so you might find a movement you like 🙂
You are out of ideas to animate your text and don’t have time to think up an idea? Animation Composer Text presets pack is actually super cool. The plug-in shows you a preview in realtime of what your text animation looks like and then you just drag and drop it to your text layer.
Particle builder works with the Trapcode Particular plug-in. It prevents you from worrying about the settings inparticular and get the particle look you need. The provided presets look fabulous from fire to magical particles and everything in between. Hopefully you’ll find something that works for your project.
Particle Builder Features
16 Fire Particles
3 Sand Particles
9 Smoke Particles
16 Sparkle Particles
4 Magical Particles
Particle Color, Direction, Size, amount, Z Axis… can be customized
Boris Fx has 3 major plug-ins: Sapphire, Mocha and Continuum. All of them are very well know in the commercial and feature film industry. If you have some time, I highly recommend taking a look and testing the trial version.
Sapphireis a compilation of plug-ins for editing, compositing, and motion graphic applications.
Mochais an award-winning tracking software built upon a renowned Planar Tracking image engine.
Continuumis the Swiss army knife for Compositors and Video Editors.
Below is a video of what you can do with the Boris FX plug ins
Twitch from Video Copilot synchronizes random operators to create stylistic video effects for motion graphics and visual effects. In simple terms, the Twitch plug-in allows you to level up your video by adding glitch effects, blur effects, light lens effects, scale effects, color effects and time effects.