10 essential After Effects plugins

With the arrival of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, more designers than ever have access to After Effects. We’ve rounded up 10 essential plugins for the motion graphics software.

After Effects is an amazing bit of software for creating motion graphics, and offers a heap of functionality out the box allowing you to create simple and complex motion graphics effects alike. With CS6, a series of premium plugins such as motion trackers and keying tools are included, but if you stop there, you’ll be missing out on a lot of potential - the real power of After Effects is fully unleashed when you add plugins to enhance or extend functionality.

With all this in mind, we’ve rounded up 10 essential plugins for After Effects below. We’ve got everything from advanced particle systems to complex physics modellers, colour grading tools and everything in between. Check out our list, and let us know in the comments if we’ve missed any of your favourites!

01. Trapcode Particular

  • Price: $399

Particular is perhaps the most popular particle engine available today. Offering much more functionality than the particle plugins that ship with After Effects, it includes the ability to generate auxiliary particle systems spawned from individual particles, advanced shading options and a perfectly usable physics model. It also integrates nicely with some of the other plugins from Red Giant, such as Lux, and is an essential purchase for anyone who plans to use particles regularly in their motion graphics work.

02. Element 3D

  • Price: $149.95

After Effects now supports “real 3D”, but it’s still limited in its support for rendering 3D models - so you typically still need to pre-render in 3D software to do complex 3D work. Element 3D is a fully 3D particle system that allows you to import a 3D model, complete with textures, and render it real-time inside After Effects. The models respond to After Effects lights, and its built-in renderer doesn’t suffer from slowdown.

03. 3D Invigorator Pro

  • Price: $449

Invigorator Pro allows you to create 3D models directly within After Effects. Import a path from Illustrator and you can easily extrude it to generate a 3D version which can be fully textured, lit and animated directly within After Effects. CS6 has gone some way towards providing similar functionality natively within After Effects, but there’s still much that you can’t do without a plugin, so if you don’t have 3D software, or want a quick way to generate 3D assets, this is an ideal plugin.

04. Boris FX Continuum Complete

  • Price: $995

Although the price will probably make you gasp for air, Continuum Complete does contain an absolute wealth of plugins for your money. This has everything from 3D extrusion to grading tools, lighting effects, transitions, trackers and much more. It’s designed to be a one-stop plugin that gives you everything you could possibly want, and certainly offers a lot for your money, although it’s well worth comparing against other options if you’re only interested in the particles systems or 3D tools for example.

05. Trapcode Lux

  • Price: $199

Lux allows you to easily create volumetric lights in your compositions. Whereas normal After Effects lights show a light source, and can be set to cast shadows, there’s no way of generating the sense of visible light, such as you might see when dust is caught in a shaft of light. Lux solves this problem, making your comp lights visible.

06. Magic Bullet Looks 2

  • Price: $399

Magic Bullet Looks makes it easy to apply a filmic colour treatment to your compositions. It’s compatible with both After Effects and Premiere, so you can use it throughout your workflow. A series of presets are included, but you have full control over a large library of filters and effects that are layered up to create the final “look”. A great tool for simplifying grading, and is much cheaper when bought as part of one of the Red Giant suites.

07. Delirium

  • Price: $299

Delirium is a popular set of plugins that offers a wide range of effects split across five core areas: nature, colour, distortion, mood and composite. Effects include the likes of fire, smoke, specular lighting, lightwrap, alpha generation and many more. Although many of the effects are achievable with alternative products, or the core set of plugins that ship with After Effects, Delirium offers a time-saving option, and is very reasonably priced compared to some competitor products.

08. Knoll Light Factory 3

  • Price: $199

Created by John Knoll, veteran of Industrial Light & Magic (and responsible for some of the effects seen in the original Star Wars movies), Light Factory gives you access to a whole range of lens flare and lighting effects, all of which are fully configurable and can be saved as presets. If you’re at all tired of the very limited set of flares that are available in After Effects, this is an absolute must-have; it offers a much wider range, and a whole lot more beyond just flares themselves.

09. Magic Bullet Colorista II

  • Price: $299

Colorista is principally a 3-way colour correction tool, but it offers much more than the standard 3-way tool found in After Effects. As well as the main colour wheels, you also get a powerful keyer that allows you to target and correct specific colours in a plate, a pop-slider which is used to add life to dull scenes and advanced masking options.

10. Newton 2

  • Price: $249.99

Newton allows you treat 2D layers as rigid bodies, and can handle collisions, friction, gravity and much more. What this means is that you can accurately model real-world physics with nothing more than a collection of 2D elements. Check out the demos on the aescripts website for examples of the engine in practice. While this may seem niché, Newton makes creating falling, bouncing or crashing elements together a breeze, saving potentially huge amounts of time.

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Have we missed your favourite After Effects plugin? Tell us about it in the comments below!