11 top plugins for After Effects

It’s time to take a dive into the glorious world of After Effects plugins for 2016. While there are so, so many, I thought I would share my favourite 10, which I have been using regularly this year. Whether enhancing workflows, adding features that simply don’t exist in the core After Effects application or simply just making stuff look cool, After Effects has never been in better health when mixed with these great tools.

01. Twitch

Twitch lets you build and automate all manner of effects and transitions
  • Price: $45

If your work's just a little too clean-looking for your liking, Video Copilot's Twitch is an easy-to-use and cost-effective way to rough things up a bit. With six operators to play with – blur, colour, light, scale, slide and time – it's a straightforward way to spice up your projects with effects such as glitches, lens blur, RGB split and motion blur. Twitch comes with 25 ready-made presets to get you started, as well as 10 royalty-free sound effects to sweeten the deal.

02. Plexus 3

Plexus 3 can create so much more than lines and dots
  • Price: $249.99

Plexus from Rowbyte Software has become one of the few plugins that has defined a look by it’s name. Everyone knows what is meant when a brief asks for the Plexus effect. The fact is that with some manipulation Plexus is capable of so much more than dots and lines, and with Version 3, even more effects and enhancements have been added. My favourite is the Plexus Object Panel which gives a easy way to manage the plexus scene, and something I would love to see in other complex AE plugins.

03. PQ FUI Toys 2

PQ FUI Toys 2 is a great resource for UI graphics when deadlines are tight
  • Price: $50

Ever have a panic deadline which needs some fancy UI graphics? Well PQ FUI Toys 2 is a great way to add and enhance any scene with these small motion graphic elements which cover most areas of UI design. While the artist in you may scoff at the idea of using pre-made comps, each of these comps is easily editable to the base level, and are a massive time saver when time is tight.

04. Motion V2

Motion v2 packs a whole plethora of great workflow features into a tiny palette
  • Price: $35

Motion V2 is by far my favourite After Effects workflow plugin. It's amazing how much is packed into this little palette. I use Motion V2 to set all my tweening, organise my projects into folders with one click, add animatable lines between any two layers, and group layers to parent nulls. The ability to quickly define the axis point of any shape layer is worth the $35 price alone.

05. Duik

DUIK offers a complete IK rigging animation toolset for free
  • Price: Free

After Effects does have a good basic rigging system, but DUIK takes rigging to a whole new level. The best thing is that DUIK is free. More and more, with any more advanced animation work DUIK is being either asked for by clients or seen as the animation backbone for a wide range of projects. Oh, and did I mention that it’s completely free along with the rest of Rainbox’s AE plugins?

06. Nodes 2

Nodes 2 is brilliant for creating advanced animations in seconds
  • Price: £252.17

Nodes 2 has got me out of trouble on a few projects this year, either using one of the existing presets or creating a node object of my own. Nodes 2 is capable of creating a huge range of different imagery from advanced 3D UI elements to more abstract ‘stuff’, which can all be manipulated and navigated through in 3D space. The only downside is no Windows support, but if you are Mac based, check Nodes out now.

07. Denoiser II

Denoiser II is essential for any CG artist working with After Effects for cleaning up render noise
  • Price: $99

As a After Effects artist who also works in 3D a lot, Denoiser II is essential for cleaning up renders. I use the Octane GPU render engine for a lot of my work, and find that Denoiser II can instantly fix a multitude of grainy render problems far more quickly than rendering out more samples in CG, and with GPU support, Denoiser II is quick as well and also works great with camera footage.

08. RED Giant Universe

Red Giant Universe has nearly 60 GPU based tools and effects to bring any kind of project to life
  • Price: $99 per year/$20 per month 

I have come to depend on the 60 effects in Red Giant Universe more than I would care to admit. From transitions (which also work in Premiere) to video effects and now Motion Graphics, there is so much handy ‘stuff’ in Red Giant Universe that to not even give it a trial would be remiss. As all of the effects are GPU based, I tend to use them more than equivalent native effects because they are so much quicker.

09. Trapcode Mir

Trapcode Mir is a multi-use looping geometry creation workhorse
  • Price: $99

When Trapcode Mir first launched, it was hard to get a handle on how it would be useful, but with version 2.0, Mir hit the big time. Mir can be used to create deformable geometry which can be rendered to create beautiful looping abstract pieces and landscapes. Where I have found Mir really useful is for creating undulations in existing compositions where it can really bring life and depth more quickly than animating the comp itself.

10. Frischluft Lenscare

Lenscare provides convincing depth of field effects for CG and video
  • Price: $199

If there is one After Effects plugin that has become ubiquitous amongst artists and studios it is ‘Lenscare’ from Frischluft. Lenscare is two plugins, ‘FL Depth of Field’ can use Depth data from a 3D render to create a realistic depth of field in CG without having the render overhead of rendering DoF in CG, and the focus point and depth amount is animatable. FL Out of Focus is a quicker version with no depth input which uses the Frischluft engine to create beautiful Lens Blurs - essential!

11. Trapcode Particular

Particular’s new Effect Builder is a great addition for creating new FX templates
  • Price: $399

Even though it seems like Trapcode Particular has been around since the dawn of After Effects time. It like Plexus 3 is becoming much more artist friendly as it breaks out of the Effects Panel. The new Particular Effects Builder palette is a great way to build up the basics of the FX feature that is needed for a comp. Every component can be seen from sprites to physics and manipulated to get the look that is required without interfering with the main animation, which can be a massive help when developing new work.

Contributions: Jim McCauley