12 top plugins for After Effects

It’s time to take a dive into the glorious world of After Effects plugins - third-party add-ons for Adobe Creative Cloud's 3D, motion graphics and animation software. While there are so, so many to choose from, there's bound to be plenty in this little selection to take your work to the next level.

Whether enhancing your 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. Element 3D V2.2

  • Price: $199.95

For a straightforward way of incorporating 3D models into your After Effects work, it's hard to go wrong with Video Copilot's Element 3D. It enables you to import OBJ and C4D objects into your After Effects projects, complete with automatic texture importing. 

Create complex animations with plenty of great-looking features including low poly distortion, particle noise with subsurface scattering, shadows, reflections and ambient occlusion. It's GPU accelerated, too, so if you have a fat graphics card installed then you can enjoy lightning-fast renders. 

02. 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.

03. 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 its 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. One great one is the Plexus Object Panel, which gives an easy way to manage the plexus scene, and is something we would love to see in other complex AE plugins.

04. PQ FUI Toys 2

PQ FUI Toys 2 is a great resource for UI graphics when deadlines are tight
  • Price: $49

Ever have a panic deadline that needs some fancy UI graphics? Well, PQ FUI Toys 2 is a great way to add to and enhance any scene with these small motion graphic elements that 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 is a massive time saver when time is tight.

05. Motion V2

Motion V2 packs a whole plethora of great workflow features into a tiny palette
  • Price: $35

Motion V2 is an excellent After Effects workflow plugin. It's amazing how much is packed into this little palette. Motion V2 can set all of your tweening, organise your 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 pricetag alone.

06. 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, along with the rest of Rainbox’s AE plugins.

More and more with advanced animation work, clients are requesting Duik and it's being seen as the animation backbone for a wide range of projects.

07. Nodes 2

Nodes 2 is brilliant for creating advanced animations in seconds
  • Price: $299/£232.51

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 that there's no Windows support, but if you are Mac based, check Nodes out now.

08. Magic Bullet Denoiser III

Denoiser III is essential for any CG artist working with After Effects for cleaning up render noise
  • Price: $199

As an After Effects artist who also works in 3D a lot, Magic Bullet Denoiser III is essential for cleaning up renders. I use the Octane GPU render engine for a lot of my work, and find that Denoiser III can instantly fix a multitude of grainy render problems far more quickly than rendering out more samples in CG. 

And with GPU support, Red Giant's Denoiser III is quick as well. It also works great with camera footage.

09. Universe 2.1

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 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.

10. Trapcode Mir 2.1

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

When Red Giant first launched Trapcode Mir, it was hard to get a handle on how it would be useful, but with version 2.0 (and now 2.1), Mir hit the big time. Mir can be used to create deformable geometry that 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.

11. 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 among artists and studios it is Lenscare from Frischluft. Lenscare is really 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.

12. Trapcode Particular 3

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

It seems like Red Giant's 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 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

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