The right After Effects plugins can transform the way you work. Adobe After Effects CC is a core application for so many artists because it can do so much out of the box, but when coupled with the huge range of third party plugins it can take things to another level with new functionality or a streamlined workflow.
In this post, we’ll take a dive into the glorious world of After Effects CC plugins for 2020. These After Effects plugins will help enhance your workflow, add features that simply don’t exist in the core After Effects application, and simply make stuff look cool. If you're after more AE knowledge, then don't miss our roundup of the best After Effects tutorials.
Also read: The complete guide to colour grading
- Price: Free
You might think that creating planets is an easy task in 3D – create a sphere, apply textures, done! However, getting a world to 'look' right can be a trickier task than imagined. For example, if making a model of a populated planet, how can the line between nighttime and daytime be adjusted to ensure cities can be seen at night and not in the day?
Orb uses a similar 3D engine to Video Copilot's excellent Element 3D plugin, and is focused on creating realistic planets and offers a range of unique tools to make planetary creation easily.
While it won't work for every planetary shot, Orb will work for 90 per cent of them and is an invaluable tool for previz. This is especially so when combined with other After Effects plugins, or mixed with a 3D camera from a 3D application, which can be imported into After Effects along with foreground plates for objects such as spaceships.
02. Mocha Pro
- Price: From $295/year
While After Effects does offer pretty good tracking tools (including the bundled Mocha AE plugin from Boris FX), if you're after something more advanced, it's worth upgrading to the feature-rich Mocha Pro. This powerful, versatile plugin supports both AE and Premiere. It's built on Academy Award-winning planar tracking, and can easily handle even the most challenging tracking, masking and stabilisation projects.
03. Shadow Studio
- Price: $18
Adding shadows to your work can be computationally expensive, especially if it's being done by raytracing, and it's a great way to slow down your workflow. However with Shadow Studio you can simulate these effects in a much faster manner. It's a native plugin for After Effects CS6 and up that gives you soft shadows, radial shadows and inner shadows, and it comes with three presets to help you quickly get the results you're after.
- Price: $39.99
A bit of glitch in your video can be a beautiful thing, and here's a straightforward way to get it. By dropping I-frames and duplicating delta frames Datamosh can create the sort of surreal, messy effects that you normally only see in corrupted video files, and while you'd normally have to break out a hex editor to create these effects, Datamosh enables you to do it within After Effects at the touch of a button and with a lot more control.
05. Plexus 3
- Price: $249.99
Plexus from Rowbyte Software has become one of the few plugins that has become synonymous with a certain look: everyone knows what to expect when a brief asks for the Plexus effect. The fact is, with some manipulation Plexus is capable of so much more than dots and lines. This is even more true of Version 3, which comes with even more effects and enhancements. My favourite is the Plexus Object Panel, which offers an easy way to manage the Plexus scene – something I would love to see in other complex After Effects plugins.
06. PQ FUI Toys 2
- Price: $49
PQ FUI Toys 2 is a life-saver if you need to add fancy UI graphics to a project, quickly. This After Effects plugin offers a great range of small motion graphic elements you can use to enhance your UI design. While the artist in you may scoff at the idea of using pre-made comps, each of these graphics is easily editable to the base level, and they can be a massive time saver when time is tight.
07. Magic Bullet Colorista IV
- Price: $199
Colorista has been around for years as a popular colour and grading tool for After Effects. With version IV creator Red Giant has taken things to a whole new level, turning it into a vital After Effects plugin for colourists at any skill level. A new Guided Color Correction toolset takes you through the steps required to get the most from your footage, as well as producing brilliant results in a couple of clicks. The process in use here means this plugin can teach vital colouring skills and form the basis of a great colouring workflow.
- Price: Free
After Effects does have a good basic rigging system, but Duik takes rigging to a whole new level. Increasingly, clients are asking for Duik for any advanced animation work, and the plugin is becoming 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 After Effects plugins?
09. Nodes 3
- Price: $299
Nodes 3 is capable of creating a huge range of imagery, from advanced 3D UI elements to more abstract elements, all of which can be manipulated and navigated through in 3D space. The only downside to this AE plugin is that there's still no Windows support. However, if you are Mac-based, it's definitely worth checking Nodes out.
- $89.99 per Adobe application
One of the biggest issues many motion graphics artists face is how to encode footage to the right format. The problem has been worsened by a couple of factors: the number of artists switching to Windows, and Adobe’s discontinued QuickTime support leading to patchy support for popular codecs such as Apple’s ProRes.
Thankfully, AfterCodecs provides a solution. AfterCodecs makes ProRes encoding possible on windows, as well as offering extra goodies such as the ability to export H264s larger than 8K. It’s available for both Windows and Mac.
- Price: Free
Video CoPilot has a well-earned reputation as one of the most innovative After Effects plugin creators. However, as many of its plugins come at a not-inconsequential price, it is great to see the company release a plugin that is completely free. Saber is a hugely powerful lighting and effects tools for a wide range of purposes. Not only can it be used to create beams of light (for example… lightsabers), but it also comes with a wide range of presets and the ability to work with layer masks.
- Price: $199
If there is one After Effects plugin that has become universally popular 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 the overhead of rendering DoF in CG. With this plugin, the focus point and depth amount is animatable. FL Out of Focus is a quicker version with no depth input. It uses the Frischluft engine to create beautiful lens blurs.
- Price: $249
For a long time Red Giants' Form and Particular have been the go-to plugins for After Effects artists looking to create particle systems and create new looks with 3D models. That was until Superluminal’s Stardust came on the scene.
Stardust creates a whole new paradigm in particles systems in After Effects thanks to its node-based workflow, which enables users to easily create bespoke motion graphics that are near-impossible to achieve in other plugins. Offering a huge range of presets, Stardust is deserving of any After Effect user’s immediate attention.