After Effects Add-Ons You Can’t Live Without

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After Effects in and of itself is a powerful application for creating motion graphics, but it really shines when coupled with some amazing 3rd party scripts, plug-ins and effects. These range from time-savers to things which further extend After Effects’ capabilities.

So I wanted to take a peek inside my toolbox and see which ones I use on a day-to-day basis.

Enjoy… and hang on to your wallets! 🙂

Motion

This handy little script by Mt. Mograph allows you to make adjustments to the speed curves of the graph editor without actually having to go into the graph editor. It can take a little bit of time to get used to, but once you do it can save a lot of time and clicks. Note: it is no replacement for manually getting in there and finessing keyframes for precise adjustments, but if you end up doing a lot of large eases on the beginnings or ends of an animation (which ends up happening for me a lot), then this is a great script to pick up. And sometimes just playing with the sliders a bit can give you some interesting eases you might not have otherwise thought of.

Puppet Tools

This script makes working with the Puppet Tool a whole lot friendlier, since the Puppet Tool is not exactly easy to work with out of the box. One of its more useful features is to automatically create Nulls to control your Puppet pins, and you can even specify how big the Nulls are.

Another handy feature is the Create IK button which links specified Nulls into an inverse kinematic and handles all the expression creation.

If you use something like Duik Tools (which you should!) you might think this script superfluous, but I have found that for some IKs it is faster to use Puppet Tools to set up the IK, especially if I’m not needing to rig an entire character.

Finally, one nice feature is the Layer to Loop button which instantly creates a loop that extends for the entirety of your comp (or however long you specify.)

Ray Dynamic Color

Since After Effects inconceivably doesn’t have any swatch organization, dealing with color is always kind of a pain. Ray Dynamic Color makes it quite a bit easier, and allows you to set up your projects in such a way that you can change one color and have it modify the same color used anywhere else. You could of course set up some expressions to do this yourself, but this script takes care of that for you and makes it effortless.

Talking Head

If you do character animation, getting the mouth right can be a tedious process. Talking Head takes a lot of the work out of it, using the standard analysis of the audio waveform to generate the peaks and apply them to the mouth movements. However, Talking Head also has a nifty (if not overly large, imo) interface to rig up a face and apply expressions and sliders to control eyre movement, eyebrows, jaw, etc., and, of course, to modify the mouth movement.

I’d say that out of the box Talking Head gets you about 75% of the way there, and then you have to go and make adjustments to sell the talking, but that 75% is a long way towards being done!

Explode Shape Layers

If you use Illustrator to generate the artwork for After Effects, then this script is an absolute must. It will not only easily convert your vectors to shapes, but it also can explode the layers within to be their own AE layers, collapse them into one shape, and a host of other features. It saves a lot of headaches and hassles and will speed up your vector based workflow.

Snap!

This little script isn’t fancy, but it makes getting screenshots out of AE fast and easy. It bases the output on your comp resolution, and once you set the output folder you just click and you’re done.

Lines Creator

If you want to connect lines to objects, then this is your script. You can easily connect things and then move them around, specify which lines connect to which objects, etc., for a wide variety of different looks and interactions.

If you are wanting an alternative that can be free, check out Connect Layers. It essentially does the same thing, but doesn’t give you a real-time preview of the line connections. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I find seeing what’s happening worth the $25.

Duik

If there’s one script that will change your workflow and be just utterly useful, it’s this one. This is especially true if you do character animation, since Duik has a great Auto-Rig feature which can basically rig up an entire character complete with IK’s on the limbs. If you take the time in your source application to name the artwork properly, this can almost be a one-click solution.

There are also a lot of great animations tools in this script; Spring is notable in giving you flawless bounce in animations.

As of this writing the newest version (15) is in Beta and should be available soon; but in the meantime, go grab the 14.23 version.

Oroborous

This script is probably the most fun of them all, since it really encourages you to play around with it and discover what kind of crazy things you can create. This script adds multiple strokes to paths, giving you the ability to change length, width, color, end and start, etc.

There are so many fun things you can do with this, and once you get the hang of it you’ll find yourself wanting to try it out again and again. To be sure, this is probably one of those project specific plug-ins, but you may find yourself doing a project a certain way just so you can give this a spin!

Plexus

Plexus is a pricey script, but it’s also an insanely fun and powerful one. It allows you to create tons of interactions between points by means of points themselves, lines and triangulation. The really sweet aspect of Plexus is that all of this can have different effectors applied to it like Noise and Color, and so you can displace to your heart’s content and colorize until the cows come home. Plus you can set the distances for opacity and size for the renderers, which means you have a near infinite variety of awesome things to be created.

The only downside with this script is that there really isn’t any way to loop the animation (like you can with, say, Fractal Noise), but it’s still a sweet script.

Trapcode Particular

If you want to do particle generation within After Effects, Particular is essentially the industry standard, and once you get familiar with it you will quickly discover why. It can do things from creating softly flowing bokehs to particles that follow paths and anything in between. The best part is that it is also a very fast effect, so you’ll be able to view what you want to create quickly and easily.

Trapcode Form

Form is another particle generator, much like Particular, but whereas Particular generates particles from birth to death, Form treats them as eternal beings, which means you can do some really interesting things with them. You may not think you’d use Form much if you already have Particular, but once you get into it you’ll start to realize the things it can do that Particular can’t and why it’s another must have effect.

Trapcode Mir

This effect is pretty amazing, both because of what it can create and also because of how freakishly fast it runs for what it does. Mir performs in many ways like Plexus by means of creating triangulation, but that’s really only scratching the surface. You can sculpt cosmic ribbons that weave and flow in space, and then craft terrain with character interest. Note: If you do get Mir, I’d suggest grabbing the Mir2 Beta. It’s officially still Beta (and has been for awhile now), but in all my use of it I’ve never run into any problems, and it adds some great features that you might find it hard to go back to the officially supported Mir.

Note: All of the Trapcode products have excellent tutorials associated with them which will help you quickly get up to speed on them. Definitely check them out.

Video Co-Pilot Optical Flares

Lens flares are kind of a running design joke, but that’s really only because they are often done so badly. After Effects can generate flares, but they are astonishingly lame. However once you try out Optical Flares you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. There is so much control and so many options available that it can be a bit overwhelming, but after you get the hang of it you’ll find yourself quickly and easily creating great flares, or modifying some of the ones that come shipped with it. Sometimes you just need a little bit of flare love, and Optical Flares will provide that.

Video Co-Pilot Twitch

Twitch is one of those effects that can be very easily overdone, but when done tastefully can really add a bit of polish and flair to your project. It gives you randomized behaviors on several different parameters of the twitch- lighting, blur, slide, for example- and offers fine tunings you can control within each behavior, like splitting the RGB channels on the slide effect.

I’ve found this effect particularly useful for creating quick and interesting transitions between scenes or cuts. Great product!

Selected Comps Changer

Sometimes you are working in After Effects and haven’t really been using a good naming convention for your comps, and suddenly you have a slew of them that all need to be iterated. Unfortunately, After Effetcts doesn’t exactly make this easy to batch apply names, comp sizes, etc., to multiple comps. But Selected Comps Changer does! It’s a pretty straightforward script, and works flawlessly. Great for batch renaming and resizing.

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Jason Watson

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