After Effects can be a great tool for creating all sorts of character animations, but sometimes it’s great to have a little help. In this guide, we’ll be looking at some must-have scripts to help you take your character animation to the next level.
These are all scripts I personally use and have found helpful, and I hope you will as well!
DUIK is one of the best scripts for character animation, and the best part is that it’s free! The AutoRig feature is extremely useful if you set up and label your artwork beforehand, and basically automates the process of getting a character rigged up.
Other features include the creation of “bones” that you can use to drive artwork relationships, as well as a handy IK tool to get the inverse kinematics working properly. There are also helpful setup guides to help with bipeds, quadrupeds, and even ways to get tails to work properly!
Packed into the script are also a ton of other animation tools to help you, like Orbit, Spring, and too many more to mention.
A must have tool in your character animation arsenal, and a no-brainer at the price.
Puppet Tools 3 ($39.99)
Puppet Tools 3 is a handy little script that only does a few things, but it does them really well. This is mostly intended to be used in conjunction with the Puppet Tool, which, while amazingly useful, can also be notoriously difficult to work with out of the box. Puppet Tools 3 helps makes things easier.
The Pins to Nulls function links the puppet pins to Nulls, which makes them easier to work with. Create IK quickly sets up an inverse kinematics system between three nulls, and can help make simple rigging tasks quick and easy.
Not a lot of fluff, but it’s one of those scripts you’ll use time and time again, and is well worth the modest fee.
Rubber Hose 2 ($45)
Rubber Hose is a completely different kind of rigging system, in that it doesn’t use the Puppet Tool nor Inverse Kinematics. Rather, it creates “hoses” that can be styled and bent as the basis of character features, say an arm or a leg (or whatever else you can think of!). The advantage is that it is able to overcome some common IK limitations while also providing a brilliant new and innovative way to design and animate characters.
Given that Rubber Hose is completely driven by strokes on shape layers, this tool definitely lends itself to a certain type of charter design and style. However, if that is a style you are using, it becomes a really fun and useful tool to add to your arsenal.
Version 2 also comes with some sweet new features, like RubberPin which helps get textures and such onto the hose systems you have created.
Joysticks n’ Sliders ($39.95)
Joysticks n’ Sliders is one of those scripts that at first might seem a bit intimidating, but once you “get it” it simply becomes way too fun to not use. But even more than that, it can help you pull off some cool things without a lot of effort.
It builds off the animation principle of poses, and as you set up your Joystick you create various poses or states for the artwork. For example, this script is awesome at creating faux 3D head turns with 2D artwork. You basically set poses for the head looking to the left, right, up and down, and then push the magic button. It creates a controller that will then drive the animation of the head turn by interpolating between the poses you have already set.
Like I said, once you have your aha! moment with this you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. Best of all, it can be used for more than just head turns; the sky is the limit for the types of animation you can drive with Joysticks n’ Sliders.
Prepping artwork for After Effects can be such a drag, especially if you are creating it in Illustrator. There are so many limitations and rules you have to know to be able to get the artwork imported the way you want it and with as little extra hassle as possible.
Well, thankfully those days are over thanks to Overlord. Overlord creates what essentially amounts to a magic portal between After Effects and Illustrator, and makes working with Illustrator artwork even easier.
It is packed with tons of options for how you import things, so gone are the days of versioning specific sections or making sure certain pieces are on their own layers. Instead, you can just select what you want to send to After Effects, tell Overlord how you want to send it, and then push a button.
But even better- this works in reverse! I don’t know how many times I’ve been creating something in After Effects and wanted to send it to Illustrator to fix or tweak it, but couldn’t easily do that. Those days are gone.
In all seriousness, this is the kind of functionality that should have been built into After Effects years ago, and if you work with shape layers in your character animations, your life will just have gotten a lot easier.
Explode Shape Layers 3 ($29.99)
Explode Shape Layers 3, while not as fancy as Overlord, is still a must-have tool for character animation, at least if you tend to use shape layers. It helps for the artwork that you’ve already imported, and is useful for breaking out layers from a shape layer or for combining multiple shape layers into one.
Ray Dynamic Color 2 ($29.99)
The lack of color palettes in After Effects has always been a sore spot, but Ray Dynamic Color helps to make things a little less painful. Ray Dynamic Color allows you to create multiple palettes of colors and assign them to layers, and then completely shift one or more colors with the click of a button.
This is super useful if you create characters using shape layers, although you can use it with other layers too.
Ray Dynamic Texture ($39.99)
Like Ray Dynamic Color, Ray Dynamic Texture helps you create palettes of textures for use in your projects. For myself, I often like to texture my character, and Ray Dynamic Texture helps to make that process go much more smoothly. The click of a button will apply the desired texture, create and apply the matte for that layer, as well as parent both to the base layer if desired.
Hours of tedious applying of mattes can be saved with Ray Dynamic Texture, making it well worth your while to pick up.
Talking Head ($24.99)
Nothing adds dynamism to a character as much as having the characters mouth move in sync with its speech. Talking Head helps to automate this process as much as possible, but also retains the ability to make fine-tuned controls.
You simply import the audio and do a standard audio analysis. You then apply the analyzed audio to Talking Head and assign various mouth shapes as appropriate. The script takes care of the rest.
Talking Head also allows you to assign various facial features to its controls so you can manipulate eyebrows, the jaw, eye movements, eye blinks, etc., all from within one controller. Everything is tweak able so you can quickly and easily crank out stellar results.
Good Parents ($29.99)
Parenting in After Effects is an essential feature, but its greatest limitation has been that it cannot be keyframed. Good Parents overcomes this limitation and gives you an On/Off switch for parenting, which can relieve lots of tedious duplicating that was until now the only way to pull off this kind of thing.
For example, the simple act of a character’s hand grabbing an object required one to have one layer for the object pre-grab, and then another layer post-grab that was then parented to the hand. Multiply this by lots of different instances and the timeline gets cluttered really quickly and the whole process makes you want to bang your head on the desk.
But with Good Parents, it’s a click and you’re done! It’s really easy to use too, and will quickly become one of your go-to tools for character animation.
True Comp Duplicator (Name Your Own Price)
This is definitely not a script with the sexiest of feature sets. But if you do character animation, you will be dying to have this script.
Here’s the scenario: You have a character that you’ve meticulously rigged. The head is in its own precomp and has a Joystick applied to it for the 3D head turn, with the controller shifted into the main character comp. Within the head comp you’ve used Talking Head to rig up the mouth and other facial features. And there may even be another precomp within this head precomp that does something special with the eyes.
Rinse and repeat for the body, limbs, etc.
So now you have a character all rigged and ready to go, but you realize that you want to use this character in multiple scenes, and perhaps change a few things here and there. Perhaps the rigging took hours, and you don’t want to do it again.
Normally, you might just duplicate the main character comp. This will be fine as long as you don’t need to change the pre comps contained with that comp, which of course were not duplicated when you duplicated the main comp. And for every precomp within a precomp the same scenario applies.
True Comp Duplicator takes care of all of this for you. There are lots of controls that can be tweaked and customized, but the beauty is that no matter how many levels down your pre comps go, True Comp Duplicator will duplicate them all, every time. No more worrying about messing up something from earlier.
Seriously, this script may save your sanity and hours of frustration and time.