This is a question that I get quite a bit. It’s usually someone who is just out of college and getting started in the biz. They often use the phrase “the best bang for the buck”. Nobody wants to spend money on tools they will never use either. Because this field has some diversity, I’m breaking this into a multi-part feature for motion graphics in After Effects, visual effects in After Effects, editing, and more. Here are my picks must-have plug-ins for motion graphic artists using After Effects.
First, a bit of detail on why I’m breaking this down into multiple articles, since I’m writing for new users (but we’d love your input if you’re a seasoned pro). There are a lot of plug-ins out there. So many! I wrote a book called Plug-in to After Effects a few years ago that featured hundreds of plug-ins, and I didn’t get to them all, and those were only for After Effects.
Depending on what you’re doing, you’ll need different tools. There is a lot of crossover between tools so I’ll give you my picks for
- Motion graphics – animated text, generated 3D elements, geometry, particles, light leaks, and other eye candy
- Visual effects – compositing to create believable effects, often involving chroma keying, tracking, rotoscoping, beauty effects, lens flares and lots more.
- Editing – if you’re cutting video you will need transitions, titles, time effects, etc.
- Color grading – color grading is needed by all of the other categories
- 3D plug-ins
- Audio plug-ins
- and there’s more….
My criteria for choosing plug-ins for these lists:
- The plug-in must not be a one-trick pony. In other words, if it’s only does one thing and I’ll only use it once, it’s not worth it. Some bundles will have a handful of throwaway plug-ins, but they’ll also have tons of other amazing plug-ins to balance out the less useful plug-ins, so it’s all good.
- It has to be fairly easy to use and user-friendly. If a plug-in is too complex and I can’t get it to do what I want, then I won’t likely use it.
- Must not be buggy. I can’t say this has been a problem with too many plug-ins lately but I do have a few that are not up to my stability standards. If they’re buggy or crash on me, I don’t use them because I can’t deal with the frustration.
- It’s nice if plug-ins can be used in more than one host. This is not absolutely necessary but it sure is a bonus, especially if you have Creative Cloud and Premiere Pro.
- Fun. Yes, we’re adults, but it’s important to have an enjoyable experience while you’re working.
Bundles are a great way to go if you’re new to After Effects. You’ll get a nice variety of options at once and it always costs less to buy in bulk, right? There are a lot of bundles out there and these are my favorites…