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Updated by rashmiranjan sahu on Jul 07, 2014
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The 10 best plugins for After Effects

To switch on the real power of After Effects, install these plugins. Christopher Kenworthy shows how third-party software makes the most of Adobe’s motion graphics package.

1

Cosmo

Cosmo

Price: $99
Developer: Red Giant
It’s often said there’s no substitute for good lighting and professional makeup, but Cosmo makes a mockery of that suggestion. Without blurring your scene, it softens skin tones, removing blemishes and facial lines, keeping teeth and eyes in focus.

The default settings work on many shots, but you can adjust the sliders to more accurately detect the skin. The level of softness can be adjusted, and it’s best not to push it too far or skin can look a little plastic. For shots that include actors, this is a rapid way to perfect their skin without affecting the rest of the shot.

2

Trapcode Particular

Trapcode Particular

Price: $399
Developer: Red Giant
For creating sparks, snow or particle–based motion graphics effects, there's no substitute for Trapcode Particular. With control over the particle type, shape, size, colour and blending mode, you can create any particle look imaginable, disturbing your particles with air or gravity.

Particular rapidly became one of the most popular plugins for After Effects, and remains the quickest way to animate a complex particle system. You can add motion blur and set particle emitters to follow the path of 3D light, making it possible to create in-depth animations. The particles also react to the lights in After Effects’ 3D space, and can be set to accept shadows. Easy to learn with endless possibilities.

3

Primatte Keyer

Primatte Keyer

Price: $499
Developer: Red Giant
Keying out a green screen, or any other colour that’s in shot, can be tricky with the basic filters in After Effects. Primatte Keyer is impressive because one click will often give you a near-perfect key. Fine tuning that key is simple - you drag a cleanup brush on the background and then the foreground. No other keyer has such a straightforward, visual solution to keying.

You can also apply pre-blur, refine edges and wrap light to make a perfect composite. It’s far from cheap, but for users who use keying on a semi-regular basis, it can be considered an essential tool.

4

Optical Flares

Optical Flares

Price: $124.95
Developer: Video Copilot
For years, Knoll Light Factory was the undisputed leader of lens flare technology, but the appearance of the low-cost Optical Flares caused a revolution. Part of Optical Flares’ appeal is its impressive interface, which is clear, visual and simple to use. If you want presets, there are lots, and if you want to make adjustments or create from scratch, it’s simple.

When it comes to aesthetic results there is little to choose between any falre plugin, but Optical Flares has better presets than its competitors. Animating flares in 3D space, and integrating them into your footage is easier and faster than with any other plugin.

5

Denoiser II

Denoiser II

Price: $99
Developer: Red Giant
Noise reduction filters rarely work as well as you want them to, but Denoiser II removes grain or noise from low-light shots without effort. On many shots it works without adjustment as soon as it’s applied, but for extreme noise you can push the slider right up. Images remain sharp, but grain is completely removed, without affecting the overall sense of detail.

It’s quite slow to render, and you need to test the whole shot to see if the noise is still noticeable. For shots that would otherwise be unusable, this is time well spent.

6

Magic Bullet Looks

Magic Bullet Looks

Price: $399
Developer: Red Giant
Magic Bullet Looks has developed a slightly negative reputation, because new users tend to apply the over-the-top presets to their footage, making every short film look like a music video. Thankfully, there’s plenty of power under the hood, so you can adjust a variety of effects to create cinematic style looks. The more subtle you are, the better the results usually are, but there’s plenty of potentially to go extreme. The Cosmo filter is built-in, so you can correct skin tones while you work creatively.

7

Element 3D

Element 3D

Price: $149.95
Developer: Video Copilot
When first launched, Element 3D created a huge stir in the motion graphics industry, because it enables you to render 3D objects directly in After Effects. Then, when After Effects CC was released with Cinema 4D bundled in, many users wondered if Element 3D’s days were numbered. Element does not have the depth of Cinema 4D but it wins in one major area - speed. Where Cinema 4D requires great patience as it laboriously renders in the After Effects window, Element 3D renders fast and previews are instant. You can animate 3D objects as particles, with control over lighting and camera blur. For rapid renders of textured 3D text, it completely outclasses Cinema 4D.

8

Mojo

Mojo

Price: $99
Developer: Red Giant
If you’re used to accurate colour correction, the idea of a semi-automatic filter that gives a ‘Hollywood’ look seems quite unpalatable. Surprisingly, Mojo is a filter that many professionals use to give their images some extra pop.

Unless you’ve lit your scene well, actors tend to blend into the background. This is particularly true for modern, low-budget shooters. Mojo solves this by making the actors seem brighter than the background. The default look may be too cool and green, but you can use Warmth and Bleach sliders to make your own adjustments. You won’t use it on every project, but you will use it more often than you imagine.

9

Sapphire Distort

Sapphire Distort

Price: $1699 as part of the Sapphire Plugins
Developer: GenArts
The Sapphire plugins are not available individually, or even in sets as they used to be, so to access the power of Sapphire Distort you’ll have to buy the lot. It’s a large investment, but all the filters have the same fast render times, and ultra-high quality results.

Distort creates a glassy, flowing turbulence over your image. At first glance there may not be many uses, but when combined creatively with other plugins, this is something you will use all the time.

10

Trapcode Shine

Trapcode Shine

Price: $99
Developer: Red Giant
If you want to see beams of light shining from cracks in the wall or through the forest canopy, you can either fill the set with a thin haze of smoke from a smoke machine, or use Trapcode Shine.

Whether you’re creating extreme visual effects, or a subtle glow that looks like natural lighting, Shine is a near-instant way to add rays of light to your scene. You have full control over the light’s origin, direction, colour, beam length and blending mode, giving you advanced creative freedom.