Joe Clay | Dec 28, 2016
So we're a few days from the end of the year and you've got some cash in your pocket. You need to get some sweet write-offs in before January 1st? You want some amazing free tools? Well, here is a sizable list of great plugins and scripts you can get to save you a boatload of time and effort. Most of these should be built into After Effects.
I've put the current price of each plugin or script below as of the time of writing this, so you can figure out if it's worth it to you.
Video Copilot's FXConsole has quickly become one of my most used plugins. I can't believe it's free. It basically allows you to type in the name of a plugin or even a preset and add it to a layer but it does SO much more. I'm not even going to explain more, go grab it now.
If you're like me and aren't really a fan of the After Effects graph editor, you're going to want to pick Flow up. And while you're at it, make sure to grab Andrew Embury's, Ryan Summers', and Google's libraries for Flow. We'll also be posting a free library soon as well. It's taking me a while to build a library of my own because there are so many great ones already available!
Zack Lovatt and Tomas Sinkunas destroyed it with this script. Flow has supplanted my use of Ease and Wizz, which is almost sad because I used the hell out of Ease and Wizz. In fact, its functionality inspired Quiver. But unless I need a true Expo—and I kind of hacked a good solution with Flow—Ease and Wizz sits unused now. And best of all, Flow doesn't need to use expressions to accomplish easing, so if you have to hand off your project, it looks like you took the time to hand-ease everything.
Ray Dynamic Color $29.99
Ray Dynamic Color is an awesome color palette script by Sander van Dijk. I use Ray every day. You can make palettes, pick colors off of it, use it to link colors, and easily change palettes and colors. It's very versatile. It's also great for use in team situations so people can share palettes and colors on projects.
If you're making gifs, get GifGun by Nik Ska. Never waste your time again by roundtripping through Photoshop to make a gif. Without GifGun, it's unlikely that the tutorials on this site would have gif examples. And now it even offers compression options too!
Explode Shape Layers $29.99
Zack Lovatt's excellent Explode Shape Layers script will save you a good amount of time if you work with shape layers on the reg. You can use it to easily turn vector files into shapes and explode and implode groups of shapes to and from different layers. And it can even get rid of those annoying extra boxes that AE somehow adds after converting some vectors.
Color Vibrance FREE
Video Copilot's Color Vibrance plugin has helped me on a few projects where directors were looking for certain colors to pop. You can also use it to subtly unify the colors in a composite. It's actually helped me quite a bit more than expected to save some projects by adding an unexpected dimension to the design.
Saber, also free from Video Copilot, is quite useful. You can use it to stroke a mask, add in energy effects, etc. It has a great library of different presets too. Andrew Kramer shows off a lot of cool uses in his introduction for Saber, but there are a lot of cool ways you can use it. Check out our Ring of Fire tutorial for example.
Quiver is a script made by, well, me. So I think it's pretty cool. I had just bought Ease and Wizz, and I thought that the idea of adding expressions using a script would work well for all of those expressions I use that I either have to look up or save somewhere. Why not just store them in simple text files in my documents folder than can be called up at a moment's notice to be added to any property?
I also built Randomizer because I got tired of shifting a bunch of layers slightly in time to get randomized motion. Anything that can save me time from randomly sliding layers in my comps is worth a little coding effort. If that's something you hate doing, you might want to grab it. Right now it shifts entire layers randomly, but in the future I'll add a feature to randomly adjust sets of keyframes as well in a free upgrade. Why didn't I do that originally? I didn't think of it until just now...and it's a bit more complicated to move keyframes around.
OK, this is the last one of my own scripts that I'll mention. It's a super simple one. If you hate having to flip back and forth between apps so you can see your scripts, or if you need a place to store some text temporarily without leaving After Effects, check out Scripty. Admittedly, I haven't used this one as often as I should because usually I'm still pretty old school and print out scripts on paper. Hey, I grew up writing book reports on typewriters. Yeah, I'm only 32. So?
I haven't used Trapcode Particular for a hot minute, because I only had it when I was working as an employee and I haven't done much with particles lately. Stardust just burst on the scene as a competitor in the particle generator world, and for the price, especially the introductory price of $249, it's definitely worth giving a shot. Normally I buy my plugins when I have a need, but I couldn't pass that up.
I haven't used Particular in a while, so I could be wrong, but from what I can tell, Stardust allows for a lot more customization in one layer than Particular, although from my small amount of use so far it seems a good bit more buggy. They just released an update that should improve the bugs I experienced, but even without fixes Stardust makes up for those bugs in utility. There's even a Plexus-like particle type.
With Stardust, you can add in all sorts of different generators and different particles in a node-based workflow that allows to you apply all sorts of effectors to different particles. One generator can generate many different particles. Some particles can have turbulence while some are unaffected. There are attractors, 3D object support, and all sorts of things. It seems to be like a Particular/Form/Plexus hybrid that has more customization than any of those three. I'm excited to play with it more when I get a moment because right now, it seems like imagination is the only limit.
While I haven't used Plexus in a bit, it's still a solid plugin, especially if you want to use it with 3D objects. I'll have to play more with Stardust before I can figure out if I can replace Plexus with it completely—like if you need to link actual layers together—but either way, you can't go wrong with Plexus. If you've seen work with a lot of connected lines, there's a good chance it was made with Plexus.
Element 3D $199.95
You've probably seen the excellent Video Copilot plugin Element 3D, but if not it allows you to bring a model into After Effects and then texture, light, animate, and even clone it. In my opinion, it's a little quirky about some things—like anchor points—but once you figure that out it works pretty well. If you're wondering, it's usually just better to make nulls for your object groups and animate those instead.
I had a project where I needed to animate a bunch of 3D devices, and it was so much faster for me to model them and then bring them into AE with Element for simple texturing and animation. It made changing anything a lot easier, and I didn't have to deal with frame sequences.
Paint from Paint and Stick $99.99
I've only used Paint a little bit so far due to time crunches, but I had a great time with it. If you're looking to do some cel/hand animation in After Effects, look no further. I was using it on my iPad Pro + Pencil through Astropad. I had an issue with that completely unsupported setup, and the developers even got back to me to let me know about changes they were going to make. Any plugin with that active of a developer is worth a look. I haven't had a need for the Stick portion of the plugin, but I'm sure it's excellent if you need that functionality.
Joysticks n' Sliders $39.95
If you're doing character animation, get Joysticks n' Sliders now. It's especially perfect for doing heads of characters that you want to look pseudo-3D when they look around. There are plenty of other uses for it as well in a more motion-graphic setup. Basically, you can use on screen controls to switch between keyframes you make—like a character looking up or to the right. It's super powerful.
Rubberhose is another script you need to get if you're animating characters. If you need characters to have stroke arms and legs, this is perfect for you. You can also attach custom feet and hands easily. There are also other uses beyond arms and legs for characters. For example, anything you would have done with the Beam effect with null controls would likely be better done with Rubberhose.
By the same developer as Rubberhose, Adam Plouff, Butcapper is a great little utility script. It's free, and it allows you to easily change stroke types in layers without having to drill down through a million shape layer elements. Anything that can stop you from having to do that is worth it.
I'm waiting on a project to use Origami on so I haven't bought it yet. It's another script by Nik Ska, the GifGun developer, so I trust it's well built. It does split up layers for its effect, which will slow things down if you have a ton of layers, but you get a lot of animation for that render hit.
At the moment, I don't have a need for CompCode just yet. But I definitely see it in my future to package presets. It looks like it will be amazing. If you see branded script panels from me, know that they'll be the direct result of CompCode. And it's made by Tomas Sinkunas, developer of many kickass scripts like Flow, so you know it's rock solid. It's a script that can build scripts. That's some Inception-level coding.
AE Pixel Sorter $39.99
If you need some distorted techy looks, grab AE Pixel Sorter. You've probably seen this effect elsewhere, but this appears to be the first plugin for this effect for After Effects. I bought it, but I haven't had too many opportunities to use it yet because I haven't had to work on something in this style recently. I wish I did so I could use it!
For the moment, I've been making do with AE's terrible expression editor box, but when I get to making more of my presets that rely heavily on sliders and other controls, I plan on purchasing Expressionist. If you do a lot of work with expressions, you should check it out.
Property Effector $39.99
Property Effector has some really neat functionality. It allows you to build a Cinema 4D style mograph-ish effector relationship among properties on multiple layers. It's kind of easier to see than to explain. So check it out. I haven't bought it yet, but it's another one that's on my list.
So there you go. That's a pretty lengthy list of some very awesome scripts and plugins that will save you some time. All together, if I didn't miss anything, that's $1,283.21. So if you want some write-offs, don't forget software! And if you have any suggestions for stuff I missed or left out—cue the dude who's going to say I left out FT-Toolbar!—put them in the comments below!