Adobe After Effects is the primary animation application that I use at ECG Productions. What makes After effects great is the staggering degree of customization and configuration that can be achieved with even the most basic effects in the core product. After Effects, as awesome as it is out of the box, really shines when you begin to integrate third-party plugins into your design. There are literally hundreds of plugins out there to choose from. Here are just a few of my favorite plugins, why I absolutely love them, and where you can buy them.
Particle engines are an awesome way to add some great random-looking particle effects to your work. Not only can you use the slew of built-in particles but you can create custom animated particles of pretty much anything. The applications of this plugin are so many that I can’t even list them all here, but I will try: Fire effects, rain, bubbles, fireworks, smoke, magical particles, explosions, dust motes floating through the air…and TONS more. It’s the industry standatrd particle system for After Effects. The plugin is fully 3D camera and lighting aware and is hands-down the most powerful and flexible particle engine for AE.
Color correction in After Effects gets taken to a whole new level with Magic Bullet Looks. You can professionally grade movie footage or even effect your graphics with this wonderfully designed tool. The presets it comes with are a great starting point for grading your work and Looks 2.0 even supports hardware video monitoring with AJA and Black Magic cards on both Mac and Windows. Nothing smooths out a composite better than giving your final animation a pass with MB Looks. Almost nothing passes through my suite without getting a Looks pass, it's an integral part of my workflow.
This plugin intelligently slows down, speeds up or changes the frame rate of your footage, and it looks awesome doing it! You’ll see significantly smoother motion in clips that need to be speed-shifted. Twixtor synthesizes unique new frames by warping and interpolating frames of the original sequence by employing RE:Vision's proprietary tracking technology that calculates motion for each individual pixel, and the results are fantastic. Here is a link to the video that showcases what you can do with this powerful plugin.
This is less of a plugin recommendation and more of a person/site to recommend. Andrew Kramer is a designer who’s work I really admire. He’s incredibly talented and has worked on title sequences for TV shows like Fringe and Person of Interest as well as movies like Super 8 and Star Trek. His work is amazing and what I admire most about him is that he is constantly giving back to the graphic design and animation community. His website VideoCopilot.net is loaded with After Effects and Cinema 4d tutorials that he offers for free to other designers. The tutorials are very clear and easy to follow, Andrew is a great host, and his tutorials have taught me techniques that have really taken my design to new level. Kramer also has a series of amazing plugins available on his site, all of which are incredibly powerful and well priced. Optical Flares, Twitch, and Element 3D are some of the best plugins available for After Effects. I have used Optical Flares and Twitch for months and absolutely love them both. We only just recently purchased Element 3D (AND LOVE IT!), so look for a full review of Element 3D in the next few months.
After Effects is one of the deepest design programs out there, and the above plugins make for a powerful addition to any design system. Good luck and happy designing!
And if you have a Animation and Design topic you would like to see covered, please let me know in the comments.