Plugging the holes in your effects collection

Sometimes none of the plug-ins in a large suite will satisfy your creative needs, and you’ll need a standalone tool. Some of these offer a specific effect or function not found in the suites, or a higher grade of control – or just a much lower cost.

One plug-in that has no parallel in the suites is Nucleo Pro 2.0, from GridIron. This allows background rendering in After Effects, so you can carry on working on your next composition while the previous one chugs through AE’s rendering engine using any spare processors on your multi-core workstation. The plug-in can also create ‘speculative’ previews and renders of your compositions. It uses any free processing power to work on your project, so if you create a preview or render, it’ll already be partially completed, meaning you spend less time hanging around waiting. Nucleo Pro costs $395 (around £200).

While many plug-in suites and compositing applications include particle systems, none measures up to the mighty Particular (above) from Trapcode. The $299 (£150) plug-in for After Effects includes unique functions such as a real-time interactive preview, which gives you an indication of how a particle system that you design will look before you apply it to your scene.

Particular includes a huge amount of options over how your particles will look and behave – with support for physics-based systems such as air resistance, gravity and turbulence. It’s also well integrated with AE’s 3D workspace, so particles can react to 3D lights and planes in your scene if you wish.

Almost every visual-effects application and collection of plug-ins includes a ‘cartoon filter’, but we’ve yet to encounter one that doesn’t just make your footage look like the highlights and shadows have been blown out and the mid-tones flattened. If you want that A Scanner Darkly-style rotoscoped look, the only plug-in worth considering is Red Giant Software's ToonIt (previously developed by Digital Anarchy as Toon It! This plug-in includes four filters: Roto Toon for full colour cartoon effects, Outline Only for traditional black-and-white, Goth Toon for a three-tone black/grey/white effect, and Blacklight Edges for a neon outlines. You have to use it with relatively plain footage for the best results and tweak a lot, but it’s still far faster than rotoscoping by hand.

ToonIt is available as a plug-in for After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and Avid systems for £399 (£149).

DigiEffects is best known for its popular Delirium collection of plug-ins – though its tools have been bettered by newer effects plug-in suite such as those covered on the previous pages.

The company has recently launched Simulate, a series of plug-ins that concentrate on replicating real-world effects. The first, Simulate: Illuma, includes five filters for altering the lighting of your scene: Halo, Lightracer, Radiance, Photogust and Luminus. The second Simulate: Camera mimics exposure and iris controls on a camcorder. They cost $99 (£50) each.

dvGarage has two plug-ins aimed at creatives working on lower-budget projects. The $199 (£100) dvMatte 3 Pro is specifically designed for keying DV or HDV footage, which can be difficult to key due to compression effects and artefacts. The plug-in for Final Cut Pro and Motion (though not AE) includes spill suppression, colour matching, and light wrapping modules. Also worth checking out is Conduit, which adds full-spec nodal compositing within Final Cut Pro and Motion (and less successfully within AE and Photoshop).

Standalone tools

Not all add-on tools for visual effects work as plug-ins. Some processor-intensive tools run as standalone applications, fitting naturally at the beginning or end of a project’s workflow.

Motion-tracking applications such as Imagineer Systems’ Mocha, The Pixel Farm PFHoe and PFMatch provide 2.5D or 3D tracking for a more accurate description of motion than the 2D trackers found in most compositing suites. Motion analysis, especially in 3D, requires a lot of calculations, so it processes quicker when it’s the only application running – but as you generally track footage before compositing, it doesn’t break your workflow to run the tool before you fire up your suite.

PFHoe Pro (£99 plus VAT) and Mocha-AE (£149) offer entry-level solutions for After Effects users, while PFMatch (£449) and Mocha (from £1,495) are aimed at high-end post-production work.

Rotoscoping (video paint) is another task that’s far quicker without the overhead of a full compositing suite running. Currently the only pro-level standalone tool is Silhouettefx ’s Silhouette ($995 – around £501). Version 3.0 has just been released, which adds a nodal compositing system, a 2D tracker, and support for stereoscopic 3D.