Top 11 Plugins for Adobe After Effects in 2021
Learning a program like After Effects is hard – it’s a complex beast with hundreds of features and many distinct styles, and it takes time. The good news is that we live in a golden age of creativity where there are literally thousands of plugins that can help you to achieve whatever you’d like, developed by dedicated programmers across the world. But which ones should you choose?
Before we get into the list, a few pieces of essential advice:
There’s no best plugin, only the best plugin for you. Focus on what you want to create – if you’re doing purely 2D motion design, you’re not going to be interested in plugins like Element 3D or Mocha, whereas if you’re a busy agency designer you probably don’t want to go frame by frame on Squash and Stretch animations (in which case this might be what you’re looking for…) Find what you’re passionate about.
Focus on one or two plugins at a time. It can be tempting to get all the latest and greatest plugins and learn them all right now, but trust me – you’ll end up feeling swamped by everything you have to do, and won’t learn anything properly. Learn one, then move on to the next.
So with all that said, what are some of the most useful After Effects plugins in 2021 to help with your workflow?
Motion 3 by Mt Mograph is a tool I use almost every time I’m in After Effects. It's basically an easing tool at heart, making it really easy to change your ease in/out movements without going into the graph editor (which I still hate, no matter how many times it’s explained to me…). What really sets Motion apart is that it that it’s basically a Swiss army knife of useful tools, all of which are neatly explained in this video.
If you want a simpler, cheaper option, Ease and Wizz is the classic for easing.
Squash & Stretch
Squash & Stretch - I’m not a ‘traditional animator’, so creating fluid squash and stretch animations – essential for lifelike characters – would be almost impossible for me. Squash and Stretch takes your logo / text / image and with a couple of clicks gives you bouncing, hopping, spinning goodness that looks like you’ve spent hours on it.
Boombox also from the Mt Mograph guys, is a really good, custom-made library of sound effects. While it’s not as comprehensive as some collections, it has some really interesting stuff, grouped in imaginatively named collections. You get free updates, too – normally one pack a month.
Easy Bounce from mamoworld is another of those tools you wont know how you lived without. Give it a basic idea of the path you want something to bounce along, click one button, and you’ve got a professional looking bounce animation. Animation doesn’t get much quicker, or easier.
Universal Audio is great if you’re timing your animation to music and have lots of subcomps - it'll ‘universalise’ the music track so there's a copy of it in each subcomp, wherever those comps start and end in your main timeline.
BeatEdit – is another seriously cool tool. It uses an algorithm to create beat markers for your track (in After Effects, Premiere Pro or Audition) – markers you can then snap to, meaning you can precisely edit your track to be longer, shorter, or change the mood of a section by shuffling bits around. If you’re in After Effects, it can also use these markers to stagger layers and repeat keyframes, and also features the rather impressive BeatWiggle.
Rift – do you have a gajillion layers that you need to make appear in sequence? Or randomly? Rift does this with one click, and it's 'pay what you like', too. Will save you lots and lots of time.
Stardust - if you're ever tempted into shiny particles territory, I'd recommend Stardust above the Trapcode suite (Particular, Form etc.). It's not cheap ($250), but a damn site cheaper than Trapcode (who are really pushing their yearly subscription model now), and does a great deal of the same things. Shiny, pretty goodness.
Newton 3 - I got kind of obsessed with physics animations for a while, and it's all Newton's fault - it does bouncy, springy, spongy, soft body physics, and much more cool stuff. Again a little on the expensive side, but sooo fun to play around with.
Pastiche is another from the Newton folks, and a huge amount of fun to play with. It takes a bunch of layers and forms them into a shape of your choosing (png, shape layer, text etc.). It can be fun to animate between different shapes (I used it here to morph the different words, for example).
SF-Subtitles – it feels a little weird to rave about something so simple, but subtitles are a serious pain in the bottom, and this makes them super easy. Get your text into separate lines, click on Create, adjust your keyframes and you’re done.