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My Three Favorite After Effects Plugins

This cute little guy is going to help me offer a very brief overview of my three favorite After Effects plugins; perhaps we'll be able to take a closer look at each in the near future. But for now, I'm just going to show you quickly what they do by using this footage of a fawn shot in my backyard as our source imagery.

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The Source Video

And now, without further ado, my three faves:

1 - Colorama

On paper, Colorama (Effects > Color Correction > Colorama) is pretty straightforward - it maps input colors to different output colors. But in use, Colorama can create the most eye-blasting color treatments known to man, along with much subtler tint and tone effects. The default settings give you some pretty psychedelic effects on their own, but things get really tripped out when you start animating the Input Phase Shift, as we are doing here:

2 - Card Dance

Card Dance (Effects > Simulation > Card Dance) is another deceptively simple plugin that breaks a layer up into "cards" - small squares - and offsets them in 3D space based on the grayscale values in another layer. But the results can be unlike anything else you've ever seen. Card Dance can also be used for subtle 3D displacement effects, like adding dimensionality to flat or static layers, particularly when you start animating those offsets.

Here's how it works: you apply Card Dance to your layer (our fawn, in this case), then add another layer for your grayscale displacement layer - here's a simple Photoshop gradient image we're going to use:

Then in Card Dance you set the image as your Gradient Layer 1 and for example, animate the Z Position Multiplier with positive and negative keyframe values:

And this is what you get by animating a single property with just four keyframes - even more spectacular results are available by animating other properties in Card Dance, all by starting out with the simplest of resources.

3 - Time Displacement

Time Displacement lets you create imagery in which parts of any given frame have been sampled from other frames in the clip. These are based on the grayscale values of another layer - that is, just as Card Dance displaces parts of an image in 3D space based on another layer, Time Displacement displaces parts of an image in time based on another layer. It may sound complex, but even with very simple imagery (in this case, a basic black-to-white gradient is my displacement source), the results can be hallucinatory:

Clearly, all these plugins deserve a more in-depth inspection, but for now, that's my overview of my three favorite After Effects plugins. I encourage you to check them out on your own.

Hungry for more After Effects training?

Richard Lainhart

Richard Lainhart | Articles by this author

Richard Lainhart is an award-winning composer, filmmaker, and author. His compositions have been performed in the US, Europe Asia, and Australia, and recordings of his music have appeared on the Periodic Music, Vacant Lot, XI Records, Airglow Music, Tobira Records, Infrequency, VICMOD, and ExOvo labels. His animations and short films have been shown in festivals in the US, Europe, and Asia, and online at ResFest, The New Venue, The Bitscreen, and Streaming Cinema 2.0. He has authored over a dozen technical manuals for music and video hardware and software, served as Contributing Editor for Interactivity and 3D Design Magazines, and contributed to books on digital media production published by IDG, Peachpit Press, McGraw Hill, and Miller Freeman Books. Previously an Adobe Certified Expert in After Effects and Premiere, a demo artist for Adobe Systems, and co-founder of the official New York City After Effects User Group, he was, from 2000-2009, Technical Director for Total Training Productions, an innovative digital media training company based in New York and California.


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