Editors and VFX artists have a tremendous number of high quality tools at their fingertips that are built into popular programs such as Premiere, After Effects and Final Cut Pro, but the prepackaged tools in these programs are just the start.
You can customize your software with additional tools through plug-ins. There are hundreds of plug-ins available and you would go broke trying to buy them all, but fortunately for you, we are going to cover the most popular plug-ins and what they can do for you and your editing game.
But what is it?
Before we jump head-first into the various plug-ins available, let’s talk about what the heck a plug-in is. A plug-in is not a standalone program but a component meant to augment existing software with new features or tools. For example, one of my favorite plug-ins for After Effects is Element 3D by VideoCopilot. It enables the user to import and manipulate 3D objects into After Effects, whereas before I was not able to. A plug-in adds a new feature to a tenpole program, allowing you to do something you couldn’t otherwise do. Plug-ins can help an artist do things like import 3D objects, track, key or matte footage, adjust color or add light flairs, grunge effects, particle producers and tons more. If there is a task you want accomplished, chances are someone has a customized plug-in for it. They range in price from free all the way to thousands of dollars, and can be purchased as stand-alone tools or as a tool set, often called a suite. If you are looking to fill out your software with an assortment of new tools, a suite can often be an affordable way to do that.
A plug-in is not a standalone program but a component meant to augment existing software with new features or tools.
What Plug-ins are available?
There are literally hundreds of different plug-ins you can buy, so we’re going to just scratch the surface and talk about the most popular and the most useful tools and tool sets available to you.
Like the celestial object it is named after, Red Giant is huge; they are one of the industry's biggest names in post-production software. Red Giant has an extensive array of tools and suites that range from high-end motion graphics plug-ins to color correction and grading, keying, syncing, as well as a ton of other effects and tools. The most popular tool in the Red Giant collection is probably Trapcode Suite, priced just under $1,000 dollars. We reviewed the latest version, Trapcode Suite 13, in the May 2016 issue, calling it a standard for virtually all motion graphics artists. While it’s not cheap, the Trapcode Suite comes with 11 separate plug-ins that can be purchased individually ranging from $99 dollars to $399 dollars or can be purchased as a suite for $999 dollars. My personal favorite of those plug-ins is Trapcode Particular, a much more advanced particle generator than the stock generators in After Effects. If you want to learn more about the Trapcode Suite 13 check out our Review in the May 2016 issue.
Almost as popular as Trapcode, is Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite for Premiere, priced at $800 dollars. We also reviewed this suit back in our June 2015 issue and declared it a game changer. Magic Bullet has been an industry standard since 2008. Originally, it started as a way to add a quick, very stylized look to boring footage. That said, it ended up helping shape a very contrasted and processed look that would become extraordinarily popular.
Magic Bullet Suite comes stocked with seven different tool sets, each of which is focused on color grading, correction and noise removal. Magic Bullet Looks, the original and still very popular tool in the suite, allows the user to easily drop a look onto some footage for a quick color grade. Magic Bullet also comes bundled with Colorista III, a professional colorection tool that gives editors the ability to easily manipulate color in a very professional way without having to step outside of Premiere. While it's not a replacement for high-end coloring software such as Davinci Resolve, its still a very powerful tool to have. If you want to learn more check out our review from June 2015.
If you’re looking for a more generalized set of effects and compositing tools Red Giant has your back with the appropriately named Effects Suite, priced at $500 dollars. The Effects Suite is a great set of tools to round out your After Effects arsenal with advanced compositing tools, water simulation, distortion tools, text animation and most famously, their lens flare plug-in: Knoll Light factory. Knoll Light factory was designed by Visual Effects’ god, Industrial Light and Magic's Chief Creative Officer, John Knoll, who also happened to co-create this other little program called Photoshop. Knoll Light Factory is easily one of the most popular and powerful lens flare plug-ins available, and you will them see everywhere.
If you are an After Effects user, you’re probably familiar with Video Copilot and its founder Andrew Kramer. Video Copilot is not just a great resource for After Effects tutorials; they also have some really amazing plug-ins as well. Their most popular (and my favorite of theirs) is Element 3D, priced at $200 dollars. As mentioned before, Element 3D allows After Effects to import, animate and composite 3D objects. The plug-in is perfect for low budget filmmakers and small production houses that don’t have the time to learn 3D modeling and composting programs such as Maya or Nuke.
Video Copilot also has a really sweet lens flair tool kit competitive with Knoll Light Factory called Optical Flares available for $125 dollars. This plug-in is really fantastic and I have used it on many high end projects. Video Copilot also has a super fantastic free plug-in called Saber: As the name implies, it’s designed to build those really cool light based swords from a popular space saga. Not only can it make those light based sabers easily, but you can also use this plug-in in a ton of other really creative ways. Its free and awesome — download it. Do it now.
Boris FX is a standard in the post-production world, with their most popular suit being Continuum Complete, priced at $695 dollars. This is a collection of really fantastic tools for Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro, Media Composer, Resolve and Vegas Pro. The collection includes keying tools, planar tracking and masking powered by Mocha, film looks, color correction, 3D extruding, creative transitions, image restoration and tons of other powerful tools. Boris Continuum gives you a lot of customized tools for your hard earned money.
The most powerful plug-in is Mocha Pro, available for $795 dollars. When I was compositing a feature film, we used this tracker constantly. It cannot be overstated how great Mocha Pro is. Not only will it perfectly track surfaces, but you can use that data to easily create animated mattes and more impressively, Mocha Pro will even clean plate for you, making rig removal a snap. While After Effects already has a Mocha plug-in, the Pro version goes much further. If you do a lot of comp work, get it. If you are an After Effects user and don’t already use the free version that comes built into After Effects, well you probably should start re-examining your other life choices, too.
TotalFX, priced at $1,400 dollars, is a creatively named total plug-in package that includes powerful color correction and color filters, a 2D/3D graphics animator with templates for After Effects, a bunch of customized video transitions, compositing tools, simulated camera movements, warping, plus literally dozens of other tools. TotalFX is compatible with most industry standard post-production tools.
Now that everyone is on Instagram, the look of film is in vogue and in no small way either. If you want your video to have a tactile film feel, then FilmConvert is your best choice with a price of $150 dollars. FilmConvert is a plug-in for After Effects, Premiere, Final Cut Pro , Vegas, Resolve and Media Composer or as a stand alone program. It’s insanely simple to use and has really great input LUTs to get you started, as well as their famous film emulators. If you desire the film look and shoot digitally, FilmConvert is your program.
Digital Anarchy is a small company whose outdated website does not reflect their really amazing plug-ins. If you’re shooting time-lapses, then you know ficker is a constant fight; even with the ideal settings, flicker can be an issue. Digital Anarchy’s Flicker Free — $150 — is a great solution that will go a long way in evening out your time-lapse.
Beauty Box Video, priced at $200 dollars, is a deceptively simple plug-in for After Effects that will smooth out skin tones reducing wrinkles and blemishes. Beauty Box can really help wedding videographers add that extra touch of perfection that brides will love. Light Wrap Fantastic for $80 dollars is another creatively named product — it’s a fantastic light wrapping tool for keying. Adding a touch light wrapping around your subject can go a long way in making your VFX shots look like they were all done practically. I know, you can totally build a custom light wrap from scratch in After Effects, but time is money and that plug-in is stupid cheap.
CoreMelt builds affordable plug-ins for Premiere Pro, After Effects and Final Cut Pro X. Their Coremelt’s V2 plug-in bundle is only $200 dollars and includes their Polychrome Transitions which are a set of 60 “Advanced Transition Effects,” Editors Tools V2 — a set of easy color grading tools — ImageFlow FX, which automates the process of building montages, and Motion Graphics Box V2, which includes grunge textures, camera defocus tools, ray generators, glows and shatters, as well as a bunch of other tools. Coremelt also has sets of tools exclusive for Final Cut Pro X powered by Mocha. Each run at $100 dollars, and all are centered around tracking and shape masks.
Axle’s programs and plug-ins are designed for large scale production houses and broadcasters. Axle 2017, priced at $1,295 dollars, is their flagship program designed for asset management as well as creating proxy files for easily editing. For $3,000 dollars, Axle Transfer is yet another creatively named plug-in that transfers sequences between Avid and Final Cut Pro 7 or from Avid and Final Cut Pro 7 to After Effects. This is particularly handy for all of us who have hundreds of old projects cut on Final Cut Pro 7.
Purchasing a few plug-ins or a suite or two is a really terrific way to add that special touch to your work or save you a bunch of time in post. Before you bust out the credit card though, it is important to think about what you want to accomplish with that new tool, how it will increase your game or save you time. There are so many flashy, super fun plug-ins that just aren’t for everyone. For instance Red Giant's Trapcode suite is amazing and it’s easy to get excited about it, but if you live mostly in Final Cut Pro or Premiere and rarely hop into After Effects, it may not be a great pick. Get creative and customize your post-production programs with plug-ins and starting improving your editing game.
Jason Miller is an Emmy Award Winning director and Producer.