In Gear: The Power of Plug-Ins

If you’re a regular
user of After Effects or
you do your compositing
in other programs such
as Combustion, Final
Cut Pro, Avid or Adobe Premiere,
you already know about plug-ins.

The Great Blue Yonder
After shooting this short DV video, The Great Blue Yonder (see it at www.libertynewstv.com), Matt Power
applied a film look and other plug-ins to add production value.

Most of the video effects you
create with plug-ins can be created
in the program the long way,
but who has the time? Plug-ins
replace hours of tricky layering
work with a one-click solution.
Case in point: I recently used After
Effects to simulate a snowstorm in
an outdoor scene of a short film.
I did it without any plug-ins, by
following a tutorial. The process
took about three hours. Using the
“Blizzard” filter from the Berserk
plug-in collection, I created the
same effect in about five minutes,
with the added bonus of
being able to instantly change the
speed, amount, size and “randomness”
of the snowflakes.

Of course, when you buy any
set of plug-ins, you’ll rarely use
two-thirds of them. But if you
use even one effect on a regular
basis, the package will pay
for itself quickly. For example,
Delirium’s “Muzzle Flash” plug-in
creates a realistic gunfire blast.
Think of the possibilities.

For this roundup, I chose seven
of my favorite plug-in packages. If
you’re looking for a one-stop shop
to pick some of these items up,
try Toolfarm (www.toolfarm.com),
which sometimes offers deep discounts
off retail prices.

AE Hyperdrive

Nucleo Pro, $395.00
www.gridironsoftware.com

I didn’t give this new version of
the Nucleo plug-in a second look
at first, as it sounded like something
for effects geeks only. Then
I realized that Nucleo is not just
a plug-in. It installs like one,
sure, but it acts like a hyperdrive
for After Effects. Most importantly,
you can continue working
while After Effects is rendering.
Translation: Double efficiency. Do
the math. If you spend half your
time waiting for AE to render,
how much is each hour of your
thumb-twiddling worth? It doesn’t
take long to add up to $500.
One caveat: To run Nucleo with
After Effects, you need a multi-processor,
or multi-core computer, and
2GB of RAM. My machine has only 1.5GB, but I decided to gamble. I
installed Nucleo and set up one
clip to render with a Magic Bullet
film look, while keying another clip.
Result: Smooth performance all
the way. This one’s a winner.

Magic Moments
Shine, $99.00

www.trapcode.com


There’s nothing especially mysterious
about the Shine plug-in. It’s
possible to create similar glowing
particle effects in After Effects
on your own, if you’re patient. But
why do things the hard way? This
little plug-in does the thinking for
you, and you’ll find yourself using it
in unexpected ways. For example,
adding Shine to a light source can
obscure objects that weren’t supposed
to be in the frame, or add
drama to some flat lighting indoors.
The program’s many presets allow you to choose the right mood lighting
for your shot, from electric blue
to deep green.

Faux Film Finish
CineLook2, $850.00

www.digieffects.com

CineLook has been around for
a few years now, offering a way
to make video look like film. The
plug-in includes about 60 different
preset “looks.” In addition, for converting
video to film, it will perform
3:2 “pulldown,” converting video
shot at 29.97 frames per second
to 24 fps film rate. In my experience,
however, even micro-budget
moviemakers planning to convert
to film typically shoot on newer, 24
fps DV cameras. If you’re serious
about going from digital to film, you
might consider shooting at a higher
definition, such as HD or HDV, then
stepping up to CineLook’s professional FilmRes plug-ins (retailing
for about $1,499.00). On the other
hand, if you’re going straight to DVD,
CineLook2 creates impressive “film
look” video with the added bonus
that it renders at about twice the
speed of Magic Bullet, a high-quality
competitor.

Ambient Drama

Berserk, $289.00
www.digieffects.com

This collection of “organic” tools
includes plug-ins to make your
video still images look like paintings
(Van Gogh-like) and unusual
ways to distort and twist images.
But unless you’re making music
videos, or doing psychedelic dream
sequences, you probably won’t
use those much. For my money,
the two killer effects in this package
are “Blizzard,” which simulates
a snowstorm of your making, and
“Starfield,” which creates that familiar
effect of traveling through space.
No low-budget sci-fi short would be
complete without that shot. Some
of the other effects sound great,
but they’re tough to use effectively.
For example, “Fog Bank” isn’t convincing
as a fog effect on its own,
and it takes forever to render. Use
it on a scene where you have some
real fog in addition to the faux fog,
however, and you’re in business.

Sample Video

Cloning in 3D
Particular, $299.00
www.trapcode.com

This new 3D particle plug-in caught
my eye because it promised the
ability to create large crowds of
people. That claim is true, although
the resulting “crowd” has a limited
range of motion, because the video
clip has to loop, but it raises fascinating
possibilities (for a sample video clip, click the image on the left). The core
strength of Particular, however, is
the ability to produce virtually any
particle effect–snow, rain, bubbles,
stars–and position the resulting
particles in three-dimensional
space. Compared with other particle
plug-ins, Particular offers faster rendering
times and a “one-stop shop”
for the look you want. The techies
did their homework, too: They have
included a built-in help file, which
is mandatory for navigating through
the many presets and controls.

The Trickster

Delirium, $695.00

www.digieffects.com

This package of plug-ins is one of
the more useful sets on the market.
If I had to pick my favorite effects,
I’d point to “Camera Shake” (great
for simulating an earthquake or
gritty combat footage), “Rainfall”
(very realistic), “Day to Night” (okay,
it’s not perfect, but it does suggest
a moonlit night with the right footage)
and “Fireworks,” which allows
you to produce bombs bursting in
air, right where you want them. The
software is processor-intensive, so
I don’t recommend using these
plug-ins on an older machine.
Some plug-ins grind to a crawl during
rendering, most notably particle
effects such as “Fog Factory”
and “Smoke.” The initial cost is
higher than some of these other
packages, but if you work a lot of
post-production magic, it’s money
well spent.

Deep Focus

Key Correct Pro, $399.00

www.redgiantsoftware.com

I consider myself an expert on
post-production keying (using a
blue screen or green screen to
create composites), so I’m always
interested in new keying software.
This plug-in set includes most of
the tools found in the company’s
Composite Wizard set of plug-ins
(which I’ve covered in earlier columns).
Not surprisingly, Key Correct
works seamlessly with the company’s
Primatte Keyer 3.0. Despite
many overlaps with Composite
Wizard, Key Correct includes several
upgrades, such as 8-bit and 16-
bit (for HD) per channel processing
and a “prekey” tool for fixing DV
footage prior to keying. The feature
change I like best: Rack Focus. I
applied it to a clip of an actor in a
blue shirt in front of a blue sky and
was able to defocus the sky behind
him and (almost) isolate him from
the shot. MM

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