Review: Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13, Part 2

By Brady Betzel

In my recent Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13 for After Effects review, Part 1, I touched on updates to Particular, Shine, Lux and Starglow. In this installment, I am going to blaze through the remaining seven plug-ins that make up the Trapcode Suite. Those include Form, Mir, Tao, 3D Stroke, Echospace, Sound Keys and Horizon. While Particular is the most well-known plug-in in the Suite, the following seven all are incredibly useful and can help make you money.

Form 2.1
Trapcode Form 2.1 is best described as a particle system, much like Particular, but with particles that live forever and are used in forms like cubes. If you’ve used Element 3D by Video CoPilot you probably know that you can load objects from Maxon Cinema 4D into your Adobe After Effects projects pretty easily and, for all intents and purposes, quickly. Form allows you to load these 3D OBJ files and alter them inside of After Effects.

When you load the OBJ file, Form applies particles at each vertices point. The more vertices you have in your 3D object, the more detail you will have in your Form. It is really a cool way to create a techy kind of look for a HUD (heads up display) or sweet motion graphics piece that needs that futuristic pointillism type look. The original function of Form was to create particle grids that could be exploded or tightly wound and that would live on forever, as opposed to Particular, which creates particle systems with a birth and a death.

Form

Form 2.1

A simple way to think of how Form works is to imagine the ability to take simple text and transform it into “particles” to create a sandy explosion or turn everyday objects into particles that live forever. From Grids to Strings and Spheres to Sprites, with enough practice you can create some of the most stunning backgrounds or motion graphics wizardry inside of Trapcode Form, all of which is affected by After Effect lights and cameras in 3D space.

I was really surprised at how powerful and smooth Trapcode Form can run. I am running a tablet with an Intel i7 processor and I was able to get very reasonable performance, even with my camera depth-of-field turned on.

Mir 2.0
Trapcode Mir is an extremely useful plug-in for those wanting to create futuristic terrains or modern triangulated environments with tunnels and valleys. Mir is versatile and can go from creating smooth ocean floors to spiky mountain tops to extreme wireframe structures. Some of the newest updates in Mir 2.0 are the ability to add a spiral to the Mir landscape mesh you create (think galaxy); seamless looping under the fractal menu; ability to choose between triangles and quads for your surfaces; the really cool ability to add a second pass wireframe on top of your surface for that futuristic grid look; texture sampling from smooth gradients to solid colors; control of the maximums and minimums under z-range (basically allows for easier peaks and valleys); multi-, smoothridge, multi-smoothridge and regular fractals for differing displacements on your textures; and improved VRAM management for speedy processing.

Mir 2

Mir 2.0

These days GIFs are all the rage, so I am really impressed with the seamless loop option. It might seem ridiculous but if you’ve seen what is popular on social media you will know it’s emojis and GIFs. If you want to prep your seamless loop, check out this quick video from Trapcode creator Peder Norrby (@trapcode_lab).

Simply, you create beginning and end keyframes, find the seamless loop options under the Fractal category, step back one frame from your end loop point, mark your end-of-work area, go to the loop point (which should be one frame past where you marked the end to your work area) and click Set End Keyframe. From there Trapcode Mir will fill in the rest of the details and create your seamless loop ready to be exported as a GIF and blasted on Twitter. It’s really that easy.

If you are looking for an animated GIF export setting, try exporting through Adobe Media Encoder and searching “GIF” in the presets. You will find an “Animated GIF” preset, which I resized to something more appropriate like 1280×720 but that still came out at 49MB — way over the 5MB Twitter upload limit. I tried a few times, first with 50% quality at 640×360, which got me to 13.7MB. I even changed the quality down to 5% in Media Encoder, but I kept getting 13.7MB until I brought the size down to 320×180. That got me just under 4MB, which is perfect! If you do a lot of GIF work, an easy way to compress them is to use http://ezgif.com/optimize and to fiddle with their optimization settings to get under 5MB. It’s quick and it all lives online.

As with all Trapcode Suite plug-ins (or anything for that matter), the only way to get good is to experiment and allow yourself to fail or succeed. This holds true for Mir. I was making garbage one minute and with a couple changes I made some motion graphics that made me see the potential of the plug-in and how I could actually make content that people would be blown away with.

3D Stroke

3D Stroke

3D Stroke
One plug-in that isn’t new but will lead into the next one is Trapcode 3D Stroke. 3D Stroke takes the built-in After Effects plug-in Stroke to a new level. Traditional Stroke is an 8-bit plug-in while Trapcode 3D Stroke can run on the color-burning 32-bits-per-channel mode. If you want to add a stroke along a path that interacts with your comp cameras in 3D space, Trapcode 3D Stroke is what you want. From creating masks of your text and applying a sweet 3D Stroke to them to intricate 3D paths that zoom in between objects with a HDR-like glow, 3D Stroke is one of those tools to have in your After Effects tool box.

When using it I really fell in love with the repeater. Much like Element 3D’s particle arrays, the repeater can create multiple instances of your paths or text paths to create some interesting and infinitely adjustable objects.

Tao
Trapcode Tao is new to the Trapcode Suite of plug-ins. Tao gives us the ability to create 3D geometry along a path, and boy did people immediately fall in love with this tool when it was released. You can find tons of examples and tutorials of Tao from experts like VinhSon Nguyen, better known as @CreativeDojo on Twitter. Check out his tutorial on Vimeo, too. Tao is a tricky beast, and one way I learned about it in-depth was to download Peder Norrby’s project files over at http://www.trapcode.com and dissect them as best I could.

Tao

Tao

If you remember Trapcode 3D Stroke from earlier, you know that it allows us to create awesome glows and strokes along paths in 3D space. Trapcode Tao operates in much the same way as 3D Stroke except that it uses particles like Mir to create organic flowing forms in 3D space that interact with After Effects’ cameras and lights.

Trapcode Tao is about as close as you can get to modeling 3D geometry inside of After Effects at realtime speeds with image-based lighting. The only other way to achieve this is with Video CoPilot’s Element 3D or by using Cinema 4D via Cineware, which is sometimes a painstaking process.

Horizon 1.1
Another product that I was surprised by was Trapcode Horizon 1.1. In the age of virtual reality and 360 video you can never have too many ways to make your own worlds to pan cameras around in. With a quick Spherical Map search on Google, I found all the equi-rectangular maps I could handle. Once inside of After Effects, you need to import and resize your map to your comp size, add a new solid and camera, throw Horizon on top of your solid, under Image Map > Layer, choose the layer name containing your spherical image, and BAM! You have a 360-world. You can then add elements like Trapcode Particular, 3D Stroke or Tao and pan and zoom around to make some pretty great opening titles or even make your own B-Roll!

Echospace

Echospace 1.1

Echospace 1.1
Trapcode Echospace 1.1 is a powerful section in the Trapcode Suite 13 plug-in library. It is one of those plug-ins where you watch the tutorials and wonder why people don’t talk about it more. In simple terms, Echospace replicates layers and creates interdependent parenting links to the original layer, allowing you to create complex repeated element animations and layouts. In essence it feels more like a complex script as opposed to a plug-in.

Let’s say you want to create some offset animation of multiple shape layers in three-dimensional space, Echospace is your tool. It’s a little hard to use and if you don’t Shy the replicated layers and nulls, it will be intimidating. When you create the repeated layers, Echospace automatically sets your layers to Shy if you enable Shy layers in your tool bar. A great Harry Frank (@graymachine) tutorial/Red Giant Live episode can be found on the Red Giant website: http://www.redgiant.com/tutorial/red-giant-tv-live-episode-8-motion-graphics-with-trapcode-echospace.

Sound Keys 1.3
The last plug-in in the massive Trapcode Suite v13 library is Sound Keys 1.3. Sound Keys analyzes audio files and can draw keyframes based on their rhythm. One reason I left this until the end of my review is that you can attach any of the parameters from the other Trapcode Suite 13 plug-ins to the outputs of the Sound Keys 1.3 keyframes via a pick whip. If I just lost you by saying pick whip, snap back into it.

If you learn one thing in the After Effects scripting world, it’s that you can attach one parameter to another by alt+clicking (command+clicking) on the stopwatch of the parameter that you want to be driven by another parameter and dragging the curly-looking icon over the other parameter. So in the Sound Keys case, you can attach the scale of an object to the rhythm of a bass drum.

Soundkeys Color Orientation

Sound Keys 1.3

What I really liked about Sound Keys is that it not only can create a dynamically driven piece of motion graphics, but you can also use the audio meters it draws to visualize the audio. You see this a lot in lyric music videos or YouTube videos that are playing music only but still want a touch of visual flare, and with Sound Keys 1.3 you can change the visual representation of the audio including color, quantization (little dots that you see on audio meters) and size.

Easily isolate an audio frequency with the onscreen controls, find the effect you want to drive by the audio, and pick whip your way to dynamic motion graphic. If I was the graphics designer I wish I was, I would take Sound Keys and something like Particular or Tao and create some stunning work. I bet I could even make some money making some lyric videos… one day.

Summing Up
In the end, the Trapcode Suite v13 is an epic and monumental release. The total cost as a package is $999, and while it is a significantly higher cost than After Effects, let me tell you: it has the ability to make you way more money with some time and effort. Even with just an hour or so a day I feel like my Trapcode game would go to the next level.

For those that have the Trapcode Suite and want to upgrade for $199, there are some huge benefits to the v13 update including Trapcode Tao, GPU performance upgrades across the board, and even things like the second pass wireframe for Mir.

If you are a student, you can grab Trapcode Suite 13 for $499 with a little verification legwork. If you are worried about your system working efficiently with the Trapcode Suite you can check the technical requirements here, but I was working on an Intel i7 tablet with 8GB of memory and Intel Iris 6100 graphics processor. I found everything to be very speedy for the limitations I had. Tao was the only plug-in that wouldn’t display correctly, but rightly so, as you can read the GPU requirements here.

If I was you and had a cool $999 burning a hole in my After Effects wallet I would pick up Trapcode Suite 13 immediately.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

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