By Brady Betzel
Have you ever watched a commercial on YouTube and thought, how in the world do these companies have the budget for the VFX and motion graphics work featured? Well, many don’t, but they do have access to talented artists with access to affordable tools that bring pricey looks. Most motion graphics creators have a toolbox full of goodies that help them build great-looking products. Whether it’s preset transitions, graphic overlays or plugins — there are ways to incorporate high-production value without the million-dollar price tag.
One of those tools that many Adobe After Effects motion graphics artists have in their toolbox is Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite, which is currently in version 13. While it isn’t cheap, if you are focused on that style of motion graphics, it can definitely pay for itself after just a few jobs. Inside the suite are magical plug-ins like the famous Trapcode Particular, Trapcode Form, Trapcode Mir, Trapcode Tao, Trapcode Shine, Trapcode Lux, Trapcode 3D Stroke, Trapcode Echospace, Trapcode Starglow, Trapcode Sound Keys and Trapcode Horizon. Holy cow, that is a lot.
The complete Trapcode Suite 13 works with After Effects (CS6 through CC 2015 officially, including the latest 2015.3 update, just make sure to download the update installer from Red Giant since it might not appear in your Red Giant Link updater), as well as a couple like Shine, 3D Stroke and Starglow that will also work in Adobe Premiere (the same version compatibility as After Effects). A good resource to get your feet wet is on the Red Giant tutorial page where you can find a lot of info and in-depth tutorials from the likes of the master Harry Frank (@graymachine) and Chad Perkins (@chad_perkins).
That being said, if you have no idea what the Trapcode Suite entails, buckle up. It is one of the most useful but intricate plug-ins you will see with a $999 price tag to match ($199 if you are upgrading). Of course, you can pick and choose the product you want, such as Shine for $99 or even Particular for $399, but the entire suite is worth the investment.
As an editor, I spend the majority of my time inside of a nonlinear editor like Adobe Premiere or Avid Media Composer/Symphony — probably 80 percent if I had to estimate, the other 20 percent is divided between color correction solutions and VFX/graphics packages like After Effects, Blackmagic Resolve, and others. Because I don’t get a lot of time to play around creatively, I really need to know the suite I am working in and be as efficient as possible. For instance, products like Mocha Pro, Keylight in After Effects and Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite 13 are enhancers that help me be as efficient as I can be as an editor without sacrificing quality for time.
In the latest Trapcode Suite 13 update, Trapcode Particular 2.5 seems to have been updated the most while Trapcode Tao is a new addition to the suite, and the rest were given modest enhancements as well. I will try to touch on each of the products so this will be a two-part review.
Trapcode Particular is one of the plug-ins that most After Effects nerds/aficionados/experts have encountered. If you have been a little wary and intimidated of Particular because of its complexity, now is the time to dive into using Red Giant’s incredible particle building system. In the 2.5 update, Red Giant added the Effects Builder, which seems to resemble the Magic Bullet Looks builder a little, and I love that. Like I said earlier I don’t typically have eight hours to creatively throw darts at a particle system in hopes of creating a solar system fly-through.
Luckily, the new Effect Builder allows you to easily create your particle system and be emitting (or exploding) in minutes. While it isn’t “easy,” per se, to create a particle system like those featured on Trapcode creator Peder Norrby’s (@trapcode_lab) website, the Effects Builder, along with some tutorial watching (mixed with some patience and love) will send you down a Trapcode rabbit hole that will allow you to create some of the most stunning artwork I’ve seen created in After Effects. Don’t give up if you find it overwhelming, because this is one of those plug-ins that will make you money if you can grasp it. One thing I did notice was the Effects Builder interface was tiny and did not scale with the resolution I was using on my system (2560×1440), but After Effects appeared fine.
If you are an experienced user of Trapcode Particular you should be happier with the updated graphing system that lets you set size and opacity over the life of your particle by directly drawing points on your graph, smoothing, deleting and even randomizing. I really loved using this graph. I immediately saw results that mimic using color curves against an RGB Parade and Waveform on a color scope. Particular has also bumped its particle count up from 20 to 30 million, which will matter to someone creating fireworks back plates for the Fourth of July, I’m sure.
Second on my Trapcode Suite 13 hit list is Trapcode Shine, which might not be the most obviously glamorous update to many people, but still has its merits. The largest update is the ability to attach Shine to After Effects light sources easily. Before you would have to do some fancy footwork that most editors don’t have the time or interest in doing, but as long as your light is named “Shine,” with proper spelling and capitalization, your light now controls the light rays produced by the Shine plug-in.
One thing that most After Effects users know to be a staple is the use of Fractal Noise. Whether you are trying to replicate light rays with realistic and organic effects or a fancy text reveal where you use a Fractal Noise mask as your transition, Fractal Noise is a must use effect. Trapcode Shine has Fractal Noise built into the plug-in now, including the use of 3D fractal noise to create a type of parallax within your light ray work. Simply, parallax is the way the foreground moves in relation to the background. Think of a camera on a slider as it moves from left to right your foreground might stay in relatively same position while the background moves much more — this is your parallax.
One thing that you will always use when applying Fractal Noise is animating the Evolution to add realism. Plus, adding the script “*time” to multiply the evolution factor is an easy way to move the fractal noise along its path. Shine has an “Evolution Speed” under the Fractal Noise heading that allows you to easily adjust the evolution without any scripting (I love this!). Being able to quickly add fractal noise into your light rays really improves my efficiency when a client asks for “that fancy text with those light rays poking through,” but wants to pay exactly zero dollars and zero cents.
Lux and Starglow
Trapcode Lux and Starglow are some other light-focused plug-ins that can add that subtle or dramatic detail to your work setting you apart from the rest of the general motion graphics population. Lux is a fast and easy way to add volumetric drama to point and spotlights. Much like the other plug-ins, you need to apply Lux to a new solid, adjust the specific parameters for the spot or point lights in your composition and, my favorite part, tell Lux if you want to apply to lights named anything, “Lux,” “Front” or “Back.”
Simply, instead of just seeing the emanating light from an After Effects light source, you will now see the physical light source when Lux is added. Lux really shows its power when you need to add a light source to something like an after burner on a jet or the tip of a comet-like fireball. Adding physical light points so easily really opened up my way of thinking. It’s a relatively small feature, but it’s similar to knowing how to do something, but also knowing it takes four hours to accomplish it, so because of diminishing returns you just move along. Now I can do that same thing in little to no time and add that finishing touch easily. This makes me more money and makes the client more confident.
Trapcode Starglow is a small-yet-powerful plug-in that gives life-like glow to bright objects. Think of the star or cross-hatch streaks that can appear on stars or street lights in TV shows and movies. Included in all of the Trapcode Suite are presets, and Starglow is no different with 49 presets, each containing various ray length, color, ray direction and more — all of which are the starting points I like to use when figuring out just what type of Starglow I want to go with.
So far, I’ve covered four of 11 plug-ins contained in the Trapcode Suite 13, all of which are amazing and full of ideas that will undoubtedly elevate your work to a higher level. Something I have noticed over the last few years is a lot of amazing work that comes from those using After Effects; most of it, though, has the scent of a preset and/or tutorial that someone watched, duplicated and exported for their display. One tip that will overstep that ordinary look is to double- and triple-stack effects (in particular the same effect) to add varying levels of depth, color and detail that you couldn’t get with just one instance of a plug-in.
In Part 2 of my Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13 Review, I will tackle the rest of this behemoth plug-in set: Trapcode Form, Trapcode Mir, Trapcode Tao, Trapcode 3D Stroke, Trapcode Echospace, Trapcode Sound Keys, and Trapcode Horizon.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.