By Brady Betzel
We are now comfortably into 2019 and enjoying the Chinese Year of the Pig — or at least I am! So readers, you might remember that with each new year comes a Red Giant Trapcode Suite update. And Red Giant didn’t disappoint with Trapcode Suite 15.
Every year Red Giant adds more amazing features to its already amazing particle generator and emitter toolset, Trapcode Suite, and this year is no different. Trapcode Suite 15 is keeping tools like 3D Stroke, Shine, Starglow, Sound Keys, Lux, Tao, Echospace and Horizon while significantly updating Particular, Form and Mir.
I won’t be covering each plugin in this review but you can check out what each individual plugin does on the Red Giant’s website.
The bread and butter of the Trapcode Suite has always been Particular, and Version 4 continues to be a powerhouse. The biggest differences between using a true 3D app like Maxon’s Cinema 4D or Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects (besides being pseudo 3D) are features like true raytraced rendering and interacting particle systems with fluid dynamics. As I alluded to, After Effects isn’t technically a 3D app, but with plugins like Particular you can create pseudo-3D particle systems that can affect and be affected by different particle emitters in your scenes. Trapcode Suite 15 and, in particular (all the pun intended), Particular 4, have evolved to another level with the latest update to include Dynamic Fluids. Dynamic Fluids essentially allows particle systems that have the fluid-physics engine enabled to interact with one another as well as create mind-blowing liquid-like simulations inside of After Effects.
What’s even more impressive is that with the Particular Designer and over 335 presets, you don’t need a master’s degree to make impressive motion graphics. While I love to work in After Effects, I don’t always have eight hours to make a fluidly dynamic particle system bounce off 3D text, or have two systems interact with each other for a text reveal. This is where Particular 4 really pays for itself. With a little research and tutorial watching, you will be up and rendering within 30 minutes.
When I was using Particular 4, I simply wanted to recreate the Dynamic Fluid interaction I had seen in one of their promos. Basically, two emitters crashing into each other in a viscus-like fluid, then interacting. While it isn’t necessarily easy, if you have a slightly above-beginner amount of After Effects knowledge you will be able to do this. Apply the Particular plugin to a new solid object and open up the Particular Designer in Effect Controls. From there you can designate emitter type, motion, particle type, particle shadowing, particle color and dispersion types, as well as add multiple instances of emitters, adjust physics and much more.
The presets for all of these options can be accessed by clicking the “>” symbol in the upper left of the Designer interface. You can access all of the detailed settings and building “Blocks” of each of these categories by clicking the “<” in the same area. With a few hours spent watching tutorials on YouTube, you can be up and running with particle emitters and fluid dynamics. The preset emitters are pretty amazing, including my favorite, the two-emitter fluid dynamic systems that interact with one another.
The second plugin in the Trapcode Suite 15 that has been updated is Trapcode Form 4. Form is a plugin that literally creates forms using particles that live forever in a unified 3D space, allowing for interaction. Form 4 adds the updated Designer, which makes particle grids a little more accessible and easier to construct for non-experts. Form 4 also includes the latest Fluid Dynamics update that Particular gained. The Fluid Dynamics engine really adds another level of beauty to Form projects, allowing you to create fluid-like particle grids from the 150 included presets or even your own .obj files.
My favorite settings to tinker with are Swirl and Viscosity. Using both settings in tandem can help create an ooey-gooey liquid particle grid that can interact with other Form systems to build pretty incredible scenes. To test out how .obj models worked within form, I clicked over to www.sketchfab.com and downloaded an .obj 3D model. If you search for downloadable models that do not cost anything, you can use them in your projects under Creative Commons licensing protocols, as long as you credit the creator. When in doubt always read the licensing (You can find more info on creative commons licensing here, but in this case you can use them as great practice models.
Anyway, Form 4 allows us to import .obj files, including animated .obj sequences as well as their textures. I found a Day of the Dead-type skull created by JMUHIST, pointed form to the .obj as well as its included texture, added a couple After Effect’s lights, a camera, and I was in business. Form has a great replicator feature (much like Element3D). There are a ton of options, including fog distance under visibility, animation properties, and even the ability to quickly add a null object linked to your model for quick alignment of other elements in the scene.
Up last is Trapcode Mir 3. Mir 3 is used to create 3D terrains, objects and wireframes in After Effects. In this latest update, Mir has added the ability to import .obj models and textures. Using fractal displacement mapping, you can quickly create some amazing terrains. From mountain-like peaks to alien terrains, Mir is a great supplement when using plugins like Video Copilot Element 3D to add endless tunnels or terrains to your 3D scenes quickly and easily.
And if you don’t have or own Element 3D, you will really enjoy the particle replication system. Use one 3D object and duplicate, then twist, distort and animate multiple instances of them quickly. The best part about all of these Trapcode Suite tools is that they interact with the cameras and lighting native to After Effects, making it a unified animating experience (instead of animating separate camera and lighting rigs like in the old days). Two of my favorite features from the last update are the ability to use quad- or triangle-based polygons to texture your surfaces. This can give an 8-bit or low-poly feel quickly, as well as a second pass wireframe to add a grid-like surface to your terrain.
Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite 15 is amazing. If you have a previous version of the Trapcode Suite, you’re in luck: the upgrade is “only” $199. If you need to purchase the full suite, it will cost you $999. Students get a bit of a break at $499.
If you are on the fence about it, go watch Daniel Hashimoto’s Cheap Tricks: Aquaman Underwater Effects tutorial (Part 1 and Part 2). He explains how you can use all of the Red Giant Trapcode Suite effects with other plugins like Video CoPilot’s Element 3D and Red Giant’s Universe and offers up some pro tips when using www.sketchfab.com to find 3D models.
I think I even saw him using Video CoPilot’s FX Console, which is a free After Effects plugin that makes accessing plugins much faster in After Effects. You may have seen his work as @ActionMovieKid on Twitter or @TheActionMovieKid on Instagram. He does some amazing VFX with his kids — he’s a must follow. Red Giant made a power move to get him to make tutorials for them! Anyway, his Aquaman Underwater Effects tutorial take you step by step through how to use each part of the Trapcode Suite 15 in an amazing way. He makes it look a little too easy, but I guess that is a combination of his VFX skills and the Trapcode Suite toolset.
If you are excited about 3D objects, particle systems and fluid dynamics you must check out Trapcode Suite 15 and its latest updates to Particular, Mir and Form.
After I finished the Trapcode Suite 15 review, Red Giant released the Trapcode Suite 15.1 update. The 15.1 update includes Text and Mask Emitters for Form and Particular 4.1, updated Designer, Shadowlet particle type matching, shadowlet softness and 21 additional presets.
This is a free update that can be downloaded from the Red Giant website.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.