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Endless Possibilities: Generating Effects with Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13

8/31/2016 1:00 PM Eastern
Part of the Trapcode Suite, Trapcode Particular creates organic 3D particle effects and complex motion graphics elements.

Adobe After Effects artists who are frequently called on to design shots that involve sci-fi effects, particles and user interface overlays, or shots with sparks, light rays and sparkles have come to rely on Trapcode as their go-to plug-in set. The newest version, available from Red Giant, is Trapcode Suite 13. This package includes 11 different effects that encompass a range of particle and volumetric lighting effects.

If you install the suite, all 11 Trapcode effects will show up in After Effects CC. These include Particular, Form, Tao, Mir, Shine, Lux, 3D Stroke, Echospace, Starglow, Sound Keys and Horizon. Of these, 3D Stroke, Shine and Starglow will also be available within Premiere Pro CC. Together, these effects form a comprehensive toolkit for After Effects designers who really do have to create magic from scratch.

Trapcode Tao generates 3D geometries along paths. It can use masks, motion paths from AE’s 3D lights or generate its own paths.

Trapcode Particular is the effect people typically associate with Trapcode effects. In this new version, you can use its built-in Effects Builder to select from certain presets and design custom effects. Although other Trapcode plug-ins include presets for certain styles, only Particular includes this separate Effects Builder to browse, preview and apply effects. Particular now includes certain organic 3D effects like smoke, fire and water.

Trapcode Form lets you design particle grids, spheres and objects that evolve over time. Trapcode Tao lets you build 3D geometries with fractal math for shapes, facets, etc. Tao is a simplified 3D object design tool that offers metallic textures and the ability to incorporate the image maps from lower After Effects layers as surface textures. You can create animated objects, shapes and ribbons, and all are GPU-accelerated. Trapcode Mir is used to create 3D surfaces, terrains and wireframes. These can be used for tunnel effects and land topographies. Both Tao and Mir can display these designs as wireframes, shaded polygons or rendered surfaces.

Trapcode Sound Keys links to an imported audio file. It analyzes the file and creates animation keyframes that can drive a colorized volume bar display. The keyframes can control other effects as well, such as scaling to the beat. Trapcode 3D Stroke enables 3D lines, paths and overlays. Trapcode Lux turns After Effects lights into visible sources with volumetric properties. Trapcode Horizon may be used to create infinite backgrounds in After Effects. Trapcode Echospace enables repeated effects like trails and 3D offsets.

Trapcode Tao generates 3D geometries along paths. It can use masks, motion paths from AE’s 3D lights or generate its own paths.

Last but not least there’s Trapcode Shine and Trapcode Starglow. Both are lighting effects. Shine generates 3D light rays that may be used with text or to mimic real-world lighting, like shafts of light through the forest. Shine can be linked to After Effects 3D lights for volumetric-aware effects. Starglow is more stylized, with glints and glimmers, similar to adding a star filter to your lens.

Working with the Suite

The suite as a whole is intended for serious After Effects artists who have to create shots, not merely enhance existing ones. As such, it’s not like suites from other plug-in developers that consist of toolkits for image manipulation, color correction, titling and the like. If that’s what you want, then the Trapcode Suite isn’t for you. And if you’ve got a very specific need, each plug-in is available separately.

Each of these packages is robust and versatile. I have never seen a plug-in with as many modifier controls as these, though they are somewhat light on presets. Nevertheless, Particular has more than 180 presets, while Shine, 3D Stroke and Starglow have 30, 40 and 49 presets, respectively.

This still from a project by Reanimation.tv demonstrates Trapcode Echospace, which can clone, animate or offset After Effects 3D layers. 

Some, like Shine, Starglow and Sound Keys, are pretty easy to figure out. Others, like Mir or Tao, really do require that you spend some time with tutorials. The effort is certainly worth it if these are the types of effects you need to do on a regular basis.

Although I use After Effects, I’m a novice at building particle effects and find myself more comfortable with tools like Shine. Building a flying title with rays that emanate from the text was a piece of cake with Shine. Trapcode has worked hard to take advantage of GPU and CPU power. Mir and Tao are GPU-accelerated, and others, like Particular, have been optimized for better CPU performance in this release. Adding and adjusting these effects was pretty quick on a 2009 Mac Pro 8-core tower with an AMD Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 card—no slouch, but certainly fairly average by today’s standards. I’m sure these effects would really scream on a top-of-the-line HP with a smokin’ NVIDIA card.

The Effects Builder—essentially a presets browser with different effects options—made Trapcode Particular fun to use. When you select an option, it becomes part of your effects chain in the Builder window. This lets you design a custom effect, starting with the emitter type and then adding modifiers within the chain such as turbulence, gravity and so on. Parameters can be tweaked on each of the segments of this chain. Once you’re done customizing, apply the effect that you’ve built to the clip on the timeline and close the Builder window. Then make timing and other adjustments in the standard After Effects control panel.

Trapcode Shine gives footage the natural effect of sunshine through clouds, headlights in fog or underwater light rays.

Other plug-in developers offer effects similar to Trapcode Shine. One unique attribute of Shine, however, is the ability to add fractal noise to Shine’s light rays, which can be used to simulate smoke or fog in a scene. Depending on how you set the controls, it can also look like a water reflection shimmering onto the objective in the image or other similar styles. All of this can be masked from within the plug-in. If you want the light rays to emanate solely from a window in the corner of the set, for example, and not from other bright objects in the shot, you can adjust the mask accordingly. Another unique aspect: its light rays are 3D camera-aware, based on After Effects light and camera positions.

Overall, the Trapcode Suite tools are a wonderful addition to any visual effects artist’s collection of plug-ins. The quality is outstanding, the visual appearance quite organic, and performance with a moderately powerful GPU is fast. Editors will likely want to limit themselves to Shine and Starglow to make the best investment based on how they use plug-ins. But if you are a power After Effects user who also cuts in Premiere Pro CC, then the suite has you covered either way.   


Quick Take:

Product: Red Giant Trapcode Suite 13


Pros: New Particular Effects Builder makes it easier than ever for beginners to create custom effects. Many effects are accelerated from previous versions.

Cons: Steep learning curve and limited templates. Many of the effects themselves are not especially intuitive. Editors are better buying the individual effect rather than the suite if they aren’t power After Effects users.

Bottom Line: Trapcode Suite is the industry standard VFX creation tool for After Effects artists. This new version features more organic particles and graphics, faster acceleration and almost 300 presets across 11 effects in the suite.

MSRP: $999 (entire suite)

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