Adobe gratiously invited me to speak at their IBC 2019 booth about visual effects compositing in After Effects — something I’ve been doing againts all advice for many (many!) years. You can watch the entire talk here:
There are nine plug-ins in the suite. You can learn about all of them at Red Giant’ but here I’ll focus on the five I created tutorials for.
Supercomp is possibly the most ambitious effect Red Giant has ever created. It’s a complete compositing engine that runs in a panel in After Effects. It makes realistic, integrated composites easier and more intuitive to create, thanks to its unique render engine that understands how layers need to interact in a VFX composite. Light Wraps react to every layer below them, glows wrap around the layers in front of them. Everything is gamma-managed and works in 32-bit linear light, and grain is handled automatically.
This is basically every trick I’ve learned in my 24 years (sweet lord) of visual effects work, packed up in a gorgeous user interface and a lightning-fast GPU render engine.
Set aside a brisk 52 minutes to watch my tutorial:
King Pin Tracker
Corner pinning is an essential part of any VFX workflow, but the tools in After Effects are missing some important features. Years ago I helped design Red Giant’s Corner Pin effect to allow more flexible corner pinning, with “from” pins, perspective transforms, and tons of professional control. King Pin Tracker builds on this foundation and adds amazing new render quality and a blazing-fast, super-accurate planar tracker.
Spot Clone Tracker
Spot Clone Tracker is like a clone brush for video. It has its own amazing tracker built-in, making it super easy to remove small and large blemishes, or even entire objects, from your video. Lighting and texture are matched automatically, with tons of control.
This is another one that I’ve been dreaming about forever. Why is it so hard to make a beautiful glow that glows like a glow should? We dug deep into the physics of light and created a glow that is gorgeous and realistic, but also offers a ton of artistic control.
A displacement effect with a beautiful prismatic light-refraction look. Easy to use, blazing fast, tons of control. Detecting a theme here?
Last year, one of the Red Giant engineers presented some research on fluid dynamics to our team. He showed these gorgeous animations of realistic fluid motion. Only they weren’t animations — they were simulations, running in real time on his laptop.
This became the foundation of today’s update to the Trapcode Suite. Both Particular and Form now feature real-time fluid dynamics. You simply have to try it to believe it. I’m still wrapping my brain around all the possibilities.
We love bringing exciting new features to Trapcode, but we agonize over each new capability too, because the hallmark of Particular has always been the amazing, powerful things you can do quickly and easily, without feeling like you’re learning a new 3D application. What I think I’m most proud of our team for is making a fluid dynamics engine that’s fun and easy to use, but powerful enough for serious work.
And a funny thing happened as we were adding support for OBJ emitters in Particular and base-forms in Form — we accidentally also added support for OBJs in Trapcode Mir. Which means that Mir can now render 3D objects. Finally there’s a lightweight way to render simple 3D geometry in After Effects. You can even use camera projection to texture these OBJs.
Trapcode Suite 15 is available today from Red Giant.
Prolost EDC is a collection of After Effects presets that are mostly very simple shortcuts to things I do all the time. For example, usually when I apply the Shift Channels effect, it’s to do something simple, like move the alpha channel into RGB, or copy the red channel to all three RGB channels. But these simple things actually require quite a few clicks in fussy little menus. With Prolost EDC installed, typing “Shift Channels” into the search field in the Effects and Presets panel brings up this list:
Now the simple thing I wanted to do is just a single click away.
- Typing “grid” brings up the Grid effect and also my Grid by Width preset, that has the settings configured the way I usually want to use the Grid effect, with a single slider controlling the size of the squares.
- Type “ramp” and you’ll get the Gradient Ramp effect, as well as the EDC variants Linear Ramp Horizontal, Radial Ramp Corner, and Radial Ramp Side Edge, all of which use expressions to automatically size the gradient to useful configurations.
These are the simplest kind of Animation Presets you can make in After Effects — just single effects with custom settings. Whether or not you find mine useful, I highly recommend you make some of your own.
Color Space Conversions
Maybe my most-used effects.
- sRGB to Lin
- Lin to sRGB
- Cineon Log to Lin
- Cineon Lin to Log
- Sony S-Log2 Log to Lin
- Sony S-Log2 Lin to Log
- Alexa V3 LogC Log to Lin
- Alexa V3 LogC Lin to Log
- Lin to Kodak 2383 Emulation
Thrilling, right? But oh-so-handy.
Expressions With a Bow on Top
I have a library of commonly-used expressions. Where possible, I’ve packaged them up as presets to make them easier to apply, and included them in Prolost EDC. These presets range from simple to complex, and many have custom UIs.
- Prolost Wiggle Position provides a GUI for the greatest expression of them all,
wiggle(). An easy way to control the randomized motion this function creates.
- Prolost Pixel Perfect provides checkboxes to force a layer’s Position and/or Anchor Point to snap to integer values. Handy when animating UI mockups or small title text.
- Prolost Pixels Per Frame lets you easily animate a 2D layer to move a certain number of pixels per frame in X and Y. This can dramatically increase the visual smoothness of scrolling credits.
- Prolost Spanner 2D is a GUI wrapper for a set of expressions that make one layer point at another. Use it for everything from motion graphics animations to animated characters.
- Prolost Front/Back Visibility gives you simple checkboxes to control a 3D layer’s Opacity based on whether the camera sees it from the front or back.
Fun Silly Stuff
- Prolost Arrow draws a simple arrow on your image. It’s not going to replace Red Giant Universe’s Line effect (seriously that thing is amazing), but it’s handy for simple callouts, which is what I made it for.
- Prolost Mosaic by Size is new in 2.0. I built it when I realized that whenever I use the Mosaic effect, I almost always wind up doing math to let me set the size of the blocks in pixels.
- Prolost Fast Blur is also new in 2.0, and you can read all about it here.
The Prolost EDC presets have no dependencies that can break, so they are safe to use in any project, even one you plan on sharing with someone who doesn’t have Prolost EDC.
Most of the Prolost EDC presets work all the way back to After Effects CS6.
Free, or Pay What You Want
Prolost EDC is a free download, no strings attached. I’d rather have you using Prolost EDC than scratching your head about whether or not it’s worth paying for.
But if you, like me, enjoy paying for useful tools, the option is there.
You can also feel free to pay nothing now and sign up for (very infrequent) updates. I’ll email you in a few weeks, and if you’ve found EDC useful, you’ll have the option to pay something then. You can unsubscribe from these updates at any time.
Free Updates Forever
The other reason to sign up is that you’ll be notified when there’s an update like this one, and you’ll be able to download it for free, right from the email. That’s right, I have the world’s stupidest subscription business model: Pay once at the beginning — or don’t — and get free updates forever.
This is a follow-up to A Take of Three Blurs, which I wrote in 2006 as a guide to the blur effects in Adobe After Effects.
Twelve years later, there are some new blurs in After Effects, some new best practices, and new potential for confusion.
Use Fast Box Blur now, for everything.
But c’mon, there’s so much more to know about After Effects blurs!
The Three Oldies
This was the breakdown in 2006:
Fast Blur was a good, general-purpose blur. It was “fast” because it was just a three-iteration box blur, and box blurs can be fast on the CPU. Most people’s default choice of blur at the time.
Box Blur has the exact same blur engine as Fast Blur, but with control over the number of iterations. At three iterations, it matches Fast Blur perfectly. At one iteration, it produces a useful squared-off blur effect. At greater-than-three iterations, it produces a smoother, rounder blur than Fast Blur. My advice was to reach for this blur most often, as it offers the most control.
Gaussian Blur also used the same blur engine as Fast Blur, also at three iterations. But it lacked a Repeat Edge Pixels option, so my advice was to never use it.
Where Are They Now?
All three of these venerable old blur effects are now obsolete.
Fast Blur has been renamed to Fast Blur (Legacy) and moved to the Obsolete category, as it has not been optimized for GPU rendering.
Box Blur, the blur I recommended using most often? There’s no more effect by that name.
Gaussian Blur has been renamed to Gaussian Blur (Legacy) and moved to Obsolete. I didn’t recommend you use it in 2006, and now Adobe agrees.
The New Hotness
What happened to Box Blur? It’s actually still there, just under a new name. It’s called Fast Box Blur now, and it has been optimized for the GPU. It also has a new default of three iterations.
Point of order: Where Fast Blur was “fast” because box blurs are fast on the CPU, Fast Box Blur is “fast” because it runs on the GPU.
The name change was also designed to make it easier to find for folks like me who often type “fast” into the Effects and Preset panel to search for Fast Blur.
If you have old projects that used Box Blur (as I advised), you'll find those effects automatically updated to Fast Box Blur.
A new Gaussian Blur was added to the After Effects CC 2017 release, and was meant to replace both Fast Blur and Gaussian Blur. However, this blur, inherited from Premiere Pro, gives different visual results than Fast Blur, and could push some dark colors into negative values when used in 32bpc. If matching Premiere matters to you, you might consider using this blur. Otherwise, I’d suggest avoiding it.
- Fast Blur became Fast Blur (Legacy). Don’t use it.
- Box Blur became Fast Box Blur, and it’s good. Use it!
- Gaussian Blur became Gaussian Blur (Legacy). Don’t use it in 2006 or now.
- Premiere Pro’s questionable Gaussian Blur was added to After Effects, and takes the Gaussian Blur name. Don’t use it.
Fast Box Blur is the Future
So once we wade through the family tree of the three-now-four After Effects blurs, all is well, right? We have Fast Box Blur to meet all our legacy needs. It visually matches the blurs we’ve long used and loved. It’s fast and future-proofed. Life is good.
But there is one problem with using Fast Box Blur as a one-to-one replacement for Fast Blur: The Blur Radius control is scaled differently.
Specifically, by a factor of
0.37. In other words, a Fast Blur (Legacy) with a Blur Radius of
100 is a perfect visual match for a Fast Box Blur with a radius of
I think this is because, while Fast Box Blur is an ideal replacement for Fast Blur (Legacy), it was designed to replace Box Blur perfectly, and Box Blur, it seems, had a multiplier built-in so that its previous default of one iteration would be a reasonable visual match to the old Gaussian Blur and Fast Blur effects.
So if you have long relied on Fast Blur, there’s not a modern, GPU-enabled blur that works exactly the way you’re accustomed to.
Prolost Fast Blur
Well I can fix that.
I created a simple preset that gives Fast Box Blur a new Blur Radius slider, and used an expression to multiply the value by
0.37. Hashtag math genius.
Actually, I made it a little more complex than that, because I also added a toggle called Visual Match Radius. With this on, the expressions attempt to scale the Blur Radius so that the results are visually similar at any number of iterations. Turn this off and radius just gets the simple
Why should you use Prolost Fast Blur? Maybe you’re just used to the blur values from Fast Blur. Or maybe you’d like to be able to adjust Iterations without radically affecting the size of the blur.
Don’t use Prolost Fast Blur when you need more than one blur effect on the same layer though — the expressions will break.
Prolost Fast Blur is included in Prolost EDC, my free (or pay what you like) collection of handy presets that I keep with me wherever I use After Effects.
Like all the Prolost EDC presets, Prolost Fast Blur has no dependencies that can break, so it’s safe to use in any project, even one you plan on sharing with someone who doesn’t have Prolost EDC.
As before, but now for different reasons, avoid Gaussian Blur.
Use Fast Box Blur for literally every blur you do in After Effects from now on (or until the next follow-up post in 2030). An Iterations setting of three is usually fine. Five is smoother. One is useful for certain effects.
If you want to replace old instances of Fast Blur with Fast Box Blur, remember to multiply the Blur Radius by
0.37. If you have keyframes on Blur Radius, you can add this expression to preserve the animation with the new values:
value * 0.37
If you want that multiplication/expression-typing handled for you, use Prolost Fast Blur. It’s Fast Box Blur with a radius that matches Fast Blur’s.