The market offers you many After Effects plugins for character animation and rigging, that vary in features, updates, price and scalability. However, each one of them has its own pros and cons and you’ll find some of them better suited for you than others. Today we’ll take a closer look to 9 of them to help you make your selection.
Can these After Effects plugins for character animation be an asset?
Adobe After Effects is an animation software developed by Adobe Systems for motion graphics, digital visual effects and motion compositing. The software is used for 2D animation and post-production phase for TV production, filmmaking and video games production. It allows you to combine images, videos and effects with control over very advanced and powerful tools to produce high quality and professional videos. Ae can function as a basic editor, audio editor or even as a transcoder. The power of this tool is even taken to the next level with plugins! (check our post about the best After Effects plugins out there).
You could be thinking of the price tag, especially when comparing it to free tools like Apple Motion for example. But here again, it depends on your needs as an animator (check our ultimate face-off covering Adobe After Effects vs. Apple Motion for more info).
With that being said, you can still consider most of the character animation steps as one of the most time consuming processes of 2D animation. This is exactly where these After Effects plugins for character animation can come in handy. Most of the repetitive, intricate and daunting tasks will become accessible with high efficiency.
9. Motion Path
Motion Path is a free animation tool that comes built-in Adobe After Effects. This tool is perfect for projects that contain small objects and distant characters. As the name suggests, Motion Path allows you to animate characters by simply following a pre-determined path. You can easily use it with the pen tool to determine the path that your character or your object will follow. Once the path is set, your animation will be customized accordingly.
The tool is also equipped with the Auto-Orient feature that allows you maintain the orientation of your character along the predefined path. And since it’s shipped with After Effects, it’s basically free.
8. Puppet Pin Tool
Puppet Pin is one of the simplest built-in After Effects plugins for character animation. Which means that it comes included within Adobe After Effect. This tool is good for simple animation tasks, but can be limited for the complex ones.
Puppet Pin tool allows you to add fluid dynamics to characters and to control the different body parts by moving them in a simple click. Furthermore, it also has wiggle expression that helps you animate your character with random lifelike movements.
Not to mention that it uses deformations around joints for animation. The features have been also updated, and we can say that this tool is free since it comes shipped with Adobe After Effect.
PuppetTools is a character rigging and animation plugin that can be confounded with Puppet Pin that comes already shipped with After Effects. Although it’s also made for Ae to make character rigging and animation a lot easier, it’s actually different.
PuppetTools comes with multiple features such as the Pin-to-Nulls feature, that make it possible for you to break down the pins and turn them into null layers. After that, you can animate each layer by simply moving it using position control, or using direct dragging for a quick process. In addition to that, you can create links to relate the nulls, which allows you to create a parent or a master in order to perform the parenting action. You can also play around with the null size for rigging purposes.
Recently, PuppetTool has included one of the most important rigging features, which is the Inverse Kinematics. This technique allows the different character joints to reach to each other, which gives more natural animation movements. We can easily describe this tool as a “must-have”, and it will cost you around $40.
Find the plugin here: https://aescripts.com/puppettools/
6. Animation Composer
Animation Composer is an animation plugin that focus on animating shapes. It’s free and available for download and integration to After Effects. This tool is developed by Mister Horse, and it has been recently gaining popularity in the market as a powerful plugin for this matter.
Animation Composer is perfect for animating multiple shape layers. Besides the fact that the process is very quick and extensible to other effects. Although the plugin is initially free, it may require paying for additional features if you want to push the limits of its potential even further.
Find the plugin here: https://misterhorse.com/animation-composer
5. Graph Editor
Graph Editor is a simple yet very handy tool for animation, besides being fully free of cost since it comes built-in After Effects. It’s one of the fastest tools to produce organic animations in a very simple and a quick-paced process.
Graph Editor workflow is quite simple. It’s basically a small X and Y axes graph that allows you to display different parameters, such as the position or the scale. It helps you perform all the motions smoothly and easily.
RubberHose is one of the veteran After Effects plugins for character animation and rigging, first created in 2015. Its name refers to an old technique for character animation that makes the characters seem to have wobbly rubber hoses for their arms and legs. The plugin itself is one of the fastest rigging tools available for After Effects, which is the objective of its developer Adam Plouff. Not to mention that it’s intended to be simple, intuitive, and without any complicated features or parameters. Besides its quick rigging process, RubberHose results in a unique and playful animation style.
The second version of RubberHose comes with more advanced and interesting features like hose styling with more parts from the body to work with. The new iteration gives you more control, flexibility and of course more speed. For example, there’s the RubberRig feature that helps you create a rig with a single click, and also the Rubber Pin feature that simplifies layer animation. You can get this plugin for around $50.
Find the plugin here: https://www.battleaxe.co/rubberhose
Joysticks ‘n Sliders
Joysticks ‘n Sliders is a powerful character rigging and animation plugin that can also be used for other purposes as well. It can find its way to graph rigging, UI/UX demos, motion graphics and more.
Animation can be a hefty task, but with Joysticks ‘n Sliders, it will be a fun and easy process. Being a pose-based rigging tool, it works following a particular process: first, you choose poses from the four positions, up, down, left and right, and then you bind the poses to the joystick. Once you do that, you’ll be able to animate your character by simply moving the joystick around the box, which is a control that allows you to interpolate between the joystick moves and the character animation.
The second part of this tool is sliders. The slider allows you to create a variation of the pose. One good example to illustrate how the slider works is the hand fingers animation. You can create a slider for each finger to animate individually. You can have Joysticks ‘n Sliders for around $40.
Find the plugin here: https://aescripts.com/joysticks-n-sliders/
2. Adobe Character Animator
You might say to yourself: “weren’t we talking about After Effects PLUGINS for character animation” ? Well, it’s true: this one isn’t just a plugin, but it’s worth mentioning here since it’s part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. In addition to being a light, smooth and an easy tool launched specifically for this matter.
One of the most impressive features of this tool is the fact that it allows you to animate characters via camera movements and facial expressions in real time. It relies on the facial recognition technology that allows you to rig your character by mimicking your movements captured from your webcam. Character Animator is intended to work end-to-end with After Effects. Meaning that once you’re done animating your character in Character Animator, you can export your project to After Effect, which will automatically turn into key frames in the timeline.
Adobe Character Animator is under development and releases new updates periodically. The recent After Effects release already included Character Animator Beta. Which means that it will definitely start to be heavily adopted very soon thanks to this high compliance. You can have access to the entire Adobe Suite for around 50 dollars, or just choose to have Character Animator for around 20 dollars per month.
DUIK is one of the most simple, comprehensive and easy to use among the After Effects plugins for character animation. It was first introduced in 2008, and since then it has been growing to become a leading character rigging and animation tool. It has many versions due to the impressive updates and iterative development from the active team behind it. Currently, the 15th version is DUIK Bassel.
It’s a basic animation tool with many features such as the Auto-rig, Icon-based Controllers and Parent Links. The auto-rig allows you to generate simple rigs for multiple characters; you can adjust anchor points to join head, arms and legs. While the parent links allow you to create automatic parenting. Other features that DUIK includes are Bones, Stretchy IK and Automated Dynamics.
DUIK plugin is completely free to use. However, you can make donations to help them and support this powerful tool. Another reason to encourage donations is effort of the team to provide you with a rich library of tutorials to make your learning journey a lot more fun and easier to grasp.
Find the plugin here: https://rainboxlab.org/tools/duik/
Final thoughts on adopting After Effects plugins for character animation
So that’s about it! we highlighted some of the most popular After Effects plugins for character animation out there for you to check. The process of character rigging can be either a pain or a joy, depending on the tools that you adopt, your level of proficiency and how bad you want to master the thing.
These plugins are periodically updated and improved, so take your time to get familiar with them and learn how to maximize their potential. You’ll be amazed by the awesome things that you can create.