If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video with someone magically throwing fireballs through the air, then you’ve likely seen the work of Adobe After Effects. Not just for filmmakers, this software and its hundreds of supported plug-ins, puts a whole toolbox in the hands of web designers, broadcasters, animators and post-production artists.
Gathering files, adding sound, color correcting and masking frames, adding text layers and more without ever having to leave the After Effects desktop. It keeps video files manageable on a layered timeline. And there are plenty of books and online tutorials to help you master it’s advanced features.
While After Effects is a powerful tool for cinematic visual effects and motion graphics, there is a steep learning curve. To benefit from some of the features such as the ray-tracing and Global Performance Cache, users will need a powerful processor and adjusted RAM setting. And the price may not be justifiable to the casual video editing enthusiast.
There are alternative programs that perform many of the tasks that After Effects does. Here are 10 of the best alternatives on the market.
Looking to try your hand at video effects without too much investment? This is an open source program offering features for creating 3D text effects, compositing and adding special effects like smoke or rain.
The features of Wax are very limited in comparison to After Effects, but may be sufficient for those looking to dabble in digital video editing.
For composing action video effects like smoke and explosions or animating 3D objects, Hitfilm 2 Ultimate by Fxhome is a great option. Costing $399, this sophisticated software boasts a large community of users willing to share tips and ideas. Depending on your project, Hitfilm may not be an all encompassing program.
Unlike After Effects, you will have to create the 3D objects in other software before you can use the 3D animation and rendering features. Also, Mac users are out of luck, Hitfilm 2 is available only for Windows users.
If you like to work with 3D modeling and effects or stereo sound, check out eyeon Fusion. The company boasts that it is “the fastest compositor on the market today.” This node-based compositor has been used for post-production work on countless blockbuster movies.
With a price tag of $2495 per license, this is definitely not for casual filmmakers.
Wondering how DreamWorks creates movie magic? They use The Foundry’s Nuke for multiple animation tasks. www.thefoundry.co.uk/articles/2012/05/29/361/nuke-is-the-purrfect-partner-for-dreamworks-animation Nuke does many of the same tasks as After Effects but is a bit more difficult to learn to use and comes with a much bigger price tag of $4840.
It’s available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
The newest contender in the video editing world is Smoke 2013 by Autodesk. This node-based system has a vast array of features for 3D compositing, color correction and motion graphic effects.
Released in late May 2013, it is yet to be seen if the motion graphics world will favor Smoke 2013 over After Effects. It is available only for Mac users for $3495.
Looking to make professional quality video games? 3DS Max by Autodesk is an industry standard for top notch games and films. While this program far exceeds After Effects in 3D character modeling, animation and rendering capabilities, After Effects is a better option for compositing and special effects.
3DS Max is currently available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Before you pay out $3675 for this program, you may want to evaluate your commitment to the craft.
Another great 3D modeling and animation program from Autodesk is Maya. While very similar to 3DS Max, this program has a few additional features such as painting and fluid effects. Maya is generally focused in the film and CG animation industries. It overlaps some of the features of After Effects but definitely has its own strengths.
The drawbacks are the steep learning curve and the price of $3675. It’s available for download on Windows, Mac or Linux platforms.
Would you like to try 3D modeling and effects without paying an arm and a leg? Blender is an open source application available for Mac, Windows and Linux. It does not share the full feature set of After Effects, but it’s a powerful tool. And it has a large community of fans.
Check out or for samples, tips and tutorials on creating with Blender.
Need an easy-to-learn program for title sequences or transitions? Apple Motion 5 makes video editing easy and fun. With the click of a button you can experiment with preset filters and movement behaviors in real time.
While not as advanced in many areas as After Effects, Motion gets the job done. Mac users can download it from the iTunes App Store for $49.99.
Looking to make a movie using your smartphone? Look no further than Corel’s VideoStudio Pro X6. This program supports video input from iPads and smartphones. This basic movie editor makes effects easier with customizable templates.
At $69.99, this is a great option for movie makers using a Windows platform.
Video effects applications offer in-depth options for video editing and special effects. Adobe After Effects offers a great overall package, but there are certainly other great options to choose from.