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FreeForm AE for Adobe After Effects

Turn any layer into a mesh in 3D space By Kevin McAuliffe

These days, 3D in Adobe's After Effects is a no brainer, and most people don't even give it a second thought. I've been an After Effects user since version 3.5 of the software, and when the 3D feature came along (version 5), it was a huge step forward, except for one problem. It's 2D images in 3D space. It's not "real" 3D, and at the time there were (very, very) few companies that recognized that, and made plug-ins to help us create "true" 3D elements. One plug-in that helped us move into the "true" 3D world was Forge FreeForm, a mesh warping plug-in that enables you to take a flat, 2D image in After Effects, and "morph" them into almost any shape you can imagine. For a long while, FreeForm seemed to be in limbo, but it's back with a new publisher (Digieffects), and has been completely re-written from the ground up for the needs of today's motion designers. Let's take a look at FreeForm AE.

Installation of FreeForm AE (FFAE) is quick and simple. Once you have it downloaded (a 1.3MB download), it's a simple walk through the install application, and you should be set to go in about two minutes.

Digieffects has a free 30 day watermarked demo for you to try before you buy!


What you get
FFAE had a major problem when it was first released for After Effects 5, and that was that it was way ahead of its time. It was difficult enough for people to wrap their heads around this unbelievable new 3D feature of After Effects, let alone a plug-in that took that "faux" 3D and turned it into "real" 3D, but that is what FFAE (then called Forge FreeForm) did. This is probably one of the only times where a problem is actually a good thing!

FFAE is a plug-in that turns any layer that it is applied to, into a mesh in 3D space. I know that that might sound a bit technical and complex, so here is an easier way to think of it. Think of a layer in your AE Comp as a piece of paper. Without FreeForm, that piece of paper has the properties of steel. You really can't do anything with it other than rotate it, and move it in 3D space. Don't even think about bending it, because it's not possible. Now think of that same piece of paper as just that, a piece of paper.  You can fold it, bend it, twist it and distort it, all in 3D space, with finite control over it. FFAE gives your After Effects elements true 3D functionality, without the need for a 3D application. Now, I know that that might not seem like a lot, so let's look at how it works, and you will see right away that we are dealing with a very different type of plug-in.

How it works
As I had said before, FFAE is a different type of plug-in from what you are normally accustomed to using. As you can see in the image below, I created a very simple element that I'm going to manipulate using FreeForm AE.

First, if you are going to follow along, make sure you precomp the layers, so they act as one. Next, navigate to EFFECT>Digieffects FreeForm>DE_FreeFormAE.

Once the effect has been applied, you will immediately notice that nothing has really happened, except you now have a yellow cross on the screen.

Well, two very important things have happened. First, I have now given my layer the "paper" properties, and something else that is quite unique has happened as well. If you take a look in the upper left corner of the effects window, you will notice a "3D" icon.


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Related Keywords:3D, aaaafter effects plugins, motion graphics,


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