The 6 best alternatives to Adobe After Effects

Are you a motion graphics designer on a budget? We've got the best alternatives to Adobe After Effects.
4 minute read
Adam Smith @HomebrandAdam
Technical Co-pilot
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Proof that there is indeed life after AE.

It's okay to stray. Being a trained professional, when you think digital visual effects, motion graphics or compositing, chances are your automatic next thought is: best go stick my head into the Creative Cloud. But you know what? That's one costly cumulonimbus. An extortionate aerosol. Surely that monthly rent you're paying to Adobe for After Effects can be better spent elsewhere. Or not at all.

Also, in order to get an edge over the competition sometimes you need to leave your rut to go see what is achievable elsewhere. You might surprise yourself by sowing some wild software oats. A little bit of adventurousness could teach you a new design trick, reveal an innovative new tool, or a clever program that happily works in tandem with After Effects.  

Blender

Price: Free

Before we begin, we should state an obvious fact. After Effects is a powerful program that is many things to many people. Locating a replacement that encapsulates absolutely all of its broad features-set just isn't going to happen here today. What we're offering is a piecemeal, multi-software solution that will get the job done (just with some window switching involved).

That said, the first place you ought to start is with the complete freebie that is Blender. Available for all of the major desktop platforms, it's a more than capable purveyor of 3D effects and animated graphics that can look professional-grade. It covers the entire 3D pipeline: modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking. It also even dabbles in video editing and game creation, but you should go in knowing that these are side extras rather than the main goal of Blender.

HitFilm Pro 12

Price: $299 USD

With HitFilm Pro 12 you're looking at a singular amalgamation of what was once a number of individual products (namely: FXHome VisionLab Studio, FXHome CompositeLab and FXHome Effectslab). With those powers combined, this new software borg is a compositing package that is layer-based and well capable of delivering blockbuster quality results in the right hands.

Creating breakout content and stunning VFX is a cinch when you've got integrated 3D model animation, a professional compositing environment and advanced particle simulations. Even better, if you're inexperienced but still looking to hit the ground running, there are 820+ VFX and presets to make fast use of, not to mention a ton of built-in animation tools.

Supply the requisite imagination, and this is the best way for aspiring filmmakers and visual artists to make their dreams to stylishly transition from their brain to a screen. Possibly with a timeless star-wipe effect.

Fusion 16

Price: $299 USD

If you need to digitally composite or lavish something with visual effects, you need Fusion 16. It employs a node-based interface in which complex processes are built up by connecting a flowchart or schematic of many nodes, each of which represents a simpler process, such as a blur or color correction.

Name your desired output, and chances are you can do it in Fusion 16's responsive UI that boasts interactive, real time rendering. Mixing and matching footage of different resolutions, aspect ratios and formats within a single project is a breeze. Footage of different color depths can be processed in their native color depth within a single flow graph, too.

As if that's not enough, you can render to multiple formats and resolutions in a single pass, with multiple saver nodes at any position in the flow process. You can also think big with support for floating point images over 32K x 32K.

Filmora9 Video Editor

Price: $59.99 USD

This writer uses this video editing software a great deal, personally. What Filmora lacks for whizbang 3D effects and minute control over a video, it more than makes up for with a smooth, uncluttered UI and an array of reasonably powerful tools that get the job done. Boasting unlimited video tracks and auto audio sync, Filmora's 50 in-built effects settings can get a novice user producing professional results in no time.

In layman's terms: you will be handed a bunch of pre-baked presets that let you easily tweak some industry standard video effects, including 360 degree video, keying, motion trails, flares, lights, sharpening and so on. WonderShare also has a comprehensive store that offers an array of purchasable templates that will effectively let you drag and drop in fancy looking transitions, lower thirds and titles. 

Natron

Price: Free

Fair warning: if you're looking to take a holiday from AE, you may feel like a stranger in a strange UI land here. Natron's brand of digital compositing is node based and AE is layer based. Get past that hurdle and what we have here is a Hollywood grade program that offers a ton of great features.

The biggest plus is that it's free and open source and multi-platform. It's also quite versatile, thanks to support for free and open source OpenFX plugins (and it plays nicely with all of the hottest commercial OpenFX plugins, too). Even better, Natron asks relatively low hardware requirements. You needn't have a HAL-9000 batcomputer to achieve a little image transformation, video tracking, keying, rotoscoping and more.

Cavalry

Price: N/A

At the time of writing this is still a what if (as it's still in development). But we like what we've seen in the betas already. The creators of Cavalry describe it thusly: a procedural application with ambitions to make waves in the worlds of animation, design, creative coding, film, generative art, data visualisation, experiential and advertising. What's procedural animation you ask? In essence, it means you can always go back and change anything at any point.

Cavalry will also include a full suite of traditional animation tools, streamlined and rethought, allowing artists to focus on what they do best. Its creators hope to bring a new level of versatility to creatives working across a wide range of disciplines including online, experiential, social, film and TV, installation, OOH, data visualisation, illustration and more. Sounds all-encompassing and exciting, if the team can pull it off.

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