Adobe After Effects is one of the most popular software options available when it comes to visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing. Part of the Creative Cloud suite of software, it enables you to craft effects to an industry standard, and it’s used to polish many high-end Hollywood productions.
However, After Effects isn’t for everyone. You may not like the complex layer-based interface, or you might not be keen on its functionality. Or it may be that you’re put off by the subscription fee which can become very expensive over time.
In this feature, we look at five After Effects alternatives, both paid and free, which may work for you.
Apple’s equivalent visual effects software doesn’t have the same depth of functionality as After Effects, falling short when it comes to advanced compositing, for example. It does still have some impressive features, including very comprehensive text design/animation tools, and its simpler interface means it’s easier to learn than After Effects.
Motion is macOS-only but, as it’s designed to run smoothly on Apple hardware, there’s less rendering time than you’d experience with After Effects. It’s a particularly good choice for those who edit in Final Cut Pro, as the two applications are designed to run side by side.
Motion is available for an affordable one-off fee of $49.99. This gives you the software plus any future updates for a lower cost than three months’ worth of After Effects.
With Hitfilm Pro, rather than editing your video in one app and then doing the VFX in another, as you may do with Premiere Pro and After Effects, both tasks are carried out within one program. This means that effects are applied onto a non-linear editing timeline, rather than a layer-based system like in After Effects, which makes it easier to learn for those already used to non-linear editing.
And the two-in-one nature of Hitfilm Pro doesn’t mean that the effects features are any less deep. Hitfilm Pro’s developers claim it has “the world’s biggest VFX software toolkit”, and it lives up to that. Some of the best tools include advanced 2D and 3D motion tracking, world-leading particle effects, an excellent chroma key, and over 875 VFX presets.
The main downside is that there’s a high price tag of $349. That said, this is a one-off fee rather than a subscription. And there’s a free demo version available that has all the features and no time limit, but exports are given a watermark.
Blackmagic Design’s Fusion is an in-depth visual effects workspace. And the long list of Hollywood productions it’s been used on tells you all you need to know about the strength of its features, which include advanced VR and 3D compositing.
In Fusion’s node-based effects workspace, you can connect various effects and filters together through a visual web of nodes. This system can appear complex to newcomers and take some time to master, but once you’ve got used to it, it’s a very efficient way to build up combinations of effects.
Fusion is built into DaVinci Resolve, which is Blackmagic’s all-in-one post-production program, so you can edit your project in Resolve’s editing workspace, then click the tabs bar to switch over to Fusion and add effects. The best thing about this app is that the standard version is completely free. For some advanced features, such as faster network-based rendering, the premium version costs a one-off fee of $295.
If you’re looking for an After Effects alternative especially tailored to 3D animation, then Blender is the app for you. It supports the whole pipeline of 3D modeling, sculpting, animation, compositing, and editing.
Blender’s toolset for designing and animating characters enables a very impressive level of control. However, when it comes to applying visual effects on top of the animations, this side of it doesn’t match up to the depth offered by After Effects. And, as this is for 3D animators, it’s not for you if you’re looking to focus on 2D graphics or elements such as animated text.
Blender is an open-source app, which means it’s available to download for free. Though there is a steep learning curve, it has a supportive online community that can help with any issues you might face.
Initially released in 2014, Natron is another open-source piece of software, meaning it’s completely free, and it’s a worthwhile alternative to After Effects for those on a budget.
Focusing on 2D and 2.5D effects, Natron has a range of useful features, including powerful keying tools, flexible rotoscoping, and unlimited masks and mattes. It also has a wide range of plug-ins available, created by its community. However, it’s not a good option if you’re looking for motion graphics or 3D tools, as it’s lacking in these areas.
It’s also become sluggish in its development in the past few years, with no recent major updates. And it’s not as stable as others, with some performance issues reported.