Hands On With Red Giant Trapcode 15

Trapcode’s Particular interface is logically laid out.

Every now and then, a technology company does a decent job describing their product. Here’s how Red Giant describes Trapcode 15. “Trapcode Suite brings the power of 3D particle systems right into After Effects. Use particle emitters to create fire, water, smoke, snow and other organic visual effects, or create technological marvels and user interfaces with immortal particle grids and 3D forms.”

And while I’m not an After Effects user—in fact, I consider myself somewhat graphically challenged—I’m a producer and have, over the years, created several massive, long-term projects that were heavily dependent on After Effects. In fact, I continue to produce content for clients that’s solely authored and output from After Effects. So, as a content creator, I have gained a fairly robust knowledge of After Effects as far as its capabilities. I just don’t actually create the comps myself: I always hire expert motion-graphics designers and animators. Often, I find, they’re the ones who really count on After Effects, along with many plug-in packages, like Trapcode 15.

That’s why I thought it would be instructive to take a close look at Red Giant’s recently released Trapcode 15 suite with a friend and colleague of mine, Gabriel Schroer, who’s one the most talented motion-graphic designers and animators I work with. He has been working with Trapcode for quite a few years and was interested in putting the newly released version to work on some projects he was planning on for NBC’s “The Voice.”

Trapcode 15 Form offers more than 150 presets that are customizable.
Trapcode 15 Form offers more than 150 presets that are customizable.

New Tools In The Suite

Red Giant refers to the set of tools that comprises Trapcode 15 as a suite, which is made up of several components. I’ll concentrate on three of the new components, and then cover other tools that were already in place from previous versions.

Trapcode Particular: Particular is used to create organic, 3D-particle effects, complex motion-graphics elements and quite a bit more, as well. You can build particle effects visually and intuitively in Particular’s powerful Designer, a separate but integral module. Trapcode Particular is GPU-accelerated and includes a physics feature for simulating air, fluid dynamics and much more. Particular uses the After Effects 3D camera and lights and allows you to use 3D models and OBJ sequences as emitters.

Particular includes over 335 presets, which are each fully customizable, so you can begin with a preset, modify to your liking and save it as your own preset. One of the new features in Particular is Fluid Dynamics, which lets you create dynamic, swirling effects as if the particles were moving through real fluids. Fluid Dynamics gives you four customizable fluidic behaviors.

Trapcode 15 Designer Interface.
Trapcode 15 Designer Interface.

Trapcode Form: Form lets you create immortal-particle grids and 3D-particle objects. Build effects visually in the powerful Designer, or dissolve your particle objects in fluids or create complex fractal animations. Like Particular, Form uses the After Effects 3D camera and lights and is GPU-accelerated.


Form also includes its own new Designer module, which lets you add adjustable blocks with preset settings and styles for forms, particles and more. You can add complete customizable particle effects with a single click. The designer gives instant visual feedback, making the building and previewing of effects intuitive and creative. Form also utilizes Fluid Dynamics, like Particular.

Trapcode Mir: Mir is Red Giant’s tool for creating 3D terrains, surfaces and wireframes, and is excellent for making flowing surfaces, endless tunnels, terrains and 3D objects for use in your motion graphics.

For this latest version, Mir adds 3D models. You can bring your graphics into a new dimension by using 3D models as Mir objects. Mir’s library includes over 60 OBJs.

Two presets—Particular Abstract and Particular Geometric.
Two presets—Particular Abstract and Particular Geometric.

Existing Trapcode Tools

Space constraints preclude me from delving deeply into each of these categories, but the following list will give you an idea of the depth and capability of Trapcode 15:

  •    3D Stroke: Creates organic 3D shapes and lines from your masks.
  •    Shine: Produces 3D light-ray effects.
  •    Starglow: Lets you generate stylized glints and glows for motion graphics and text.
  •    Sound Keys: Add audio-driven motion graphics.
  •    Tao: Creates 3D Geometries animated along a path.
  •    Lux: AE Lights make volumetric point and spot lights.

Putting Trapcode To Work

After Schroer had spent a few days studying the new tools, I sat down with him to go over his impressions of it. He also provided feedback on some of the new features.

When I asked him how often he used previous versions of Trapcode, Schroer said, “I use it all of the time. Probably 80 to 90 percent of the time because it can do so much. The overall look and structure in Trapcode 15 seems to be about the same as 14, but they’ve added in some cool new features, like the Designer. It’s like a visualizer for the plug-ins. So instead of having to look at what you’ve set up in After Effects, you can set it up in the Designer and have instant parameter-adjustment feedback. Then, if you like what you’ve created, you can just hit ‘apply’ and send it to After Effects. The Designer caches everything, almost in real time, so you can get a quick preview of every adjustment.”

Trapcode’s Mir interface.
Trapcode’s Mir interface.

When asked about other tools that he often utilizes in conjunction with Trapcode, Schroer said, “I use the entire Red Giant suite: They have a [plug-in] called Universe. I also use their glow plug-ins a lot in conjunction with Particular and the Magic Bullet Mojo because I can get a look I like quickly. I use the Red Giant plug-ins more often than anything else. Occasionally, I see some FX Factory stuff, but Trapcode and AE Scripts are really handy for what I am trying to do. As far as Trapcode, the Designer adds a playhead to the play window; they have a status bar that tells you how it is re-caching. You can find out status in real time. Before the playhead, you couldn’t tell where you were in the timeline in the Designer.”

He also liked the amount of control you have in Fluid Dynamics: “Fluid Dynamics is all about physics,” said Schroer. “In the Physics section, you now have fluid, which creates fluid like-behaviors like buoyancy, a Vortex ring and Vortex 2, and you can simulate things like force fields or like hurricanes and tornados. You have a lot of control over how the particles swirl and interact.

“You can now get interaction between two different forces. Fluid Dynamics is really useful and pretty sophisticated. I am really liking Mir, too. It’s like a 3D mesh kind of generator but can do so much more. It’s very cool. I use the presets quite a bit in Mir. It gives you a good starting point, and I like modifying and customizing them. Mir isn’t used as often as Particular, but it’s really a great program. I like the wireframe tunnel, too. A lot of people have a use for that.”

Overall, Schroer felt Trapcode 15 was a very useful plug-in. “I really like the GPU acceleration. I use Particular as more of a particle generator and use Form for creating patterns, grids and lines. With Form, you can do some cool structure patterns that would be very difficult to do in Particulate. In Form, I also might make background patterns, shapes and structures. You can loop the fractals, which can be very handy, too.” As he’s often done in Trapcode, he would simply use the presets and then, “just modify them.”

Trapcode 15 Form presets.
Trapcode 15 Form presets.

A Non-After Effects User’s Take on Trapcode 15

As I wrote at the beginning of the article, I’m not an After Effects user. However, here’s why I’m excited about Trapcode 15: This new version represents the type of tools companies like Pixar used just a few short years ago in high-end work.

And although I’m not an animator or graphic designer, I still enjoy sitting down with them and asking what’s possible. For example, I might write a movie script that has the following description: Include a baseball glove that bursts into a million differently colored particles that then begin to swirl into a vortex and then form the name of a major character. In other words, as a producer who works with motion graphics, it’s my job to know what capabilities are available in the commonly accessible programs like Adobe After Effects and Trapcode 15 so that I can include those in the script.

Also, tools like Fluid Dynamics, Particulate, Form and Mir, which produce really interesting and beautiful effects, let me expand the types of visuals I might include in a production. So, for me, I’m excited about Trapcode 15, since it allows me to offer these effects in work I create for my clients.