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Creating my own plug-ins?

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Spencer Tweed
Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 5:45:26 pm

I find myself almost always using the same few plug-ins at the end of every composite in After Effects, adding grain, lens distortion, lens bloom, vignette, chromatic aberration, etc. And while I have decent ways of doing each of these, I decided that I want to write a custom plug-in so that I can have it all in one place, and share it with other artists that I work with (and hopefully save some render time).

I thought that Pixel Bender was the perfect solution for me and had a great few hours playing around making displacement map plug-ins, channel shifters and stuff like that - but then I saw that Adobe cancelled PB in CS6 and all hopes crashed...

So now I find myself downloading the AE CS5.5 SDK and getting myself tangled in hundreds of lines of C++ code...

So my question for the community is this: Does anyone know what path I should take to embark on this adventure? Satya seems to have made it out the other end OK - but has yet to provide much of an explanation of how he did it. I have maybe an hour a day to devote to this project, not years of C++ coding before I figure out what I'm doing.


Thanks in advance,

Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 6:22:10 pm

The learning curve for c++ plugins is indeed quite steep, but with loss of AE support for Pixel Bender, your options are limited. You could, of course, create one or more presets to apply the effects you want. Another alternative would be to create a script with a UI that lets you select options, set parameters, etc, which then applies the effects for you.

Dan



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 10:27:01 pm

Hey Dan,

I'm aware of the learning curve of C++, I actually did a little bit of C++ a while ago. But mostly I've messed around with C#, HTML, and of course AE's expressions. What I'm trying to figure out is just how to break into that learning curve. All I need to know is how to get my foot in the door with AE's SDK and I'm sure I can figure out the rest.

If I go the script route, do you think AE's scripting language will support what I want? I didn't know that you really had the temporal dimension in scripting - so how would I be able to apply my settings to all frames?

- Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 10:52:18 pm

Ah, sorry--I wasn't talking about the learning curve for C++, but rather the API as defined by the SDK. I think the best place to start is to get some of the sample plugins that come with the SDK working, then modify one to do something different, then create a simple one of your own. It's actually quite a lot of fun, once you figure out how to do it, but it takes a while to get there.

With scripting, you'd just be using your script's UI to allow you to set options and parameters for combinations of existing plugins, so you wouldn't have the pixel-level access that you would with an actual plugin.

Dan



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 10:59:39 pm

I see on the scripting approach. At that point I guess it would be like an advanced preset... Though I guess it could do the trick I'd like to figure out how to actually code it.

Got it on the API. Do you think you could point me in the direction to get those working? I've been trying to find something around that just gives me the first few steps that I'm missing to get those sample plug-ins going. I know I'm able to figure out typing in the actual code, but I have absolutely no experience with all of the steps to just getting there. Sorry if that sounds a little helpless, just trying to figure out where to start here...

(I have been looking through the documentation that Adobe provides - which seem geared to the total professional programmer who has already written thousands of plug-ins... Not much guidance there.)

Thanks for spending the time to answer my Q's btw!

- Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:10:40 pm

Believe it or not, I think everything you need to get the sample plugins working is in the SDK. As I recall, the main trick is getting your development environment (Visual Studio ?) set up correctly. I remember that it took quite a while and numerous attempts to get everything set up right. Once you get it working, be sure to make lots of notes for next time. :-)

Dan



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:26:54 pm

I'll not only make lots of notes for myself, I think I'm going to put together a step-by-step once I get this all figured out!

Unfortunately I don't have Visual Studio and can't quite justify buying it right now - I was in school when I was last using it and got all MSDN software for free. But alas that computer crashed a few years ago and I formatted it :'(

Is it naive to think that there's some form of free IDE that'll work for me? (Like I said, I'm really just a beginner here...)

- Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:34:04 pm

Well, if you've got a Mac, I think Xcode is still free.

Dan



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:36:55 pm

I've got a mac but I do all of my work on a PC - do you know how to convert it to work on Windows if I write in Xcode? From the documentation it sounds like it shouldn't be too difficult...

- Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:43:05 pm

I've gone the other way a few times (PC -> Mac) so I'm speculating somewhat, but I think you're right. There are enough differences to complicate things a little, but it's not too bad. Again, take good notes once you figure it out.

Dan



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on Jun 6, 2012 at 4:36:49 am

Well I think I've got it all working with a free Windows IDE - CodeBlocks. I haven't had time to dive headfirst in yet, but after I finish my current project I think I'll invest some time into it!

Thanks for your advice so far - I'll probably post a tutorial somewhere when I figure this all out.

- Spencer


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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on Jun 7, 2012 at 8:54:44 pm

Hey Dan, I have a more specific question (though it might seem a little silly). Once you get your c++ files together, how do you then turn them into an .aex?

I assume the answer to that question will also answer my other one, which is - how do you preview what the heck your code does?

- Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on Jun 7, 2012 at 9:22:30 pm

That may be a problem if you don't have Visual Studio so you can see how they set up the compile parameters of the example projects. I always just start with a project that works and edit the project parameters to support my new code. I think there's a step-by-step guide in the SDK (don't have it with me), but again, you'd need Visual Studio.

Dan



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on Jun 8, 2012 at 5:21:00 pm

Argh! Yet another wall... Fine, I'm sure I can figure something out...

- Spencer


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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 10:53:05 pm

Hm, I just had an idea (and this is said with no concept of what it would take to do this). Do you think anyone will whack together a program that is able to "convert" PB plug-ins to C++ or some sort of equivalent? It doesn't seem too far-fetched, considering some people have put a lot of time and work into some of these pixel bender codes...

- Spencer


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Dan Ebberts
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:01:42 pm

I think that's unlikely. PB was cool for what it was, but it had a lot of limitations. If you're going to go to all the trouble of learning the API, I would think you'd want to spend your time developing plugins that take advantage of that environment, not trying to port PB code.



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Spencer Tweed
Re: Creating my own plug-ins?
on May 31, 2012 at 11:27:50 pm

Bummer.. Ah well, makes sense.

- Spencer


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