My goal here is to take images of people and make them "exoskeletons" (shells of people) and put these shell people in a 3D scene.
My first instinct was Trapcode Mir. I'm fairly experienced with the plugin and know its major advantages, but I also know its downsides - mainly that it works well with lights when your texture is simple, or well with textures when you don't use lights...but lights on complex textures (like a person's face) you run into serious aliasing of the colors/brightness unless you're running a 32 bit color space and your vertices are really high...i.e. your machine is overworked.
Then I tried playing with the simple CC glass effect and fell in love. It can distort images based on their own luma (people's cheeks when lit from the front make fine depth maps for bulging in 3D space) and the "soften" slider is perfect for dealing with the issues that a normal displacement map effect runs into when the contrast in the depth map is too high. Oh AND it responds to 3D lights and makes people shiny just like an exoskeleton might.
BUT it's a 2D effect and not a big fancy plugin that can simulate 3D. So I've spent countless hours trying to get similar effects such as displacement map or even CC bulge, to have their "center" values somehow expression linked to the 3D position of the layer they are on, and in relation to the camera or 3D nulls etc....
My head is in a knot.
Does anyone know of an effect as simple as something like CC glass, that can distort the image in relation to the camera position?
Free Form V2 or better, FreeForm Pro are the 3d displacement plugins. Mettle has a demo on their site you can download to play around with. You will need a simple expression to link the displacement value to the camera position.