I am looking for the best free plugins for AE to help in normal operations. I have CS6 and have just used basics for a while. I'm ready to take the next step in animation and special effects. Any help appreciated.
You don't need plugins to go deep in AE. There are a ton of really complicated and pro-level effects that are just layering the standard AE effects with each other.
Take dropping a logo into a pool of water, for example. Using Wave World and Caustics, you can get a really realistic effect, but you need to know how to use the tools AE comes with. And that's just one example. A majority of good effects can be achieved with AE's stock tools.
Now, there are some useful scripts and plugins out there for free and for money, but they shouldn't be a main part of your toolset.
Newton, Particular, ShapeShifter are all examples of (paid) third-party plugins that do something After Effects can't do (or can't do easily), but they only solve specific problems; they don't make you more of a professional in After Effects.
Too many beginners start trying to learn plugins and start relying on them instead of actually learning to use AE. Only go to plugins if they do what AE can't do itself.
- The Great Szalam
(The 'Great' stands for 'Not So Great, in fact, Extremely Humble')
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However, to add to what Michael said, there really is no point in downloading free (or paid) scripts or plugins just for the sake of downloading them. After Effects is extremely powerful on its own. Figure out what effects you need to create and then figure out how to do it. Ask people, watch tutorials, and, most importantly, experiment. Try to break down the effect or animation and then figure out how to create each piece. If a plugin helps, great, but they are not a one-click solution to creating good effects or motion graphics.