A strong piece I did here at work has fortunately caught the eye of the higher-ups for upgrading my After Effects Software. Currently I'm running CS3 on a PC platform but if I can get funding for it, I would like to move up to CS 4.
Previously I used the following plug-ins and would like some advice on other ones out there.
Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator
Trapcode- Shine, Lux, Form, 3D Stroke and Particular
Can anyone refer me to a good plug-in that does a lot of the "gritty" looking backgrounds that you see in promos...such as the UFC promos and stuff on the speed channel. Some of it looks like sandy/gritty while other stuff has blotches of paint...etc.
If there is anything else out there that you have found to be a FANTASTIC addition plug-in wise to your AE set-up, please pass it along with links.
Thanks for you help!
For those gritty backgrounds...use a couple gritty textures.
Many stock photography places have whole collections dedicated to gritty textures. Lay one or two over a colored solid and play with blending modes and opacities and BAM! You'll have a gritty background.
Playing around with various color correction and distortion effects coupled with position and scale animations on those layers is also quite fun.
The blotches of paint are just that, blotches of paint. Digital Juice's Compositor's Toolkit has some stock footage of paint splattering in case you don't have the facilities to film it yourself. But often all that's needed is a still shot and you just animate some masks on it.
As far as plug-ins go, I love Knoll Light Factory Pro from Red Giant Software. Lens flares, if used incorrectly, look like poop - no matter how awesome of a plug-in you've got. But when I'm ready to go for a lens flare, this one's amazing. (Now that they've added the script on their website for placing the flares in 3d space, controlled by AE's 3d lights, it's even better! The flares go behind objects correctly...multiple objects...! Sorry, I'm excited about it.)
- The Great Szalam
(The 'Great' stands for 'Not So Great, in fact, Extremely Humble')
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Search the forum for "plugins" and "plug-ins" and you'll get a wealth of good advice ... I'm pretty familiar with almost every AE plugin ever publicly available, but AE does so many different things and there are so many different types of plugins that its very hard to offer good suggestions without factoring in specific needs.
With that said, I like the big sets for a number of reasons. They're not cheap so appropriate suggestions also depend a lot on budget, but I believe in the you-get-what-you-pay-for philosophy. I lean toward the big sets like GenArts Sapphire and BorisFX BCC, as well as sets from Red Giant and DigiEffects because:
 The wide range of types of plugins in the big sets better suits the wide range of things I need to do that plugins are useful for.
 Having been an AE user for a long time, I know that the individually-sold plugins too often change hands a bunch of times so getting upgrades and/or support becomes problematic after a while and I often have to revisit projects I made years ago.
 Similar to the previous reason, the bigger sets are made by more established companies that have been making AE plugins a long time so they tend to be written better and, therefore, work better and render faster. The established companies also tend to offer better support and perks (customizable presets, tutorials, etc.).
Oh yeah ... if you do much color/image correction or stylistic "looks" with raw video, the DFX set from Tiffen is also one of my favorites (most of it originated with Digital Film Tools, but its now much better than ever before).
By the way, Adobe's recent product cycle history implies that we may see CS5 before year's end.