Review: FreeForm Pro
Building on a plug-in included with AfterEffects, FreeForm Pro provides mighty motion graphics tools
Just part of FreeForm Pro’s arsenal, Generator enables you to create stylish – and animatible – abstract art in a few clicks
There will be many times in the career of a 3D artist when you need to add displacement effects to an image, footage or other asset.
When this happens, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in opening your favourite 3D app and waste valuable hours tinkering, when you could be so much more efficient if you used something like FreeForm Pro to do the heavy lifting for you.
This plug-in for After Effects CS5 – Windows only right now, although the developer says a Mac version is under way – has a couple of main toolsets.
First is the ability to warp a chosen layer or comp using a mesh or grid. You define the number of rows and columns the layer is divided into, then freely move the vertices to warp the underlying image.
This has its uses, but it doesn’t hugely improve on the built-in tools supplied by Adobe.
Where FreeForm Pro becomes more interesting is when you start to approach the displacement tools.
You can create a displacement map just like you would for any other 3D app – but watch out: FreeForm uses 100% black as its zero height, rather than the normal 50% grey.
The resulting map can be applied to any layer or comp and is a fast way to stamp details into a surface or to animate some crawly creature lurking under an actor’s skin, for example.
By adding some lights and a camera, it’s a fairly simple job to match the displacement to the footage, and realistic results are easily achievable.
GPU accelerated performance
A simple greyscale image was applied to FreeForm on a solid, and a light added. This could be spherised to make a 3D globe
FreeForm Pro relies on the power of the GPU to accelerate performance, but
it will take a modern, high-powered card to let you really explore the tools in a usable way.
If you’ve ever tried FreeForm AE (bundled with After Effects CS5) and turned on anti-aliasing, you may well be familiar with screen refresh nightmares on
The Pro version lets your CPU take a back seat while your graphics card takes the load.
My 1.3GB Quadro 2000 was mostly lag-free for setting up, but I did notice some slow-down when I approached final render settings, using a denser mesh and medium AA levels.
However, I did have 700 subdivisions in a 1080p comp for this test – so all in all, I’m pretty impressed.
If I could see displacement previews of that quality in my 3D app, I would be over the moon.
FreeForm Pro offers a few more tools than its CS5-bundled stablemate, but more importantly, it offers a big performance improvement – if you have the workstation configuration for it to take advantage of.
FreeForm Pro’s controls are set out in a simple, intuitive hierarchy that will be familiar to all After Effects users
A useful set of tools for displacing layers in After Effects, but one for users
at the bleeding edge.
If you don’t have a 1GB graphics card, you may be better off sticking with the AE version.
• Usable toolset
• Takes the strain off the CPU
• Strong performance
• More tools than the AE version
• High-quality 3D output
• Minimum graphics card spec is high
• Dense meshes needed for best results
£183 / $299 / €205
Windows (Mac to follow)
on Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 at 12:55 pm under Plug-ins, Reviews.
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Tags: After Effects, FreeForm Pro, motion graphics, review