Form Follows Function

With so many 3D plug-in effects available, you would think it would be easy to choose the right one. Unfortunately, as the number of plug-ins increases, so does the complexity of the choice.

Watch the Video Tutorial on Creating Design Elements in Trapcode Form

I wanted a simple, yet powerful, plug-in to create 3D particle-based titles for HD video. I also wanted the titles to move in sync with a music track. Ideally, this would be accomplished with a single plug-in, so I could quickly tweak the settings to find the look I wanted (or- more likely- to accidently stumble on a look I didn’t realize I wanted). When I read about Trapcode Form, it seemed made to order for my needs. Luckily, it turned out to be just what I was looking for.
Flexible Features
Trapcode Form is the newest plug-in in the Trapcode Suite 2008 ($799), now sold and marketed by Red Giant Software. You should consider buying the full suite, because each of the eight plug-ins are first-rate, especially the well-known Particular, and they work well together. Trapcode Form functions as a plug-in within Adobe After Effects 7.0, where it integrates into After Effects’ 3D environment. As a result, you can easily add impressive camera movements to your animated forms. Trapcode Form ships with 61 animation presets, including camera flyovers optimized for 3D terrains, abstract animations programmed to react to audio, and title animations designed for the lower-third of the screen.
I tested Trapcode Form on a Dell XPS 720 with a 3.0 GHz quad-core Pentium overclocked to 3.3 GHz. Even with a fast quad-core processor, previews of complex 3D animations displayed at a reduced frame rate until the entire sequence was cached into RAM. A second, much smaller preview window always played back in real time. It lets you quickly view a project from different perspectives without having to change the camera angle.
The Trapcode Form Web site ( has four excellent tutorials to get you started. Between the presets and illustrative projects, you’ll have examples for text-to-particle transformations, abstract forms that react to specific audio frequencies, and organic smoke- and string-like animations. With the audio reactor presets, the animation is ready to use. All you have to do is associate one or more audio files with the animation variables. Even after applying a preset, you can change any setting, including motion blur, depth of field, or looping. Alternatively, you can start from scratch. Define a simple particle-based form and adjust the perimeters to create a customized keyframe animation.
Trapcode Form offers plenty of bang for the buck. It’s relatively easy to use and has more than enough settings to produce distinctive 3D animations. You will, however, need a fast computer to preview complex particle animations at anything close to real time.
In addition to his reviews for this magazine, contributing editor David English evaluates software and hardware for and Computer Shopper magazine.