Element 3D for After Effects – new realtime plugin

Very interesting new $150 real-time plugin for Adobe After Effects CS6, called Element 3D. And no, it seems that it’s not the usual dubious claim of “I got two grainy frames per second, and I’m calling it real-time”.

3D Artist magazine reports…

“At first we couldn’t believe we were rotating over 100k polygon models, with 4k textures on them, in real time, and they were still looking amazing […] incredibly good results”

The software uses an OpenGL render engine (I’m not sure which version — the DAZ Studio viewport still uses the ancient 1.6), and has light presets, 20 shaders, multi-pass rendering in a dropdown menu, and a particle system. That all looks very tasty for a mere $150, especially for video and motion graphics people who find it scary once 3D goes beyond “3D spinning logos”.

Drawbacks seem to be that, unlike iClone, it isn’t optimised for complex or long scenes. Nor does it seem to be set up in any way for character animation. Plus, from what I remember of using After Effects back in the day, rendering the final video at full resolution is likely to take a lot longer than iClone.

Another drawback is that there’s no FBX import, which may limit your ability to speedily access 3D models from a big DAZ/Poser content library. Import is currently just plain old OBJ (with all the inevitable hassles arising from external textures) and Cinema 4D import.

For pro video makers who need a little 3D with some level of ease-of-use, it sounds like many people might be better off with Keyshot 3 ($900), rather than After Effects + Element 3D (around $850 all told). Since the simplicity of Keyshot 3 (learn it in one day) would save you months in having to wrestle with learning After Effects. You’d also get a better quality of render (not real-time, admittedly, but very fast). But if you already have and know After Effects, then Element 3D sounds like a very interesting realtime plugin, and one that can hopefully only get even better as it moves to version 2.0.