Plug-ins are small software modules—with filename extensions such as .aex, .pbk, .pbg, and .8bi—that add functionality to an application. After Effects effects are implemented as plug-ins, as are some features for importing and working with certain file formats. The Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in, for example, provides After Effects with its ability to work with camera raw files.
Because After Effects CS5 and later is a 64-bit application, only 64-bit plug-ins can run in After Effects CS5 and later. Plug-ins created for previous, 32-bit versions of After Effects will not run in After Effects CS5 and later. To inquire about availability of 64-bit versions of plug-ins, contact the plug-in vendor or provider.
Installing and loading plug-ins
You can obtain plug-ins for After Effects and other Adobe products from Adobe or other vendors. For specific instructions for installing a plug-in, see its documentation.
When After Effects starts, it loads plug-ins from several folder, including the Plug-ins folder. If a plug-in doesn’t come with an installer or with specific instructions for its installation, then you can usually install the plug-in by placing it in the Plug-ins folder.
By default, the Plug-ins folder is in the following location:
(Windows) Program Files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects <version>\Support Files
(Mac OS) Applications/Adobe After Effects <version>
When loading plug-ins, After Effects ignores the contents of folders with names that begin and end in parentheses; for example, the contents of the folder (archived_effects) are not loaded.
After Effects also loads plug-ins from a MediaCore folder, which is intended to hold plug-ins shared between After Effects and Premiere Pro. Some third-party plug-in installers install their plug-ins in this folder. In general, unless specifically instructed to do so, you don’t install plug-ins in the MediaCore folder. If you install a plug-in in this folder that is not supported by one or more of the applications that read from this folder, you may encounter errors or other problems.
(Mac OS) Some third-party plug-in installers incorrectly install their plug-ins into the Mac OS X Package for After Effects. To reveal these plug-ins, Control-click the After Effects application icon in the Finder and choose Show Package Contents. You can then move the plug-ins into the After Effects Plug-ins folder.
When exchanging After Effects projects between computer systems, make sure that the plug-ins that the project depends on are installed on both systems. Similarly, if you are rendering a composition with multiple computers on a network, make sure that all plug-ins used in the composition are installed on all rendering computers.
On Mac OS, press Command+Option+Shift+Help to generate a list of all plug-ins loaded into After Effects (including version numbers). For information on using this command on Windows or with a Macintosh keyboard that doesn't have a Help button, see Todd Kopriva’s blog on the Adobe website.
Third-party plug-ins included with After Effects
After Effects comes with several third-party plug-ins. These plug-ins are installed by default with the full version of Adobe After Effects software. Some of these plug-ins are not included with the trial version of Adobe After Effects software.
Keylight installs its documentation in the plug-in’s subfolder in the Plug-ins folder. For more information, see Keying effects, including Keylight.
Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse
Color Finesse installs its documentation in the plug-in’s subfolder in the Plug-ins folder. For more information, see Resources for Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse.
Documentation for ProEXR plug-ins is available in a PDF document on the fnord website. For more information, see About 3D Channel effects, including ProEXR effects.
CycoreFX HD (1.7.1) is included in the installation of After Effects CS6. There is 16-bpc support in all effects, and 32-bpc (float) support in 35 effects. Included are 12 additional plug-ins. CycoreFX HD plug-ins have support for motion blur, lights, more controls, and options.
In this video by Todd Kopriva and video2brain, the new Cycore effects and improved color bit depth are shown. Learn how to apply a couple of these effects and see what it means to use different bit depths.
Imagineer mocha shape AE
Documentation for the mocha shape for After Effects (mocha shape AE) plug-in is available on the Imagineer website.
Unlike the similarly named mocha shape for After Effects (mocha shape AE), Imagineer mocha-AE is not a plug-in; it is a separate, standalone planar tracker application. For more information, see Resources for mocha for After Effects (mocha-AE).
C/C++ plug-ins and the After Effects SDK
Many plug-ins for After Effects are written in the C/C++ programming language using the After Effects SDK. Effect plug-ins written with C/C++ have the filename extension .aex. For information on developing plug-ins for After Effects with the C/C++ SDK, go to the After Effects Developer Center section of the Adobe website.
Kas Thomas provides a tutorial on the MacTech website that shows step by step how to write an After Effects plug-in.
To ask questions about writing plug-ins with the C/C++ SDK for After Effects, go to the After Effects SDK user-to-user forum.
Where to find more plug-ins for After Effects
To find plug-ins, scripts, projects, and other useful items, go to the Adobe Add-ons page.
For other sources of plug-ins, see After Effects community resources on the Adobe website.