These free animation tools for After Effects are essential for becoming a killer animator.

Top image via Jenny LeClue

While I would never recommend that working character animators use After Effects exclusively, there are a few tools that make animating in After Effects much easier. Let’s take a look at five essential animation tools for After Effects.

1. DuIK

Price: free, but donations are helpful.

If you download only one animation tool for After Effects, it’s imperative that you download DuIK. It’s an animation powerhouse that allows users to have all of the tools they need to create fun animations right at their fingertips.

Most notably, DuIK allows users to easily rig elbow and knee joints with inverse kinematics. If you’re not already familiar with the term, inverse kinematics is a rigging process where joints behave by bending when two objects are brought near.

Inverse Kinematics

Among other things, DuIK also has a neat auto-rigging feature that automatically rigs your entire character with pivot points. All you have to do is label the body parts with the appropriate names and run the script. Other notable features include:

  • Bones
  • Auto-rig
  • Stretchy IK
  • Automated Dynamics

Instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of how each feature works, check out this cool demo video from DuIK that features all of its new features.

2. Motion Path

Price: free, included in After Effects.

When working with smaller objects and distant characters, an animation path can be a great tool for giving your project a customizable look. By using a motion path, you can essentially have an object follow a predetermined path set by the pen tool.

There’s also a really cool auto-orient feature in After Effects that allows your object to stay facing the right direction when on a motion path. This is perfect if you’re animating a car or ship along a predetermined path.

3. Graph Editor

Price: Free, included in After Effects.

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it forever: the fastest way to make your animation look more organic is to use the graph editor feature in After Effects.

If you’re not already familiar with the graph editor, it’s essentially a small X and Y graph that can be used to display how position, scale, or any other parameter acts over time. Instead of having jarring movements, you can easily make your object’s motion smoother using the graph editor.

4. Animation Composer

Price: free, with paid plugins.

If you do a lot of shape animations in After Effects, one of the newest and most helpful animation plugins to hit the market in the last few years is Animation Composer by Mister Horse. This free plugin makes it easy to quickly animate multiple shape layers with a given effect.

In this tutorial from Creative Dojo’s VihnSon Nguyen, we take a look at how to use this essential plugin. While this plugin is free, it should be noted that there are many more paid presets you can purchase for faster animating in the future.

5. Puppet Tool

Price: free, included in After Effects.

The Puppet tool is perfect for adding fluid dynamics to your character. As the name implies, the tool allows users to move various body parts around with a simple mouse click. You can even apply a wiggle expression to give your character randomized lifelike movement.

What are your go-to After effects animation tools? Let us know in the comments below!