While there’s a direct start and endpoint for many effects in After Effects, with Newton 3, you can obtain a new result, and thus a new animation! See more.
Over the last year, one of my favorite YouTube series has been the VFX Artists React to Hollywood CGI by Corridor Digital. While the reaction trend has somewhat died over the last several months, Corridor Digital has continued strong with their series. I believe a successful part of their show is the educational aspect in which Niko will usually break down how specific effects are created. And one of my favorite insights is about the world of physic simulators.
Skip to 8:00.
As someone who has never dabbled in the world of 3D and is firmly planted in the roots of 2D motion graphics, I’ve always been fascinated by software that can seemingly simulate the destruction of a building, taking away much of the tedious animation process. While not entirely the same, Newton 3 employs that principle with 2D shapes inside of After Effects.
Newton, now in its third iteration, hence the name, brings realistic physics to Adobe After Effects. The plugin makes your 2D composition layers—text, shapes, and masks—behave like solid objects that interact with each other and will respond accordingly to the individual properties set in the neatly designed properties panel.
If you’ve found yourself in this review and are unaware of what a physics engine does, we have a basic tutorial that will equip you with the fundamental knowledge to start Newton.
At its basics, you apply physical properties to a shape, such as the density, and how bouncy the shape is. Upon hitting execute, gravity will take over and the body will react accordingly. The engine offers a variety of physical properties to manipulate and adjust, such as density, friction, velocity, and bounciness. And even when the property doesn’t explicitly exist in the software (such as aero dynamics), it can be emulated via other features. For example, if you have several objects falling and want to display one as paper, increase the linear damping. This will reduce the velocity of the bodies’ fall. With the way the bodies collide, I often find myself creating my elaborate simulations, a remnant of a Rube Goldberg machine, forgetting about the work at hand, finding the right body property, placing the shape layer in the precise path, and clicking play to see the madness unfold.
As you can attract or repel objects with the magnetism system, and then send those shapes onto a collision course with a set of objects bound together by a spring joint, it often feels like a retro video game. And, that’s important. Animating is tedious, especially when trying to replicate physics, and let’s not bring up the wrought path of expressions. Yet when it becomes fun, and in the case of Newton it’s fun at the click of a button, the plugin entices you to do more than the sole animation you set out to complete.
User-Interface and Simplicity
As I was acquiring my thoughts on how to approach this review, I kept stumbling over the hurdle of the plugin’s simplicity. How was I to review a plugin where in theory, all you do is dial in the properties of the shape, press play, and watch the mayhem proceed? If it’s not the desired effect, you adjust the settings and start again. Newton 3 doesn’t promise you a guaranteed outcome. It’s not selling realistic flares or plausible lightning hits. Instead it’s offering real gravity physics, which are dictated by your input.
Newton does start to struggle when you have a number of shapes moving around the composition at varying speeds making multiple contacts with each other. However, in the advanced settings panel, you can group bodies into specific lettered groups to avoid collisions.
While the physic properties set out within the primary menu set the action of the scene, the join mechanisms really provide the fine-tuning. You can join individual bodies with a diverse selection of joints such as distance, pivot, piston, spring, wheel, and the recently introduced blob joint. As noted by Motion Boutique, the blob joint is;
A blob joint forces a group of bodies to maintain a constant volume within them (actually a constant area since we are in 2D). Internally, the blob joint uses several soft distance joints to connect the bodies.
In short, you can create slime animations without sophisticated simulations. You can see just how powerful this system is in the video below from SideshowFX.
When two or more bodies are connected, it may make for a more sporadic simulation. It can also create a physics reproduction that just isn’t possible by hand keyframe animation inside of After Effects.
When I was searching to see if there were any other physic engines on the market, I came across Physics Now! This appears to be like a very suitable alternative for those who are on a tighter budget (although with a lower of a price tag, there are also fewer features). However, on the marketing trailer of the tool, I read this comment.
“Finally, an alternative to Newton so sick of its independent window.”
If anything, I find the independent user interface incredibly useful. In fact, I’m unsure how well the plugin operates outside the window. After Effects can already feel overcrowded if you have several scripts and plugins installed on your system. So, there’s no way that this complex system would neatly sit in the Effects Controls panel.
The interface blends neatly with the default After Effects theme. It also offers full customization by allowing you to move the panels, extend them, or hide them completely. Additionally, the independent interface has its own infinite ground function along with the additional option of turning on comp walls. This means that there isn’t a need to create a shape layer/s within After Effects to control your physics simulation.
After you’ve spent a minute playing around with the physic properties, render out your animation to After Effects. Quite like the simplicity of everything else with this plugin, you just need to note the final frame where the simulation comes to a stop, tap that into the render panel, and hit render. The simulation then quickly exports to a separate comp with the animations delivered as keyframes—which are also adjustable.
Where does the plugin fall short?
Even when you try to find flaws with the plugin, you have to nit-pick to find something that warrants a negative point. If there are any cumbersome aspects to the simulator, it’s not so much the physics engine but the UI application. Being able to rearrange and even rename the files once they are in Newton would be excellent. Of course, you should probably perform any kind of organization while still in the After Effects window, but sometimes plans change and new ideas hatch. Plus, sometimes having to return to the After Effects window to clean up the body panel is one click too many.
Similarly, once Newton has simulated the physics and no changes have been made, I think it would be beneficial for the artist to move along the Newton timeline without pressing play to see the simulation all over again. There have been a few occasions where I want to review a late physics collision, but I need to run through the entire animation.
While it is somewhat troublesome not to be able to directly import images into Newton 3, it doesn’t take too long to create a shape layer that replicates the image. And as noted in the basics tutorial up top, it’s incredibly easy to parent the graphic to the shape layer. However, if your imported picture is of a complex shape, you may
have to spend some extra time on perfecting the frame. Still, these grievances are small in comparison to what the plugin offers as a whole.
To some extent, Newton 3 reminds me of an open-world video game where the player’s choices can alter what will happen at any given time. While there’s usually a direct start and endpoint for many effects within After Effects, with Newton 3, you can obtain a new result, and thus a new animation, on an infinite scale. I don’t try to be stubborn with my reviews, but I most definitely won’t gloss over the downfalls of a product.
But with Newton 3? I’m just not seeing it. To import several shapes, apply real-world physic simulations with a click of a button, and then render them within a few seconds is a game changer for me. I can’t picture when I wouldn’t use this plugin for most future animations. I’ve had Newton bookmarked for so long that the original bookmark refers to the older version of the plugin. I can only wonder how great my previous videos could have been if I had purchased the plugin sooner.
Newton 3 is $249.99 and you can purchase it from aescripts.com.
Want more tips on using After Effects? Check these out.