3D shadows are particularly slow and painful to create. Well, how about faking the 3D process altogether and tricking the eye with Shadow Studio 2.

Cover image via Plugin Everything

As someone who makes a living from writing and teaching about technology and editing, I’m growing increasingly worried about how simple some of these plugins are becoming. It was only last month I was writing about how AutoFill, and how there wasn’t a tutorial to produce because it’s as simple as dragging the effect onto the shape or text. This month I’m here with Shadow Studio 2, another After Effects plugin, that is equally as simple to use.

There’s a certain richness that comes with motion graphic design that implements the 3D design. It can take the simplest of elements and increase the overall professionalism to a new level. However, the inherent problem with 3D shapes and elements is that they are an entirely different ball game than 2D motion design. So they also require a different skillset.

Thankfully, After Effects is inundated with tools that help perceive the illusion of three-dimensional objects or text, even though when in 3D space, they are still 2D objects. In my tutorial for using 3D shapes with Newton 3, I ran over a method to create perceived 3D shapes. However, admittedly that method was quite tedious as we had to apply numerous effects to a single object, and it was quick to slow down playback. Today, I’m going to introduce a new tool that merges all those elements into a single plugin, and that is Shadow Studio 2.

Shadow Studio 2 is a $49 plugin developed by my go-to plugin developer, Plugin Everything. Released earlier this year, it will change and amplify how dynamic your animations are. Notably, if you watched the trailer linked above, there’s no definitive mention of the tool being a 3D asset. But inherently, that’s what shadows are, right? A shadow is created by an object obstructing the path of light. Therefore, nature creates a perceived illusion of 3D, even if we can’t see any geometrically extended edges.

The Test

For PremiumBeat, I recently covered a tutorial on the basics of color grading curves. And to explain how they work, I created a set of animated curves. It looked like this.

While the animation was sound, it ultimately looked boring. However, as soon as I dropped Shadow Studio 2 onto the layers, the graph transformed into this.

Instantly, it’s visually embellished, and these are on the default settings!

So, what is this plugin doing that a typical drop shadow is not? Applying a drop shadow onto the graph looks like this (see below). It’s just offsetting the shape’s outline in a blanket of black. I guess to a degree it works if we suggest that the layer is a 2D plane and light is casting down upon it, but it’s not 3D.

First,  Shadow Studio hosts three preliminary shadow types.

  • Normal is applied like a typical drop shadow effect, but sleeker and more profound.
  • Inner has the shadow composited inside of the object, creating the illusion of inner depth to the shape or text.
  • Radial has the shadow defined from the point of origin, instead of a specified angle.

But more significantly, and where the plugin takes precedence, is the additional controls in how the shadow is composited.

Specifically, the softness and opacity controls. Not only can you alter the softness of the easing, by where opacity stops and starts. These parameters considerably change how the user can manipulate the shadows. For example, in this shot, I’ve set the Opacity Start to 20% and the Opacity End to 4%. Everything else is at the default value.

If I keep the parameters as they are but increase the Opacity End to 30%, we have an entirely different shadow.

And what does that mean? It would suggest that we’re using a different light. But we’re not. There is no light; there aren’t any three-dimensional attributes to the text. And that’s really what you’re paying for, the ability to adjust the shadow’s intrinsic properties, which in turn promotes the dynamism of a 3D object reacting to light.

This isn’t a supped up drop shadow effect. It would be disingenuous to say. Shadow Studio 2 gives you complete control from how far the shadow is cast to the light’s proposed intensity and distance. It should be noted that the plugin also comes with a variety of presets that can readily give your shape or text a varied design.

Earlier I touched upon a recent tutorial with Newton 3. In that article, I documented a method in which you could also emulate 3D to give your Newton animations a three-dimensional touch. However, when using various effects to achieve a realistic-looking shadow, it’s going to slow down playback and rendering. And in general, unless you have a supped-up computer, moving objects with numerous effects can be troublesome. You may have staggered control or continually see your composition dip into lower resolution with adaptive playback if activated. However, Shadow Studio 2 is built from the ground up to be GPU accelerated. Therefore you can expect fast editing, fast playback, and quicker rendering times.

If you’ve been looking to add a sense of 3D to your images, but that realm is outside your source of knowledge, Shadow Studio 2 might be the perfect plugin for you.

On the topic of tutorials, I’ve recently, and finally, picked up Plexus 3. If you know anything about that plugin, it is the furthest thing away from automated or simple. Therefore, I’m sure you’ll be seeing some Plexus 3 tutorials in the months.

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