Which VFX Software Is Right For Me? | ActionVFX

Which VFX Software Is Right For Me?

Which VFX Software Is Right For Me?

Exploring new software and possibilities? We've done the leg work for you.

Whether you're just getting started with visual effects as a hobby or you're looking to take your career to the next level by pursuing a full-time job in the industry, there are a lot of great VFX programs out there that have similar capabilities with different strengths.

Today, we're going to take a little work out of the equation to help you quickly decide which ones are right for you!

Keep in mind, there are a lot of great video editors out there (like Premiere Pro), but we're going to look at some of the most popular applications that are tuned specifically for producing visual effects.

Beginner-Intermediate VFX

HitFilm Express

Price: Free (Upgradable to HitFilm Pro)
Great for: Compositing, Keying, Motion Tracking, Motion Graphics, Rotoscoping, VFX Elements, Basic Video Editing
HitFilm Express made huge waves in the industry by bringing a solid non-linear video editor that can stand up against giants like Premiere Pro and provide an easy-to-use interface that gets the job done for basic video editing. 

Beyond that, HitFilm Express truly shines in its ability to function like a swiss army knife. It provides many VFX tools similar to those found in programs like After Effects, right alongside its video timeline editor.

This array of features, combined with the convenience of staying in one program and a powerful 3D camera tracker, makes HitFilm Express the ideal choice for those who are just getting started in VFX and want to have a lot of instant power with preset effects. The vast amount of quality educational content that FXhome provides on their HitFilm YouTube channel ensures you’ll have a lot of fun learning the program in no time.

HitFilm Express is actually available for free, allowing you access to its core features at no additional cost. As you progress in your VFX journey, you can either pay a small fee for specific VFX add-ons à la carte, or you can opt for HitFilm Pro. The Pro gets you everything they offer for an incredibly reasonable price of $349.

Adobe After Effects

Price: Individual Subscription ($20.99/mo., or $52.99/mo with the full Creative Cloud)
Great for: Compositing, Keying, Motion Tracking, VFX Elements, Rotoscoping, Motion Graphics, Basic Animation
After Effects is a tried-and-true program that offers hundreds of built-in effects and plugins for beginners, experts, and everyone in between. It remains one of the most powerful and versatile tools out there. Due to its long history and popularity, you can probably find millions of hours of YouTube tutorials showing you how to get the most out of the program.  

Adobe has engineered After Effects to be a natural progression for Premiere Pro users into the world of visual effects, and after just a couple tutorials, you'll quickly build confidence and start to find new ways to achieve cool shots.

Things that could take hours to try and pull off in Premiere Pro can be done in a fraction of the time in After Effects. Plus, you can simply "round trip" a clip from Premiere straight into After Effects for a little VFX magic, then have that clip immediately update on Premiere's timeline with no additional rendering needed. This is a major advantage of working in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite.

One of the other big advantages of After Effects are the regular updates, like Content-Aware Fill for Video, which harnesses Adobe's Sensei AI for intelligent object removal.

Pro Tip: If you aren't round-tripping and working exclusively in After Effects, you'll also want to keep in mind AE can export your video as massive file sizes, so be aware of which codecs would be best optimized for your project (more on codecs/compression rates here).

Plugins to Enhance Your VFX

Before we move on to more advanced VFX programs, it’s important to mention that you can learn a more approachable program like HitFilm or After Effects, then supercharge it with specialized VFX plugins. When using After Effects, you can purchase VideoCopilot’s game-changing Element 3D plugin to add a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use 3D animation engine to After Effects.

Element 3D is also optimized to run as lightweight as possible in the background, which makes working with 3D in After Effects a lot more fun and a lot less cumbersome.

Another suite of VFX plugins worth mentioning is the Red Giant VFX Suite. Compatible with a ton of host applications like HitFilm and After Effects, Red Giant’s VFX Suite belongs in every VFX artist’s toolkit, and includes plugins like VFX Supercomp to make a huge difference in your project!

Expert-Level VFX

Nuke

Price: Buy for $4,988 or Rent for $1,729/qtr.
Great for: Advanced VFX, 3D Tracking, Model Building, Compositing, and Rotoscoping
The industry standard for the most realistic compositing possible, Nuke is not for the faint of heart. Nuke is an incredibly advanced node-based program for feature-film quality VFX and compositing. While it’s geared towards serious VFX artists and can take a substantial amount of time to learn, if you are armed with experience in Nuke, you'll have a much better shot at landing a full-time career in compositing.

Nuke recently released version 12.1, improving lens distortion features, as well as tools that simplify artist review and collaboration across teams.

If you're already familiar with After Effects and want to take the next step to Nuke, here's a great resource to help you make the transition.

Houdini

Price: Free (Non-Commercial), $269/yr. (Indie), Various Artist/Studio Pricing Available
Great for: 3D Modeling, Procedurally Generated VFX Elements and with Advanced Physics, Environment Design, Lighting, Lookdev, and 3D Animation

Houdini 18 Sneak Peek from SideFX Houdini on Vimeo.

SideFX’s Houdini is a truly amazing program designed for digital artists to take advantage of the latest in procedural generation and hyper-realistic visual effects.  

Not only can it be used for advanced 3D modeling and animation, but you can even perform physical simulations on just about anything you can imagine with the VELLUM or Finite Elements solvers to get the most realistic results possible.

Couple that with the Substance plugin and you can generate real-world simulations with an unprecedented level of photo-realism.  

Unreal Engine 4 

Price: Free (Licensing terms available here)
Great for: Virtual Production, Real-Time VFX, 3D Animation, Environment Design, Lookdev, Lighting, Game Development
We’ve talked about numerous advantages the Unreal Engine has brought the VFX industry, and it’s certainly worth investigating if you’re looking to learn new VFX software.  

What makes the Unreal Engine so special is the fact that it was once used specifically for game development, but has now transitioned into an invaluable tool for real-time VFX and virtual production — truly the next generation of filmmaking.

The other advantage of learning the Unreal Engine is that not only could the skills you develop be utilized in the realm of virtual production, but you could also transfer those skills to aspects of game development in the future. This gives you maximum flexibility when it comes to career options.

The Unreal Engine is also integrated with Quixel’s Megascans library of photo-realistic assets, allowing you to generate incredibly lifelike VFX in a real-time environment.

They offer a ton of online learning opportunities to help you along in your journey, and with Unreal Engine 5 on the horizon, now is a great time to get started.

We hope this list helped eliminate some of the guesswork in picking the right VFX software for you! If you're interested in pursuing a career in VFX, you might want to check out our article on online VFX academies!

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