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New Update Finally Makes Trapcode Particular Easy to Use

Eric Escobar

Trapcode Particular’s latest update adds a handy interface for fast particle creation.

With the latest release of Trapcode Particular 2.5, creating stunning particle effects has never been easier or more accessible. For the better part of a decade, Trapcode Particular has been a one-stop shop for particles in Adobe After Effects. No motion graphics reel is complete without a healthy dose of swirly incandescent sparkles of color, courtesy of Particular.

The latest release of the app (mysteriously, a .5 update) added one of the coolest tools yet to the package: the Effects Builder. I’ll be honest, for the longest time I couldn’t quite bring myself to create particle effects from inside the effects tab in After Effects. A tall, scrolling panel with a bajillion different twirl down presets and sliders was too much to decipher.

Once you did start moving sliders and values around, you’d often just get that little off-axis fountain of pixels in the center of the screen — there was no where to just jump in. Particular was awesome, but it was awesome for dedicated mograph particle effects jockeys who knew what they wanted.

Trapcode Particular 2.5

New Update Finally Makes Trapcode Particular Easy to Use - Particle ExamplesImage from Trapcode Particular

Enter the 2.5 update and the Effects Builder UI, which makes Particular suddenly make sense to me. I talked with Red Giant Software’s Aharon Rabinowitz about the release and he filled me in on some details. I was curious about the similarities in UI between the new Effects Builder in Particular and the Looks Builder in Magic Bullet. Rabinowitz’s response:

Magic Bullet Looks is a veritable artist’s playground. It has an intuitive user interface and instant feedback that makes color correction and finishing an enjoyable process. Even it’s most powerful features are easily accessible, and it is always fun to explore them and see how they effect your image. 

On the other hand, until version 2.5, Trapcode Particular was a very technical, numbers driven experience that I powered through to get to a worthwhile end result. And we knew a lot of users felt this way. We also knew that some of the most powerful features in particular were being left untouched by most users because they’re fairly complicated, and even if you understood them, they were buried in a very deep UI.

So, we realized that if we really wanted to make Particular better, the solution wasn’t adding more features (which would only make it more complex), it was completely redesigning the experience of using it – with the end goal of making it an intuitive, enjoyable, and creative experience that allows users to harness all that Particular can do.

Particle effects have been in After Effects for a long time, first introduced with the Particle Playground tool way back sometime in pre-history. The way particles worked was similar to how everything worked in After Effects, non-real time. You’d keyframe some parameters and hit RAM preview to see the effects.

Particle Example from Trapcode Particular
Image from Trapcode Particular

Effects Builder lets users rapidly create complex particle effects with emitters, sprites, and effectors (like gravity and wind) and see the changes in real time (or near real time, depending on complexity and system resources) in the UI. This allows for an iterative approach to building a particle system. Which, really, is something you need when creating things like rain, sparks, fire, etc.

The whole point of a particle system is to see it in motion. Having to create RAM previews or render it out each time really slowed the back-and-forth discovery process of creativity.

In addition to throwing an animated tool chain visual metaphor on top of all those sliders and click buttons, there are a ton of pre-built effects. Like the pre-built looks in the Look Suite, these effects work great as a jumping off point for users to customize and modify. I’d imagine anyone in the business of selling Particular template packages will want to update their collections to live within this new metaphor.

Another Particle Example from Trapcode Particular
Image from Trapcode Particular

The Effects Builder is the Visual UI that drives the already awesome engine of Particular. You use a block and tool chain metaphor to construct and preview your new effect. Quite simply, you shove particles blocks in at the front, bombard them with other kinds of blocks, and out pops your own unique particle effect on the other end: an assembly line for effects.

The particles and forces live as little block/control tools you can pluck off the shelf and put into the chain. I like to think of the block and tool chain UI as a halfway house for those of us used to panels, sliders, and drill down menus in AE as we make our way towards the nodes and connections in Nuke and Fusion.

Block Editing

New Update Finally Makes Trapcode Particular Easy to Use - Effects Chain

There are seven block categories and a total of sixteen kinds of blocks you can use to build an effect. Everything from “Emitter” blocks which determine how particles are, you guessed it, emitted (i.e. a point or a cloud, etc.) to blocks that determine how the final effects are rendered. Some of these blocks can be stacked multiple times in a chain, others can only be in a chain once. The blocks are intuitive. For example, you’ll use Gravity and Wind to shape how the particles fall or are blown around.

Effects Presets

New Update Finally Makes Trapcode Particular Easy to Use - Custom Particles
Image from Trapcode Particular

One of the outstanding features of this release, along with Effects Builder, are the 175 preset effects that live right inside of it. Rather than starting from scratch, you can just grab a prebuilt effect from the Effects Pane and see how a Particular pro put one together. Think of this as your invitation to learn by breaking things. Load up an Effects Preset, see what it looks like, and start pulling pieces out. I have found this to be the fastest and most effective way to design and develop my own Particular Effects.

I asked Rabinowitz why such a major UI revamp to a popular product only warrants a .5 update. He said:

The Effects Builder is a new UI running the already existing set of tools, the ones that have remained out of reach for a lot of less-than-techie users. I think that if a brand new visual UI only wins a .5 update.

I can’t wait to see what Particular 3.0 has in store for us.

Have you checked out Trapcode Particular 2.5? What do you think of the new update? Share in the comments below.