In the comments to my last post Terry noted that Trapcode would be falling behind. Is it true? I don’t necessarily think so, despite my obvious dislike of MIR. Since there’s never an easy answer to such topics, let’s take it one step at a time.
Though it’s indeed a matter of fact that most Trapcode plug-ins haven’t seen major additions for some time now, they still do plenty and are on some level unique. Particular is still one of the most complex and powerful plug-ins out there as is Form and Lux, Starglow, Soundkeys and 3D Stroke have their virtues, too. Only Horizon and Shine have now been pretty much become obsolete with alternate tools and techniques that work the same or better being widely available. When you measure that against a market that has grown as big as the one for After Effects plug-ins, even without any enhancements and just keeping an eye on compatibility there’s enough potential that someone will buy your stuff.
That’s great for the developers, isn’t it? Yeah, but I believe therein also lies the biggest problem. Once there’s a certain level of money involved, the road to complacency and resting on your achievenents is more tempting than the hard rocky path of being truly innovative. And I think that is very much what happened to Trapcode. When a few years ago Red Giant Software took over, development came very much to a halt and everybody was satisfied just taking the money. Looking back it probably wasn’t a good move at all. Sure, it took the burden of managing sales and customer support off Mr. Norrby‘s shoulders, but at the same time it seems to have meant very much a stop.
What also contributes to the issue that in recent years it seems Red Giant are more aiming at going broad and creating versions of tools like Magic Bullet Looks for every video processing program out there instead of focusing on more specialized stuff. Much to my chagrin they have killed of many “cool” plug-ins over the years in favor of other, more broadly sellable ones. They are looking for cash cows, not necessarily really new and innovative tools. Again, understandable in terms of business, but not necessarily the kind of thing I would consider a balanced approach. Of course that’s totally subjective, which finally takes us to another point: user expectation and specific individual needs.
A lot of the perception that Trapcode tools aren’t what they used to be depends on a few other factors. Of course we as users always want more even if we may not actually have an immediate need for a certain feature. I for instance always had hopes that Starglow would add more prism types and options e.g. for dispersion, even if I didn’t exactly have a specific project. It just seemed a cool idea and might have been useful at some point. Yet it never came. This would be no different with all those things one could add to Particular. You could add more force fields and so on, but how often would one actually use them? Any such job is probably too complex for the plug-in, anyway. Incidentally that’s one of the reasons why in the last three years I have barely ever used Particular and worked mostly in my 3D programs.
The other part is that naturally the more specialized a plug-in is, the easier it can fall victim to going out of fashion. You can only cram in so many god rays and twinkles in your animation, if you know what I mean. that being so, there may not be that big an urge from a developer to work on new features for a tool when nobody may use them because e.g. a more abstract graphical style is en vogue that works without glows or lens flares for that matter. This could, however, change at any point. One day there may be a new craze and then even a plug-in nobody considered before may sell like bread fresh from the oven.
So in the end, things aren’t as bad as they may look. True, it wouldn’t hurt to get some new stuff some time soon-ish, but despite all the flaws, you can get a lot done with the Trapcode plug-ins. And well, who knows, perhaps with the unified 3D space in the next version of After Effects options will multiply….