After Effects has had z-space for what seems like forever and you can do a lot with it, but it’s limited to the point that many people refer to it as 2.5D instead of real 3D. Digieffects ( has brought us closer to true 3D than ever before with their new plug-in, FreeForm AE (US$299).

Digieffects calls FreeForm AE a 3D mesh warping tool “that allows users to manipulate a flat object into almost any shape using a mesh in 3D space.” In other words, it’s a displacement map on steroids. You can take an image or solid and manipulate it with points on a scalable grid or, better yet, create a displacement map by using another layer and applying fractal noise.

To jump in and create a flag blowing, mountainous terrain, or a liquid effect is easy. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more experimentation, patience, and processing power to build really advanced shapes. Also worth mentioning is that FreeForm functions in its own 3D world, not global 3D.

What’s the one thing that everyone wants to be able to accomplish in After Effects? 3D text, of course! Well, after a few hours of play, it came close but with detail maxed out, producing some rough edges — not worth the strain on processors. Digieffects didn’t tout this as a text-extrusion tool, but you can’t knock a guy for trying.

FreeForm is great at what it can do, but it isn’t going to be used every day, so the $299 price tag seems out of reach for freelancers and small production houses. Combine that with how much time is required for building more intricate shapes and things aren’t looking good. On the other hand, Digieffects has brought us so much closer to what we want—that’s worth something, right?

Macsimum rating: 5 out of 10

— Jason Scriver

This review is brought to your courtesy of Layers Magazine (