Visual effects have seen an exciting rise in popularity over the past decades, and they’ve given film directors more room for creativity to showcase their ideas in a mesmerizing fashion.
We can draw a neat line to divide movies into eras before and after visual effects, and the difference shows how immersive films have become recently.
Those of you who are about 30-35 or older (like me!) will remember that visual effects were previously mainly reserved for blockbuster movies or other high-budget hits.
But nowadays, even those seem outdated when compared to not-so-big titles. And as the need for ultra-realistic visual effects increased, VFX tools became powerful.
But out of all the software options available today, what is the best software for VFX in 2023? That’s what we’ll discuss in this post, so let’s dig in!
Adobe After Effects
Adobe After Effects is a powerhouse VFX software program.
It’s constantly updated, includes templates, and is affordable for the quality of effects that you get!
Filmora is reliable, intuitive, and great for beginners to VFX.
It’s affordable and also can help you edit your videos.
AutoDesk Maya is expensive to use, but it offers extremely high-quality VFX editing.
It’s especially great for animation!
HitFilm is affordable and offers many VFX capabilities.
It’s not the most powerful option on the list, but it will get the job done for many indie filmmakers!
Blender is a free, open-source VFX software option.
It’s great for indie filmmakers who are not afraid to learn something new!
What is the Best Software for VFX?
We went through some of the most popular VFX software and came up with this list. Keep reading for more details about each product, including the top features and pricing plans!
Adobe is one of the most popular software companies, and its After Effects program is a beast of a VFX editor that puts little to no restrictions on what you can do.
After Effects was released way back in 1993 and was acquired by Adobe shortly after in 1994. Since that time, it’s been nearly three decades of consistent updates and upgrades to improve its functionality and increase the upper cap on what you can achieve.
And although Adobe After Effects is quite challenging to master, it’s one of the most powerful tools in the VFX software industry.
- Layer-based animation with advanced compositing capabilities.
- Access to hundreds of plugins and scripts for a customized effect.
- 3D camera tracking and 3D motion graphics.
- Animation presets, templates, masks, and effects.
- Advanced rotoscoping tools to isolate moving objects from your footage.
Adobe After Effects is available as a standalone program from the Adobe website at $31.49 when billed monthly. Alternatively, you can choose the annual plan to cut costs to $20.99 (when billed monthly) or $19.99 (when billed annually).
You can try out After Effects for free for seven days, thanks to the handy trial that Adobe offers.
Adobe After Effects Pros
Adobe After Effects Cons
Although Wondershare Filmora may not be as much of a powerhouse as other VFX software, it’s a reliable editor with an intuitive interface that allows you to create stunning visual effects.
Currently, Filmora is an excellent video editing software with VFX capabilities suitable for beginner to mid-level VFX artists. But as Wondershare keeps updating the app, we expect more advanced features to keep rolling out.
- Drag and drop editing.
- Adjustable speed controls for slow motion and time-lapse effects.
- Creative animations, titles, transitions, and overlays.
- Support for 4K video editing.
- Rich library of royalty-free video clips, music, and sound effects.
- Advanced layer-based color grading tools.
Wondershare Filmora is available for $19.99 per month, discounted from the regular $29.99. You can also save massively if you choose the annual plan, which costs $49.99 per year, or the perpetual plan, which is $79.99 for lifetime usage, and there are discounts on these latter two for students.
However, all these plans only allow you to use Filmora on one device: a Windows or Mac computer. If you want compatibility across different devices, you can go for the cross-platform plan, which is only available at a billing rate of $69.99 per year.
If you need Filmora for your team, you can buy it for up to 5 users for $701.4 per year. And if you need to accommodate an even larger group, you can contact the sales team for a custom quote.
Filmora Wondershare Pros
Filmora Wondershare Cons
Another monolith in the industry is the powerful and extensive AutoDesk Maya. And while you can use it to create magic out of raw footage, animation is where this VFX software shines the most. This doesn’t come as a surprise to people who’ve been in the industry for a while, as AutoDesk carries a commendable name, thanks to Maya and other popular tools like 3ds Max.
Some of the works on AutoDesk Maya’s portfolio include Ice Age, Spider-Man, and Attack of the Clones.
- High-quality 3D modeling capabilities.
- Comprehensive AI animation tools.
- Powerful shader library and node editor.
- Photorealistic rendering capabilities.
- Support for powerful plug-ins and extensions.
- Integration with AutoDesk MotionBuilder.
AutoDesk Maya Pros
AutoDesk Maya Cons
AutoDesk Maya is available for purchase at $225 per month. But you can save 34% if you choose annual billing for $1,785 or a 3-year billing cycle at $5,355.
AutoDesk also offers an interesting system that allows you to use Maya more flexibly by buying tokens, with each day of use costing 6 tokens. Tokens last for one year, and you can buy them at these prices:
- Minimum: $300 for 100 tokens; 16 days of use per year
- Popular: $1,500 for 500 tokens; 83 of use per year
- Custom quote if you need more
The needs of enterprises are often overwhelming for most software, but not the giant that is , which can accommodate large teams and their most demanding work.
SideFX founded Houdini in 1996, and it immediately stood out to us as one of the not-so-many VFX powerhouses that support Linux operating systems, which might be all you need for your team.
Many big hitters relied on Houdini and weren’t disappointed. Even Walt Disney Animation Studios has used it for some of its films, such as the 2016 comedy animation Zootopia.
- Powerful node-based procedural workflow.
- Support for a wide range of 3D formats and rendering capabilities.
- Compatible with major compositing applications.
- Node-based interface for creating complex procedural effects.
- Set-based workflows and timeline tools for animation purposes.
- Support for Python scripting and Houdini Engine plugins.
Houdini has a brilliant pricing model to accommodate everybody’s needs, depending on their situation. The plans are broken down into:
- Apprentice: Free version for students, amateurs, and learners to create non-commercial projects
- Indie: $269 per year or $399 per two years. Available for creators with annual revenue under $100,000
- Artists: $4,495 for the perpetual plan, limited to five licenses per studio
- Studios: $875 per month, $4,995 per year, and $6,995 perpetual for a floating license
- Education: $75 per year for accredited schools and students
Video editing and visual effects can be very difficult to get into, but when you have software like HitFilm, previously known as HitFilm Express, you can pave your way into the field much more smoothly.
HitFilm offers a reasonably powerful free plan that can help you get your needs done as an amateur. And professional artists aren’t left out, thanks to the two other paid plans that include more features with fewer limitations. But all features considered, the Pro plan is the only one that offers extensive VFX features.
When you open the HitFilm interface, you’ll find a “Learn” button on the top that helps you learn video editing skills, and it’s something every beginner will appreciate when picking up this program.
- Non-linear video editing and compositing.
- Advanced masking and layering tools.
- 3D particle simulator.
- Professional color correction tools.
- Powerful keying and rotoscoping capabilities.
- Support for numerous film formats.
You can acquire HitFilm through any of these three plans:
- Free plan for beginners and amateurs
- Creator: $12.99 per month (monthly billing) or $7.99 per month (annual billing)
- Pro: $19.99 per month (monthly billing) or $12.99 per month (annual billing)
6. Cinema 4D
Cinema 4D is a big player in a field where many avid learners drop out due to sheer difficulty, but it actually does something about it through its impressive interface that makes animation relatively straightforward.
As for creating the 3D graphics, there’s very little that you can’t do with Cinema 4D, as each feature is so well-crafted to ensure the best result.
- Powerful camera tracking
- Advanced texturing tools
- Real-time rendering capabilities
- Extensive 3rd party plugin library
- Comprehensive animation toolset
- Variety of lighting options
Cinema 4D Pros
Cinema 4D Cons
You can buy Cinema 4D as a standalone program for $94 per month. If you opt for annual billing, it’s $719 per year, which evens out to about $60 per month.
You can also buy the Maxon One bundle, which gets you all their products (including Cinema 4D) for $149 per month or $1,199 per year (which evens out to about $100 per month).
We’ll finish off our list with one of the best VFX software for learning the ropes with zero risk: the free and open-source Blender!
Blender has built a positive reputation for itself over the years as an all-encompassing VFX tool that’s accessible to anyone.
And although you might not find yourself working in studios with Blender, it’s still worth a shot if you’re looking for a way to fuel your passion for VFX.
- Powerful 3D modeling.
- Animation capabilities.
- Extensive render options.
- Node-based shaders.
- Comprehensive rigging system.
- Has a variety of sculpting tools.
Blender is completely free VFX software. All the features are available in the free app, and you don’t need a license to sell the work you do on Blender.
What is Visual Effects Software?
The short answer is that visual effects software is like the Photoshop of video.
In more specific terms, visual effects (VFX) refers to the fancy visuals you see in movies that weren’t actually present in the filming studio because they’re impractical or outright impossible to capture, whether it’s due to cost, danger to the actors, fantasy elements like magic, or otherwise.
Visual effects can be as obvious as explosions, gunshot wounds, or even aliens, or they can be subtle, such as animals (like the lion in Wolf of Wall Street) or even water.
And if you thought it was all about films, you’d be wrong. VFX can also be used plentifully in computer games to create a more immersive experience for the player.
Common Questions About VFX Software
Which Is the Best Software for VFX?
The best VFX software comes down to your needs. Adobe After Effects is usually high up on the list as it’s a very robust program, while other similar apps in terms of capability include Houdini FX and AutoDesk Maya.
Does VFX Need Coding?
Coding isn’t strictly required in the video editing and visual effects field, but it can give you a valuable edge. That’s not to say that you need to be an expert programmer, as most professional VFX video editors aren’t. Still, a basic knowledge of code and programming logic is almost standard in the industry.
What VFX or Video Editing Software Is Free?
While there are many options on the market, the best free VFX software, in our opinion, is Blender. It’s also open-source and doesn’t require you to buy a license to sell your work.
Wrap-Up: The Best Software for VFX
That’s everything for our round-up of the best VFX software! In our opinion, Adobe After Effects has taken the first spot on our list thanks to its wide scope of features that cover virtually everything you might ever want to do as a VFX artist.
And if you want completely free and open-source software, we couldn’t recommend Blender enough!
Interested in filmmaking? Check out these other great articles!