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Digital Anarchy is a relatively new company, though founder Jim Tierney has been involved with companies such as Cycore, MetaCreations and Atomic Power in the past. The company's product range consists of a suite of plug-ins for Adobe After Effects and more recently Apple's Final Cut Pro, though the three on test here are all versions for After Effects. Along with its plug-ins some of the products on the company's roster are designed to work as stand-alone applications. Colour Theory is one such program, and it's used to assist designers in choosing appropriate colour combinations based on some simple rule and theory; hence the name. However, its the motion-graphics effects that we're interested in here, the three we're looking at being 3D Assistants, Geomancy and Text Anarchy, all of which can be bought individually or as the Chaos Suite bundle.
Geomancy is an interesting, creative plug-in for designers working on motion-graphics projects. It consists of three different effects, Grid Lines, Grid Squares and Hairlines, and can be used to generate all kinds of lines and patterns that animate in many different ways. The Grid Lines plug-in creates lines that animate over a grid, moving and turning at intersections.
The neat thing is that as the lines turn they bend creating a very funky effect that's both retro and modern. The sheer number of parameters make for a dazzling variety of effects just with the effect applied to a solid layer on its own. Incorporate the effect into a composition, as a mask for creative dissolves, a source for particles, etc, and the possibilities are virtually limitless.
Grid Squares is similar, but produces animated arrays of coloured shapes. There's a pop-up menu in the Effects settings from which you can choose a preset shape, from the default square to other n-gons, crosses, square wave, pointer, lightning bolts, asteroids and our favourite, a martini glass. It a bit like a particle system, but you have more control over the regularity and birth position. A colour gradient can be used to colour the shapes, and generally the results are good. It works well when the shapes are large and overlapping. Blur and filter them to create cool undulating backgrounds.
You could easily whittle away the hours fiddling with the settings trying out different results and not get any real work done, and that's part of the problem. Thankfully most of the results are useful, and fine-tuning them is quite easy once you learn which parameters to twiddle. It's definitely a plug-in that has legs, and will doubtless come in handy time and time again.
If you want animated text instead of shapes and lines then Text Anarchy is the plug-in you need. The first and most boringly obvious thing to do is to recreate the random, streaming text effect from The Matrix. Well, it's dead easy with this plug-in, though it helps if you have the right font of course. As with Geomancy Text Anarchy consists of a number of effects filters.
Cool Text lets you apply various effects to individual letters in sequence, change fonts and do other cool tricks.
Text Hacker does one trick, and does it well. It transforms a text string you enter into random characters letter by letter or vice versa. You've seen it in films and titles many times, but it's still cool. What's impressive is that you can set the random character generator to binary, number, letter, hexidecimal, caps or lowercase individually or in any combination. Creating randomly changing binary digits to gradually resolve into a title is easy.
More text fun comes in the form of Write On for generating animated writing-in-progress, Text Grid for generating, well grids of text, Text Spiral for wrapping text along curved paths, and Text Matrix for text streams and the aforementioned Matrix effects.
The final plug-in in this triptych is 3D Assistants. Unlike the other two plug-ins, which are filters for generating new imagery, 3D Assistant is a set of managers for modifying 3D layers in After Effects. This can be a tricky proposition especially since After Effects doesn't have a great system for managing its 3D space. 3D Assistants consists of ten managers that take a selected bunch of layers and transform them in 3D space into a useful array, and keyframe them.
With these palettes, accessible from the Windows menu, not the Filters menu, you can create 3D boxes from layers, cylinders, spheres and other 3D shapes. These aren't merely 3D transformations of a single image layer, but true arrays in 3D. A cylinder for example can consist of many individual 3D layers, each occupying a patch of the cylinder's surface. Add randomness to the distribution to create chaotic swirls of multiple layers, footage or whole comps. Managers only create keyframes for the 3D position scale and rotation of 3D layers, therefore you can mix and match any of the manager applying them to the layers at different times to change the shape of the array. With this method you can convert, say, a planar array into an enclosed sphere or any other shape supported.
The Digital Anarchy plug-ins are genuinely useful filters and keyframe assistants for motion-graphics artist that could easily save you great swathes of time when setting up complex projects. The creative possibilities on offer from the text and shape-generating filters are hugely inspiring, yet offer a solid set of features that prevents the output from looking like a slapped-on filter. The other filters on offer also seem very interesting, particularly Psunami and Aurora Sky, for generating photo-realistic animated water surfaces (from above and below) and cloud-strewn, volumetric skys. These three plug-ins from Digital Nature at least are both addictive and genuinely productive.