Tuesday, May 30th, 2023 Posted by Jim Thacker

Magic Nodes: node-based compositing in After Effects

Originally posted on 30 January 2023. Scroll down for news of the Magic Nodes 1.5 update.

Hollywood Illusion – aka developer Alex Perea – has released Magic Nodes, a neat new After Effects extension that brings node-based workflows to Adobe’s layer-based compositing software.

Aimed particularly at compositing 3D renders into video, Magic Nodes lets artists build up a composite by wiring together nodes in a graph which the extension then translates into standard After Effects layers.

As well as providing the flexibility of native node-based compositing tools when it comes to modifying composites, the extension removes the need to create precomps, improving performance on complex shots.

Use both layer-based and node-based workflows within After Effects
Currently, compositors face a choice between applications like After Effects, in which composites are created by stacking layers on a timeline, like After Effects, and those in which they are created by wiring together nodes in a graph, like Foundry’s Nuke or Blackmagic Design’s Fusion.

While many artists find layer-based workflows more intuitive, node-based workflows make it easier to adjust shots in response to client feedback, and are usually held to be more powerful for complex shots.

Magic Nodes makes it possible to use both workflows within a single application, enabling artists to create composites by creating a node graph that is then translated into a standard After Effects layer stack.

Create nodes and have Magic Nodes generate corresponding After Effects layers automatically
Launching Magic Nodes opens a new interface panel to which nodes can be added: there are separate node types for importing media, generating solid coloured layers, merging existing nodes, and adding effects.

Adding a node automatically adds a corresponding layer to the Layers and Timeline panels.

Users build up a composite by wiring nodes together: merge nodes have separate inputs for the foreground, background and a track matte, plus a drop-down from which users can select blending modes.

The output of any node in the graph can be previewed in a new Viewer in parallel to the main Composition panel, with the Viewer updating in real time in response to changes made to the graph.

Avoids the need for precomps via a custom Calculations-style effect
Magic Nodes piggybacks on After Effects’ native toolset, so rather than adding new functionality to the software, it’s primarily a new, more flexible way to control the existing functionality.

However, one important benefit of the extension is that it removes the need to create precomps, reducing memory usage on complex composites – a feat achieved via a custom effect similar to After Effects’ native Calculations effect, but adapted to support 32-bits-per-channel footage.

As a result, rendering a project created using Magic Nodes on a machine without Magic Nodes installed requires a separate free After Effects plugin.

Updated 3 July 2023: Hollywood Illusion told us that the plugin has been removed from the website, but the free trial edition of Magic Nodes provides the same functionality.

Updated 30 May 2023: Hollywood Illusion has released Magic Nodes 1.5.

New features include dot nodes, which can be placed in existing node-to-node connections to control the placement of the wires, making complex graphs easier to interpret at a glance.

It is also now possible to duplicate entire node graphs.

Other workflow improvements include a new set of keyboard shortcuts, and more tooltips and contextual information is displayed when hovering over a node in the graph.

Price and system requirements
Magic Nodes is compatible with After Effects 2017+ on Windows and macOS. A Basic perpetual licence costs $89; a Premium plan costs $149, and includes access to sample projects and one year’s maintenance.

Read more about Magic Nodes on Hollywood Illusion’s website