Top 6 Best Free VFX Software in 2023 (Beginner & Professional)
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With the best VFX software you can create Hollywood-standard special effects from the comfort of your home. However, there are many programs to choose from, all varying in price, difficulty, and quality – so you need to make sure you pick the right VFX software for you.
In this guide, we review six of the best VFX software available to use today. We’ll cover both free and paid programs that have different learning curves and features, so you’ll be able to pick out the best match for you.
- Best Free VFX Software – Full Round-Up
- What is VFX Software?
- Do I need special software for VFX?
- What Can You Do With VFX Software?
- Best VFX Software
- Best Free VFX Software
- Best Paid VFX Software
- Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing VFX software
Best Free VFX Software – Full Round-Up
- Blender: Powerful Free & Open Source VFX Software
- HitFilm: Community-Based Free VFX Tool with Advanced Plugins, Best for Low-End PCs
- Davinci Resolve: Best Free VFX Software Used in Hollywood
- Adobe After Effects: Best VFX Software for Beginners
- Cinema 4D: Powerful Animation, Sculpting & VFX Software
- Maya: Best VFX Software for Mac, Linux & Windows
What is VFX Software?
A VFX software is a program used to create, manipulate, alter, and enhance imagery that isn’t captured live. Think lightsaber lighting and power, or King Kong destroying entire cities. Popular VFX software include Maya, After Effects, Cinema 4D, HitFilm, and Blender.
Do I need special software for VFX?
Yes, you do need to use a software with built-in VFX capabilities, rather than a general video editing program, in order to create VFX. However, there are software like Blender and Davinci Resolve that offer VFX as well as a variety of other functions, such as animation and motion graphics, within a single program.
What Can You Do With VFX Software?
If you’re new to using VFX applications, it may come as a slight surprise that you can access top quality software used by professionals completely for free. This is because programs like Blender, HitFilm, and Davinci Resolve are free to download and use.
However, as is the case with all types of software, each program has different features and it’s often the paid software that has the widest range of features and more advanced tools.
Let’s look at Davinci Resolve and Fusion 18 as an example. These are both developed by the same company and are very similar, although Fusion 18 is paid while Davinci Resolve is free.
While Davinci Resolve is a great tool, if you pay for Fusion 18 you get access to more, higher quality VFX features, such as:
- A playback studio
- Network rendering
- An industry-standard Primatte 5 Keyer
- and more
Best VFX Software
Now for our VFX software reviews, which we begin by first looking at the top three free VFX programs before moving onto some paid options.
Best Free VFX Software
Blender – Powerful Free & Open Source VFX Software
Completely free to use
Used in TV & film
Supports entire 3D pipeline
Production-ready motion tracking
Blender is widely regarded as one of the best free special effects software. It’s pretty unusual for any type of free software to offer the same quality as top professional solutions, but this is exactly what you get with Blender.
In fact, Blender is widely used for VFX scenes in the film and television industry. For example, it was used by Indian company Makuta Visual Effects in the production of recent blockbuster RRR.
This is all thanks to Blender’s variety of advanced VFX features, such as production-ready motion tracking. This allows you to import, track, and mask raw footage and then reconstruct camera movements live in a 3D scene, all within a single program.
This free visual effects software also boasts a fully functioning, multi-threaded compositor with a large node library and render-layer support that allows you to post-produce your VFX renders without needing any additional software.
In addition to being completely free, Blender is also open source. This means that you can develop and implement your own features and add-ons, opening up an endless world of possibilities that you don’t get with most other VFX artist software.
HitFilm – Community-Based Free VFX Tool with Advanced Plugins, Best for Low-End PCs
Can run on low end PCs
Intuitive layout & easy to use
Work quality resolution & fast speeds
Great range of VFX plugins
Large and active user community
Lacks advanced features of some paid VFX software
HitFilm is another completely free special effects software that’s widely used among hobbyists and aspiring VFX designers.
It has all the tools you need to get started with VFX, such as motion tracking, keying, lighting, and lens flares – and it’s one of the easiest VFX software to get to grips with. HitFilm also offers a wide variety of standard video editing tools.
Despite being a free VFX software, HitFilm allows you to work in great quality with 8K resolution and 32-bit floating point color. Plus, with 2x faster exporting and 8x faster playback, you can work at rapid speeds just like with professional software.
One of the best things about HitFilm is that there are a wide range of VFX editing plugins you can add for a more enhanced experience.
For example, the Mocha HitFilm plugin boasts powerful rotoscoping tools for increased precision while saving time, as well as advanced motion tracking. You can also add the Foundry plugin to take advantage of VFX editing technology used by studios like Disney and Pixar.
There’s a very large and active user community of over 6.5m VFX designers who use HitFilm. This includes a blog, forums, a YouTube channel, Twitch channel, and a Discord server, so you can really engage with other users for a more personal VFX experience; something that’s often lacking with expensive professional solutions.
Another benefit of HitFilm is that, unlike most top VFX software, it has lower system requirements and can run on weaker PCs with just 4GB of RAM.
Davinci Resolve – Best Free VFX Software Used in Hollywood
High quality program used in Hollywood
All-in-one 3D solution
Powerful motion tracking, keying, and particle effects
Excellent color correction
Lacking some advanced features available on the paid version
Developed by Blackmagicdesign, Davinci Resolve is a high quality software for VFX, motion graphics, editing, and post production that’s completely free to use.
It’s also the video editing software I use for making quick edits to YouTube videos for my personal channel – and in my opinion is right up there for power with paid options like Final Cut and Premiere.
This special effects for video editing software has a wide array of impressive features, allowing you to pull keys, motion track objects, and create stunning particle effects.
One of the highlights is that you can build your own effects using customizable templates. This allows you to build a composition, save it as a macro, define your parameters, and then simply drag them from the library onto any clip.
Davinci Resolve uses a node-based interface which is highly intuitive and easy to use. Nodes are small icons that represent effects, filters, and other functions in scenes, allowing you to easily edit and connect nodes to create more complex visual effects. You can also use node tree bookmarks to personalize your workflow and boost efficiency.
While DaVinci Resolve is free, there’s also Fusion 18, which is essentially an upgraded version of the software with more advanced features, such as a studio player. You can compare the two here.
DaVinci Resolve and Fusion have been used in many Hollywood Blockbusters, including Ant Man, London Has Fallen, and Alpha. Both software combine VFX with motion graphics, rendering, and modeling in a single program, so you can work in complete composites without needing to pre-render or transfer assets between software.
Best Paid VFX Software
Adobe After Effects – Best VFX Software for Beginners
- Price: $20.99 (7 day free trial) per month
Beginner-friendly VFX software
Easily cut objects from footage
Great motion tracking and stabilizer tools
Integrate with other Adobe products
Excellent support & regularly updated
Widely used in professional VFX
Demanding on PC and cache fills quickly
Adobe After Effects is one of the most popular VFX and motion graphics software on the market thanks to its intuitiveness and high quality features. Whether you want to control on-screen weather, generate stunning special effects, or create 3D animations, After Effects has got you covered.
You can also elevate footage by cutting things like people, signs and boom mics with the Content-Aware Fill feature without the need for time-consuming rotoscoping, so it’s super easy to remove objects from your film.
Another great feature is motion tracking with the Warp Stabilizer VFX that allows you to animate scenes and achieve a look of smooth handheld footage by compensating for unwanted movement.
This is also one of the best video effect software for beginners due to the wide range of tutorials offered by Adobe, on everything from how to work with compositions to how to apply immersive effects. You can even filter Adobe After Effects tutorials by skill level (beginner, intermediate, and expert), so it’s easy to learn regardless of your experience.
One of the great things about this cheap VFX software is that it’s seamlessly integrated with other Adobe products. So, for example, you can import design assets from Illustrator to create Hollywood-ready title and credit sequences in After Effects. It’s available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud plan from $54.99 per month.
Cinema 4D – Powerful Animation, Sculpting & VFX Software
- Price: from $59.91 a month (14 day free trial)
Developed by Maxon, Cinema 4D is a popular 3D animation and VFX graphics software that’s one of the more affordable professional programs on the market.
There are a wide range of modeling, sculpting, and texturing tools available in this software that you can use to create models and scenes. These include spline, polygonal, parametric, and volume modeling tools.
The range and quality of Cinema 4D’s animation tools is similarly impressive, allowing you to animate virtually any object or material as well as life like 3D characters. You can then use the software’s powerful motion tracking tools to integrate 3D objects into footage.
One of the highlights of this top VFX software is Mograph, an award winning animation and VFX toolset. With this tool you can use the Fields System feature for a fantastic way of controlling and linking effects together, create shattering effects of any object with the Voronoi Fracturing, and use the Cloner to easily duplicate objects in a variety of ways.
You can check out the Cinema 4D community gallery to get an idea of the stunning special effects you can create using this software.
Cinema 4D is also notable for its integration with other software, particularly Adobe products. You can drop projects directly into After Effects, for example, and manipulate and then render in 3D, and it’s also compatible with tools like Illustrator and Photoshop.
There’s also ZBrush, another Maxon software. This is a specialist sculpting tool that’s widely used across TV and film, its use in Guardians of the Galaxy being one example, and is often used in conjunction with Cinema 4D.
Maya – Best VFX Software for Mac, Linux & Windows
- Price: from $215 monthly (free trial)
Very powerful software widely used in Hollywood
Excellent effects features for weather, smoke and explosions
Realistic cloth, hair and fur simulation
Photorealistic liquid effects
Excellent modeling and animation tools
Can add script and plugins
Autodesk’s Maya is one of the most powerful video editors with special effects and is used for VFX throughout Hollywood in movies such as Avengers: Endgame and Tom & Jerry, as well as top video games like Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths.
You can use Maya to create just about any kind of special effect you can think of. Its vast range of tools make it one of the best VFX software to create smoke, explosions, fire, weather, and more. Autodesk provides guidance on how to create Maya effects to help you get started.
For example, Bitfrost for Maya can be used to create physically accurate simulations for everything from fireworks to avalanches, and you can also use prebuilt graphs to create realistic-looking snowstorms and dust storms, for example. Bitfrost Fluids is ideal for rendering and simulating photorealistic liquid effects, and there’s even an Ocean Simulation tool for creating waves and ripples.
This VFX CGI software also has interactive grooming tools for creating lifelike hair, and fur effects, and you can use the physics effects features to highly realistic rigid, soft-body, cloth and particle simulations.
As well as VFX, Maya boasts powerful 3D modeling, animation, and character creator tools, making it a well rounded video editing software.
Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing VFX software
Luckily, most of the best VFX software are compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. However, there are some exceptions – you can’t use After Effects on Linux, for example. So, you need to make sure a program is compatible with your operating system.
Quality & Features
There are some fantastic free VFX software like Blender and Davinci Resolve, but as is the case with all types of software, the more you pay, the higher quality you get. The most premium options like Nuke Town and Houdini are beyond the budget of most students, hobbyists and amateurs, but this is worth bearing in mind.
VFX programs also vary a lot in features, which is why most film and TV studios and game developers often use several software instead of just one when creating VFX. So, make sure you check out the features and functions of a software match what you need before signing up.
Usability & Training
All VFX software has a learning curve, but some can definitely take longer to get to grips with, especially if you’re new to using software for visual effects editing. So, it’s important to take this into consideration to help you find a software that won’t be too overwhelming.
If you’re a beginner, you may want to check out a tool like After Effects, which has great support and loads of tutorials. HitCinema is another user-friendly option with a large community and plenty of learning resources.
Video editing and VFX are some of the most demanding applications you can perform on a PC, so you need to make sure your device is up to the task before downloading a software. For example, you need a minimum of 16 GB to run the most programs from our VFX software list like After Effects, Maya, and Blender, although 32GB is the recommended amount.
If you’re looking for low end PC VFX programs that can run on 4GB to 8GB, VSDC and HitFilm are popular options.
Budget & Free Trial
Thanks to free programs like Blender and HitFilm, you can create professional quality VFX without even needing to pay for a software. However, if these don’t offer the features you’re looking for, you may need to pay for a paid service.
Paid VFX software licenses can range from $20 monthly for programs like After Effects to over $3,000 a quarter for the most premium solutions like Nuke Town. Most VFX programs offer free trials, and it’s always recommended to take advantage of free trials to try a software out before committing.
What programs do VFX artists use?
There are a variety of different VFX animation software used by professional VFX artists, such as Blender, After Effects, Houdini, Nuke, and Fusion.
What VFX software is used in movies?
Virtually all VFX-heavy movies use a mix of different software, with some of the most common being Nuke Studio, Houdini, Maya, After Effects, and ZBrush. For example, Nuke was one of the programs used in Deadpool, while After Effects was used in Inception.
Let’s take a closer look at some examples of the VFX software used in Hollywood and beyond:
What VFX software does Marvel use?
There’s a wide variety of VFX software used by Marvel Studios, including Maya, ZBrush, 3DS Max, Nuke, and After Effects.
What VFX software does Stranger Things use?
What VFX software for Game of thrones use?
Nuke and Mari are two of the main VFX and motion graphics software used in Game of Thrones. These programs helped the team using them, from BlueBolt, win the 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for their work on the show.
What VFX software does Avengers Endgame use?
Like most blockbusters, Avengers Endgame used a mix of several VFX software, including the likes of Maya and Dynamixyz.
What VFX software does Avatar use?
Avatar is famously one of the most revolutionary VFX-heavy movies of all time and used a wide variety of programs, including Maya, Houdini, ZBrush, and Lightwave as well as several Autodesk and Adobe software.
Are VFX artists in demand?
Yes, VFX artist demand has been continually growing over the last few years and there are opportunities within the industry. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of VFX jobs is expected to rise 5% over the next ten years (the average rate), equating to an estimated 3,200 additional job openings.
Why does VFX cost so much?
VFX is costly because good VFX artists are highly skilled, in high demand, and the software they use is often expensive.
How much does VFX software cost?
There are high quality VFX software for free such as Blender, but top professional solutions like Houdini and Nuke can cost between $4,000 and $10,000 depending on the package you go for.
VFX software requirements
VFX editing is a very resource-intensive task to perform on a PC, and the top programs like Blender, After Effects, Cinema 4D, and Houdini, require at least 16GB RAM to run, although 32GB is recommended for optimum performance.