I am absolutely new to VFX designing and I have tried my hands on Blender, which I find quite useful. I tried After Effects, but couldn't do anything due to its complexity. I want to know about a program with which I can do simple editing cool stuff like say, create a virtual light-saber, or an action movie effect like plane crash etc. in my videos. Thank you!
In general you can't create visual effects within a single application, because there are too many different departments like:
- Match moving
- Keying / Rotoscoping
- Lighting / Rendering
Some of them are more artistic and other very technical tasks. For every task there are 2+ specific applications to solve the issue, because in order to achieve best results in the predetermined time it's key to use a confortable application with no or less limitation to complete a task. To connect the work of all departments the industry hires technical directors. In most cases these are computer scientist, trying to built so called pipelines for a solid studio environment.
The idea of Blender is to do everything in it, but Blender also has known limitations like:
- Scene Assembly - Issues to display large amounts of geometry
- Compositing - Compositor is quite slow, missing nodes like denoise or deep compositing
- Rendering - Cycles is not very good at rendering caustics at the moment
- Simulation - Bullet Engine is not fully integrated at the moment
These are very special and more professional cases - therefore, I think it is a very good idea to dive into visual effects with blender and learn about your interests.
After Effects is probably the easiest if those are the types of effects you want. It's not free, but I'm pretty sure it's cheaper than most alternatives for effects or compositing & has tons of online resources to learn with. Premiere Pro has some similar features (masks, shape layers, animation w/keyframes, etc), but not as robust or easy to use.
You could also look into Apple Motion - it's geared toward FCP X users and motion graphics. Not sure about effects & compositing (I haven't used it). It's also not free & doesn't seem to have as much community support, but it is cheaper than AE. Blender's the only decent free 3D program I know of.
If you're a student, look into the Autodesk Education Community - they have free education versions of Maya, 3DS Max, and most other tools. Adobe also has discounted education versions.
For AE, start here: http://www.videocopilot.net/basic/ It's maybe a bit outdated, but the concepts are good, and VideoCopilot is a really great (free) resource for learning AE. He has about 120 detailed tutorials covering all sorts of topics: http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorials/
Before bothering w/software, consider how you might create or shoot those effects w/just a camera & props if you had no computer at all. You mentioned that you're already making videos - do you consider (and keep detailed notes about) how you stage them? Where the camera goes and how it moves? Where the light comes from & how it affects the scene? What makes a shot look dramatic, or soothing, or creepy? How a person moves when they use a normal sword? What happens to dirt when you drop something heavy on it (if not a plane, then a big rock)? You don't have to actually DO all of that, but at least think through it.
It's really easy to learn a software program's interface and follow tutorials, but you're stuck being a copycat unless you have a grasp of basic filmmaking & some real-world equivalents. If you haven't already, look into books/websites about cameras work, lighting, physics & motion, and practical special effects.
If you are new to vfx, I can really recommend Hitfilm. Their free version (Hitfilm 3 Express) will take you a long way, but if you want to go even further you can get the full version (Hitfilm 4 Pro), which is one hell of a deal. Hitfilm 4 Pro includes the marvellous Hitfilm Ignite plugin pack too, and you should definitely go check it out.
Another great alternative could be the free versions of Da Vinci Resolve and Fusion. I think they will be even more powerful/useful than Hitfilm, but then it's of course not in one software package.
Sometime soon The Foundry will be releasing a free non-commercial version of their Nuke VFX software. The program is fairly intuitive for beginners and will let you get started with learning visual effects right away.
Although I am not a compositor, I will mention Blackmagic Design Fusion. It is a high-end node based compositing application with a very impressive feature set. Especially the 3d toolset is amazing. It definitely deserves a place in this list of suggestions.
Having said that; I think it's really important to determine your goal before you decide which application to use. Are you going to use it as an independent filmmaker? Blender or Fusion will both be very good choices. Do you work as a video editor and do you want to expand you skill set? Perhaps Adobe After Effects is something for you. (there are a LOT of resources available for AE). If you want to make it into high-end compositing, it will probably b.e Nuke. (Although I see a big future for Fusion there as well)