Originally posted on 7 October. Scroll down for updates.

Video Copilot has unveiled Element 3D V2, a major update to its GPU-accelerated tool for rendering 3D models and animations within After Effects: one that brings the plugin closer to being a complete 3D toolset within AE.

Viewport options like those of a 3D package
The most obvious of these changes is that the viewport looks and works much more like that of a 3D package, with a drop-down to switch between orthographic views and a gizmo to manipulate objects.

The update also adds standard 3D viewport display options, like bounding boxes and a background grid, and the option to switch to draft textures or hide shadows or AO when working with complex models.

Manipulate or animate sub-objects individually
There are also more options for manipulating imported geometry. Alt-dragging duplicates a model, and objects may be grouped to create hierarchies of sub-objects, each of which may be manipulated independently.

There is also a new Auxiliary Animation option, which enables different sub-objects to be animated on separate animation channels: used in the demo video above to create simple animation rigs for vehicles.

Faster rendering, support for PBR
As you might expect, the render engine itself has also been updated, with Video Copilot claiming that a typical scene renders roughly twice as fast in Element 3D V2 as in V1.6.

The renderer also now supports both subsurface scattering and physically based shaders, with a set of controls that will be familiar to anyone with modern games tools like Substance Designer or Marmoset Toolbag.

There are also now options for raytraced shadows and ambient occlusion, both of which are GPU-accelerated using OpenCL; or real-time shadow mapping where a faster-rendering solution is needed.

Fast fake reflections
Similarly, there is a new Reflect Mode for fast-rendering fake reflections.

The Mirror Surface setting fakes reflections in flat surfaces; the Spherical setting effectively creates a fake spherical reflection map, sampling all of the 3D geometry inside a sphere centred on the reflecting object

If you skip to around 11:00 in the video above, you can see the tool in action to generate custom highlights on a car by moving a lightbox object connected to a null around in the scene.

Finally, there is a new matte shadow object used to fake shadows cast from a rendered 3D object onto the background objects in video footage.