What is Mesh Trails?
Have you ever wanted to add VFX trails to your animation, but never had the time or energy to manually animate it? Have you ever tried making trails with particles but could never get the look you want? The Mesh Trails addon is a tool that helps you automatically generate clean, fully customizable, mesh-based trails with the click of a button. Mesh Trails has been in development for over two years, with a large focus on integrating it with studio pipelines for stylized VFX, but can be applied to almost any project with a need for trails. It is seamlessly integrated into Blender and is designed to be very easy to jump into. But beyond its base use case, there are countless possibilities thanks to its compatibility with Blender's already impressive shader, modifier, and geometry node systems depending on your level of expertise. We wanted an automated trail generator that could fit our style of animation, but we couldn't find one. So we made one. And now it's yours, as well.
FREE Shader Asset Pack
All future updates are included
Mesh Trails is Blender 2.9+ and 3.0 compatible
Have any questions? Feel free to ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Animatable Trail Emitters
Mesh Trails can use any Bezier or Poly curve as the emitter for a trail. This even includes cyclic curves. The curve can be parented, animated, or rigged using hook modifiers, allowing for a fully animatable emitter that can morph based on any character or prop deformation--no matter what shape, size, or movement they have.
Use Any Shader
Instead of using particles or curves like most trail generators, Mesh Trails specifically uses a UV unwrapped mesh to generate the trail, which allows for the full flexibility of using custom shaders to achieve a desired look. This unlocks previously untappable possibilities.
Thanks to Mesh Trails being mesh based, this also opens up the possibility of using Blender's already amazing modifier stack. This can add an extra dimension of complexity that no other trail generator can give you. This also includes the vast potential of Geometry Nodes.
Why use Mesh Trails?
Manually creating trails for your animation can be tedious, intimidating, and frustrating work. The current methods that exist in the industry revolve around manually offsetting keyframes, duplicating empties, rotoscoping or motion tracking in post, or using incredibly expensive tools that often don't even allow for mesh manipulation. On top of that, there are very few, if any, tools that exist for stylized VFX. For the longest time, we at DillonGoo Studios avoided trail effects because of how much time it would take to feasibly make it look good, especially considering our NPR (non-photorealistic rendering) style. However, we believed it could be automated and set out to create a tool that would make trails feasible for our productions. And after two years, we're finally ready to share it with the public. Mesh Trails far exceeded our expectations of what it was capable of.
In addition to its incredible potential as a VFX tool, we also prioritized its usability--to make sure anyone on the team could pick it up and contribute to the VFX of any project, regardless of their skillset. This is a testament of its ease of use for any proficiency level. Our goal is to share this technology with the world so everyone can add beautiful stylized VFX to their projects. And we also added several features that were important to us for production that we hope you'll find useful, as well.
"We wanted an automated trail generator that could fit our style of animation, but we couldn't find one. So we made one. And now it's yours, as well."
Mesh Trails was designed to be FUN to use. This means being able to drag your cursor around and see the mesh trails moving in real time as if they were animated. This allows artists to quickly preview their effects without the need for setting any keyframes.
Mesh Trails can also bake its simulation into a cache for final render accuracy. However, it also allows baking to include subframes, giving an even higher level of accuracy to trail shape. Even if one were to tediously create trails by hand without Mesh Trails, there would be no way to easily simulate the accuracy between frames. Mesh Trails does this with the click of a button.
Ever wanted to simulate a dynamic jet thruster? Or maybe your background is moving past your characters but your character isn't moving? Wind Vectors let you do this. By adding imaginary movement to the trail calculation, you can get dynamic effects without moving your emitter in world space.
Customizable Taper Shape
While Mesh Trails comes with a default rectangle shape which does the trick for most things, it's also entirely possible to customize the shape of the trail. A custom curve allows you to give unique shapes to the trail without the need for any shader knowledge.
Sometimes world space movement isn't what you want, and we recognize that. So we added the ability to calculate trails based on the object space of any object. The most common use for this is to calculate trails based on Camera Space. This simulates a low shutter speed effect common with light trails that move relative to screen space.
Thanks to new updates to Blender 3.0, Mesh Trails can now dynamically calculate the speed that which the emitter is traveling, which is accessible in any shader. This gives an incredible amount of power to the artist to make shaders that react organically to movement.Beginner Friendly
We developed Mesh Trails with the UI in mind, making it as easy as possible to add your VFX no matter your proficiency level. It only takes two clicks to create a Mesh Trail from any curve emitter. And the tutorial provided also walks you through this process.
Due to the wide range of possibilities Mesh Trails offers in Blender, we know it can seem a bit intimidating to figure out what you can do with it. So we've decided to provide some demo files with shader and geometry node examples to help you get started.
Because Mesh Trails was created for use at DillonGoo Studios, the tool was built from the ground up with studio pipelines in mind. The baked cache allows trails to be predictable at render time, and the cache file is separate and easily maneuverable. And we always have a support email available to contact if needed.
Who can use Mesh Trails?
Because Blender is completely free, Mesh Trails is available to everyone. The Mesh Trails add-on is great for quickly adding trails to any animation animated in or imported into Blender. It excels at providing the flexibility required for recreating stylized hand-drawn effects, but using shader nodes, it's completely possible to create realistic-style effects, as well, sometimes even faster and cheaper than standard simulation methods. However, Mesh Trails will not be able to create fully convincing realistic simulations. To understand if you need Mesh Trails, look no further than the alternative method of what you want to do. For most, the only alternative is to animate a trail by hand, or by method of offsetting pre-baked keyframes manually, which can be inflexible and doesn't allow for a carefree creative process. Particle based trails do exist, but don't have nearly the same amount of shader flexibility as Mesh Trails. However, if visual flexibility or time saved is not important to you, there are other options.
It may come as a surprise--but thanks to Blender's impressive motion tracking and rendering capabilities, Mesh Trails can also be added to any Live Action or 2D animation production pipeline if desired. Importing an image sequence or movie file into Blender's viewport, motion tracking the animation or hand keying the motion, and generating an automatic mesh trail with a fully customizable look can be rendered out as an image sequence to use in any 2D production. Not only that, but Mesh Trails also has a "camera space" option to only generate trails based on the motion the camera sees in screen space, which more accurately simulates an exposure-based light trail, if desired.
It's also important to note that at the current moment, Mesh Trails cannot be exported out of Blender. This is a solution we will be working on at DillonGoo Studios in the near future if people show enough interest!
Mesh Trails also cannot be used on particle systems at this time.
Affordable Industry Technology
The only other mesh-based trail generator in the industry right now is 100 USD, and is only available for a software that costs 2000 USD per year. Mesh Trails is incredibly affordable in comparison, especially being made for the free open-source software, Blender. We believe in making this technology accessible to more people for the first time to help elevate people's art without breaking the bank.
For a one-time purchase of 56 USD, you will gain access to the full Mesh Trails product which includes all future updates and customer support. Not only that, but every purchase also supports the team behind this add-on and supports further development for more tools and assets like this. Industry-grade tools for stylized rendering are few and far between, and we believe we can contribute a lot to the NPR community if people are interested enough in what we do.
What you get:
The Mesh Trails addon installation file
6 Demo files with shaders and geometry node setups
Access to all future updates and new features
Windows, MacOS, or Linux operating system
Blender 2.9+ or 3.0
Digital download for add-on installation and demo files
- Digital download for add-on installation and demo files