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Jim Krause | Classes | P354 Program Graphics & Animation

Week 9


  • Cover 3D layers and cameras
  • In class 2-part exercise: Simulated & real 3D space and cameras
  • Discuss readings & homework

Notes: For homework projects, please follow new themes and visual styles. The more varied subjects and styles you try, the more varied and useful your portfolio will be.

Homnework: WIll give until Friday to make changes/improvements.

AE and 3D Space

(Meyer chapters 13 & 14)

After Effects has two options for 3D comps. (To see these, go to Composition Settings: 3D Renderer). These are Classic 3D mode and Cinema 4D mode. In Classic 3D mode you have many traditional imaging options, such as Blending Modes, Track Mattes, Layer Styles, etc. These options are disabled when you use Cinema 4D mode- but it does allow you to extrude text, vector artwork, and shape layers in true 3D space.

Think of three-dimensional space in terms of X, Y & Z:

X= left to right
Y= up and down
Z= towards the camera

In the AE timeline, you can give almost any layer 3D characteristics by turning on the 3D switch. (It’s the little box icon)

Remember that layers are really still flat- we’re just looking at them and can manipulate them in 3D space.


Active camera is the perspective view from the primary camera

Orthographic views don’t show perspective. They are as seen from the 6 sides of a box. These include:

  • front
  • left
  • right
  • top
  • back
  • bottom

Use the camera view to move these views around. This doesn’t create keyframes or disturb your composition in any way.

The "Orbit Camera" (keyboard shortcut = C) is useful for moving your view around so you can see various parts of your 3D space. It does not affect your comp- just what you see,

This is a useful tool for moving the image around, just so you can see it.

Custom views show perspective

Demonstrate moving a 3D layer in space


Cameras in AE only interact with 3D layers. They see regular layers- but they simply don’t have any 3D characteristics.

The Meyer book makes a good point: It’s fine to have cameras, which are stationary along with moving layers. It’s also fine to have stationary 3D layers and move the camera between them. But if you move both camera and layer, you are asking for trouble. This is best left up to the very experienced motion graphic artist who is looking for a specific “look.”

One note about Precomps: You need to have the “Collapse Transformations” box checked on pre-comps in order for cameras to see them.

AE has a default camera, which uses what might be considered a 50mm lens

You can add any number of cameras above this one. The camera highest in the layer stack will be active. And you can cut from camera to camera.

Let’s add a camera and explore the settings

Before getting into 3D layers, it's good to understand a few layer tricks you can do to simulate depth and perspective.

Perspective can be simulated by creating multiple layers, which move similarly to each other but at different speeds. Varying sizes can also get across the feeling of depth.

Krista Detor CD Chocolate Paper Suites open

2-part in-class exercise (Simulated and real 3D):

Part 1 - Simulated 3D space

Build a 1280 x 720 HD comp that has at least three layers that simulates depth using a tracking or dolly shot. For example you could have:

Play with simply animating each layers left-right position values. Over a 10-second  period, move the rear layer a very small amount. Move the middle layer a bit more. Move the top (closest) layer an even greater amount. Make sure your keyframes and movement all align, and apply an "easy ease" to them to give the movement a natural feel.

Make an H.264, ProRes422, or MP4 movie called 2D and turn it into the appropriate Canvas assignment.

Part 2 - Real 3D space

Now take all three layers and turn them into 3D layers.

Reposition the layers in 3D space (depth)

Instead of animating their position, make a camera and animate a move to get a similar effect.

Make a square pixel H.264, ProRes422, or MP4 movie called 3D and turn it into the appropriate Canvas assignment.

Thursday ------------------------------------------

Intro to 3D Modes - Cameras, Lights, Raytracing and Extruded Layers

After Effects can work in two 3D modes:

  • Classic 3D
  • Cinema 4D

To access these modes go to Composition Settings (Command-K) and click the 3D Renderer tab.

Classic 3D provides the quickest 3D effects. Cinema 4D mode allows for extuded text and shape layers and lighting, such as reflections- but tasks the CPU and slows down responsveness. You also lose acess to layer styles and blending modes. Toggling betwen the modes also changes how cameras and shadows operate.

Cameras and lights in AE only interact with 3D layers. They see regular layers- but they simply don’t have any 3D characteristics.

It’s fine to have stationary cameras and move 3D layers. It’s also fine to have stationary 3D layers and to move the camera. But if you move both camera and layers, things can get really complicated. This is best left up to those with practice working in 3D space.

3D Lights & Shadows

It’s possible to add 4 different types of lights in AE:

  • Parallel
  • Spot
  • Point
  • Ambient

With each of these 4 types of lights you can change and keyframe the color and intensity. It’s not possible to change from one type of light to another- though you can fade one up and one down instead.

And just like in most film and video, most scenes call for more than one light. (Key plus fill for example.)

  • Spotlight – This is the most dramatic light in AE. You can modify the cone angle (think spot or flood) and the cone feather (the falloff near the edges).
  • Point light – This is like a bare bulb in space. While you can’t adjust the cone angle, you can adjust the feather. SInce the rays are parallel to each other, this type of light only casts sharp shadows.
  • Parallel light – This is like a point light, but all of the rays point the same direction.
  • Ambient light is the only type of light that doesn’t cast shadows. It works well as a fill light.

Thursday 3D Extruded Text Ray-Tracing Exercise

  • Create a 1920x1080 HDTV comp lasting 10-15 seconds. (You'll need to set up your comp in Cinema 4D mode.)
  • Create a wall and a floor
  • Create some text, convert it to 3D and extrude it to your liking.
  • Add a camera.
  • Add a light (spotlight is good to start with)
  • Cast a shadow from the text onto the wall or floor.
  • Animate either the 3D layer or a camera interacting with the extruded word. (You must animate the text AND/OR the Camera)
  • Output an Apple ProRes 422, MP4, or H.264 movie called "Raytrace" and upload it to the proper Canvas assignment.


  • Read Meyer, chapter 15 (lights). If you don't have the Meyer book, check out a few video tutorials, like these:
  • Create a 15-second (minimum) 1080i abstract graphic in AE's Cinema 4D mode. It doesn't have to serve any clear purpose, but should show depth, have aspects of good design (CRAP), be sized for HDTV (1920x1080 29.97). Create the major visual elements from within AE. It must have or contain:
    • A clear sense of depth
    • Repeating visual motifs
    • An extruded and animated 3D layer
    • An animated camera and/or 3D layer
    • At least 1 light
    • Audio
    • Turn in an Apple ProRes 422, MP4, or H.264 square pixel version
    • Be sure to turn in an accompanying critique form that states how you achieved depth, used the 3D layers, and animated the camera or 3D layer.

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