After Effects features a 3D workspace. Text and solid layers are 2D, but can be positioned in 3D space. Using 3D in motion graphics adds parallax and a lot of pizazz to spice up your work, also allowing the use of depth of field and lens distortion. The 3D space can also be used in visual effects to add elements into a match moved environment.
Let’s start by creating a text layer and a camera. When creating a camera we receive this option box.
Many of the settings mimic real life camera settings. If you have some knowledge of photography you’ll have an advantage here.
- The presets are a good place to start. General purpose lenses range from 25-55mm so any preset in that range will suite you fine. Wide angle lenses give a very distinct effect with lens distortion on the edges. For this example let’s choose the 28mm preset.
- In regards to camera type, in 99% of cases a two node camera will work fine. The two node camera rotates around a pivot point whilst the one node camera orients around itself (quite difficult to control).
- Depth of field allows you to selectively focus and blur objects, which can create a visually pleasing result. Leave this unchecked for now as we’ll explore it shortly.
Once the camera is created you’ll be prompted this message:
This message is telling us that 2D layers aren’t effected by the camera we just created. To test this, let’s create a new solid (control + Y). Although we have a camera in our composition, it’s important that our viewer is actually looking through the camera (a common mistake users make). To choose what view you want your composition window to look through, click this menu:
Active camera is selected by default and is the camera closest to the top of the stack in the layers panel. If I were to create a new camera and place it above camera 1, it would then become the active camera.
We can also choose Camera 1 directly from this menu, as well as front, left, top, back, right and bottom views. These views are helpful for lining things up in 3D space without having to move your active camera. Let’s choose Camera 1 from the list to avoid confusion.
We can move cameras around using two methods: firstly, we can expand the cameras options and move it using the transformation settings.
You’re probably familiar with most of these settings. The new ones are point of interest and orientation.
Point of interest is a place in 3D space that the camera will pivot or orbit around. If for example you had some text and wanted to orbit around that text, it would be very difficult to achieve if the point of interest was not at the same position as the text you want to orbit.
Orientation is like rotation but you’ll notice if you keyframe orientation you’re key framing X, Y and Z axes all at once. This may or may not be what you want depending on your situation. When you keyframe rotation you have the luxury of key framing just the X, Y, Z (or any combination) of axes.
Also, note how the rotation parameters have a multiplication symbol in front of them. The actual rotation is measured in degrees and once it goes above 360 degrees, it becomes 1x 0 degrees. For example 720 degrees would be measured as 2x 0 degrees, or two full spins. This allows infinite rotation. Orientation does not allow this, as once it goes above 360 degrees it simply resets back to 0 degrees.
Play around with some of these values, you’ll notice that nothing is happening to the red solid because it’s a 2D layer and doesn’t have any regard for 3D cameras. Simply click this button to turn the red solid into a 3D layer and now when you make transformation adjustments to the camera, you’ll see the red solid reflect those changes.
If you can’t see this option in the timeline, press F4 to view additional options and it should be revealed. Press F4 to toggle back and forth between modes.
There are also some very handy tools for navigating cameras on the toolbar. All have the shortcut of C so pressing C four times will cycle through all the different tools.
The unified camera tool allows you to control different tools with different buttons on a 3 button mouse. Left click to orbit, middle click to pan X, Y and right click to track Z.
The Orbit camera tool allows you to orbit around the cameras point of interest.
The track XY camera tool allows you to track in X and Y but not in Z
Track Z allows you to track in z space.
Using these tools allows you to achieve almost every camera move imaginable. There are also some great 3rd party plugins to make the process easier, notably Video Copilots free preset “Sure Target”.
Let’s scroll down to the camera options. Here we have many settings. I’ll quickly brush over the most important.
Zoom allows the camera to zoom in without having to physically move.
Depth of field allows selective blurring based on the focus distance.
Aperture controls the amount of blur.
Iris shape determines how the blur is calculated; it defaults to fast rectangle, which is fine for general-purpose use.
Let’s turn on the depth of field and crank the aperture to 3000 (you would normally not use such a high value but this is for demonstration purposes). Chances are your solid has now gone completely out of focus (unless your focus distance just happened to be the exact distance your solid is away from the camera). Now play with your focus distance until the rectangle comes in focus. Because the aperture is so high, only parts of the red solid are in focus.
As you probably noticed all the camera options and transform settings are keyframable, giving the user a ton of creative freedom.
In the next lesson, we’ll take a look at motion blur inside of After Effects.