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As you start working in 3D space in After Effects, you need to master a few new skills. One of those skills is how to manipulate the 3D Camera and another is how to manipulate the 3D views. These happen to share the same tool and what that tool does changes depending on what your view is. Along your Tool menu is a Camera tool and there are several different tools to choose from. The brand new Unified Camera tool, which was introduced in After Effects CS4, Orbit tool, Track XY tool, and Track Z tool.
If you are in an Active Camera View and have a 3D Camera in your project, those tools affect the camera's position. For example, I will type P to reveal the camera's position and Shift+A to also reveal its point of interest and I will select the Track Z tool. Now, as I drag around the window, you'll see that the Z values for positioning on the point of interest are changing. I switch to the Track XY tool. You will now change the X and Y values for the camera's point of interest and position, and I change it to the Orbit tool, it will now start to orbit the camera around our 3D object in this view.
It is important to know that in your normal 2-point camera where you have position and point of interest, the Orbit tool is actually moving at the back of the camera, its position value, it's not rotating the camera. That only happens if you happen to turn off this 2-point camera. Okay. That's what happens when you are in an Active Camera view. What of those tools do change if you change your views? For example, if I want to go to a Top view to better rearrange where my layers are and what my camera's relation with those layers, you will see that After Effects defaults give me a very closer view to my layers.
If I want to back off and see more of my scene, I can switch to the Track Z tool, and drag it to pull back, and switch to the Track XY tool to go ahead and center it in my view. The Orbit tool has nothing to do in this view because I am not moving the camera. I am just moving my view on these layers, and indeed as I change to the Track XY tool, you will see that none of the camera's parameters are changing. Only my view on the layers are changing.
Let's go ahead and switch to another view, such as the Left view, and again After Effects defaults to seeing them too close. I will switch to my Track Z tool, back off a little bit, switch to Track XY, re-center my view, not editing the camera, just editing my view. Same thing applies if I use one of the Custom Views. Again, I can use these tools to change how my view is looking at my overall objects. Now, you may notice that there are some handy shortcut keys to move between these tools. C as in C for Camera toggles between them. So I can quickly go between say a Track Z Camera and Orbit tool, and Track XY.
New in After Effects CS4 is a Unified Camera tool. This is for people who have three-button mice. Basically the three buttons take over these three tools. I will switch to Unified Camera tool, click on my left mouse button, that becomes my orbit, click on my right button becomes my Track Z and click on my middle button and that becomes my Track XY. It is a very handy addition in After Effects CS4 if you have a three-button mouse. I will switch back to my Active Camera and now I will use this tool to actually move my camera's position in the whole composition.
When you are done, remember to press V. V is the shortcut to return to the ordinary Selection tool. This way, you can actually pick up layers and move them and not worry about accidentally orbiting or tracking your camera around the scene. So that's a quick overview of the Camera tools. Very handy, particularly for getting alternate views on your 3D space. But remember, it's only changing the camera if you happen to be in a Camera View like Active Camera.
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