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This installment of the After Effects Apprentice series introduces 3D space in Adobe After Effects. Authors Chris and Trish Meyer highlight key design considerations for working in 3D and provide step-by-step instructions for enhancing a scene with 3D lights and cameras. The course explores integration between Photoshop and After Effects, including modeling 3D objects with Repoussé extrusions and creating dimensional still images, and offers tips on using the different Axis Modes and maintaining maximum quality in 3D. There's also a chapter dedicated to the ray-traced 3D renderer, introduced in After Effects CS6, which allows you to build 3D layers into your composites, with realistic motion blur, depth of field, and reflections.
The After Effects Apprentice videos on lynda.com were created by Trish and Chris Meyer and are designed to be used on their own and as a companion to their book After Effects Apprentice. We are honored to host these tutorials in the lynda.com library.
Moving layers in 3D space is very useful, but the real fun happens when you move a camera through that space. Once you know how to animate a 3D layer, you've mastered most of what you need to animate a camera. If you have any compositions open, select Close All from the Composition menu. I'm using the same project that Chris was using, which is AEA_3D Space, and I'm going to open composition 04-Basic Camera*starter. I'll RAM Preview, and at a glance you can see that layers 1 through 5 have their 3D layer switch enabled.
The background layer, layer #6 is a 2D layer. It can be hard to find a movie that can fill the space when you start animating the camera around your scene. But by using a blurry movie, something that looks like it's very far away, you can often get away with animating a camera and leaving the background in 2D space. Just remember that it won't react to any camera moves. But I think that will be okay. I'll select all the layers and press P for Position, and at a glance you can see that the top layer, the word grace, is placed at 0 Z. The other layers that make up the logo have been pulled slightly forward in Z and slightly back.
You can see this more clearly if you set your views to either 2 Views - Horizontal or Vertical. I think I'll pick Horizontal. The view on the Left is set to Top, while the Right View is set to Active Camera. You'll almost always need one of your views set to Active Camera, so you can see the final result. Remember, Active Camera is the only view that's going to render. Now I can see the slight separation between the elements that make up the logo. Now, while this may not seem like a lot of separation, once you start animating the camera around these layers, you'll have a pretty good sense of perspective.
So let's add a camera to our scene. I can either create a camera by selecting layer>New>Camera, or I can right-click anywhere in the Composition panel and select Layer>New>Camera from the context-sensitive menu. The Camera Settings dialog will open, and initially it's a little daunting. It's really only asking you to do one thing, and that's define the Angle of View, and you can do that by using various Presets. Of course if you are familiar with cameras and lenses, the dialog gives you a number of ways to precisely define your camera, including the Angle of View or by Focal Length and Film Size.
There are also options for Depth of Field. We won't be using Depth of Field in this lesson, so make sure that's not enabled. If you're using CS4 and earlier, you will not have this Type pop-up. This was introduced in CS5. In this pop-up, you can select either a One-Node Camera or a Two-Node Camera. When you create a Two-Node Camera, you'll get the camera itself and you'll also get a Point of Interest so you can point at different layers. A Two-Node Camera is very useful when you want to orbit around a group of layers.
I can just place the Point of Interest on the logo and then just animate around that point. On the other hand, sometimes you don't need a Point of Interest. A One-Node Camera will only create the camera itself; it won't have a Point of Interest to point at layers. Quite often you'll want to use a One- Node Camera if you're Parenting the camera to a Null Object. For now, let's select the Two-Node Camera, and don't worry if you don't have the Type pop-up. By default, you will be creating a Two-Node Camera.
If you're new to animating cameras in After Effects, you might just want to select from some of these presets. The Preset pop-up simulates a number of common lenses; from wide angle lenses, all the way up to telephoto lenses. The telephoto lenses will have a reduced perspective. And what that means is if you pick one of these lenses, you really have to create a lot of separation between your layers so that when you orbit around them, you'll see a heightened sense of perspective. On the other hand, if you pick one of the wide angle lenses, these have an exaggerated sense of perspective.
And that's good news, because it means you only have to move the layers a few pixels in Z to get a good sense of perspective as you animate and orbit the camera around the layers. So for Motion Graphics, quite often I do gravitate towards the 24 or 28 millimeter lenses, or even 35. But one advantage of the 50 millimeter lens is that it matches the camera that After Effects is using as a default. Whenever you turn on the 3D switch for layer, it's using the 50 millimeter camera lens.
It's just a default camera that you can't animate. But if you create the 50 millimeter camera and click OK, none of the layers will appear to jump or change size. However, it's worth pointing out that this layer grace is placed at 0 (zero) Z. So it doesn't matter which preset you use, this layer will never change size, and that's thanks to the Zoom value. So let's talk about the Zoom value a little. Depending on what preset I use when I create a camera, the back of the camera or the Position of the camera will be placed at a certain number of pixels away from the 0 line.
To see this more clearly, make sure your Units are set to pixels not millimeters. Now the Zoom value appears in pixels, which is handy, because when you create the camera in the Timeline, the Zoom value always appears in pixels. So using this 50 millimeter Preset my camera will be 909 pixels back from the 0 line and the Angle of View is almost 40 degrees, and we'll also have a Zoom value to match the Z Position value. And what the Zoom value does is ensure that any layers that are at 0 (zero) Z appear the same size whether they're in 3D or 2D.
Of course the camera won't be a static camera, you're going to animate it. So another way of looking at the Zoom value is that when the camera is the Zoom value's distance from any layer, the Scale of the layer will not be altered in 3D space. All other layers will appear larger or smaller depending on how close to or far away they are from the camera. The smaller the Zoom value, the more exaggerated this effect will be. So if you pick a wide angle lens, you'll have a smaller Zoom value, the camera won't be as far away from the layers, and the sense of perspective for layers that are in front and behind the 0 line will be exaggerated.
For now, let's select the 50 millimeter camera, which has a Zoom value of 909 pixels, and we'll click OK. When I do that, nothing will change in the Comp panel. That's because I'm simply replacing the default camera with Camera 1. I had my Magnification in the Top View set to Fit up to 100%, so we'll just change that to 50%, and we'll scroll up so we can see the entire camera. Now we can see the camera itself, and this is its Position value; I'll press P for Position, and you can see it has a value of -909.
The same value we saw for Zoom. The camera has a Zoom value of 909 so that the layer at 0 (zero) Z appears the same size in the comp. Because this is a Two-Node Camera, I also have a Point of Interest. Go ahead and twirl down the camera, here you'll see the value for Point of Interest, notice it's at 0 (zero) Z, the Position, which again is the Position of the camera, which is at -909 pixels. And if we twirl down Camera Options, and we'll scroll up, and the first parameter is Zoom.
You can see that the Zoom value is equal to the Position Z value. Now, just a heads-up, you don't actually animate the Zoom value, you're going to be animating Point of Interest and Position. If you animate the Zoom value, you won't get any sense of perspective, and you can see that by just scrubbing the value, the layers appear to come closer and further away, but there is no sense of perspective between the layers. I'll undo, and since we're only going to be animating the Point of Interest and Position, we'll select the Camera, press P for position, and Shift+A for Point of Interest.
In the next movie, I'll explore some of the other Presets available in Camera Settings.
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