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Arranging layers in 3D space

From: After Effects Apprentice 16: Creating a Medical Opening Title

Video: Arranging layers in 3D space

My next step in this creative process is coming up with some basic arrangement of these layers in 3D space that I might want to move the camera around. Now one common thing to do is something like a gallery wall. We have a bunch of pictures on a wall and then you move the camera, passing, ending up on the final picture that you want to focus on. To do that, I'm going to need a much bigger view port in my Final Comp panel and just this 100% view of my final rendered image. So I'm going to hold on Cmd or Ctrl, pressing the minus key to zoom down a little bit to give myself some more room to work here.

Arranging layers in 3D space

My next step in this creative process is coming up with some basic arrangement of these layers in 3D space that I might want to move the camera around. Now one common thing to do is something like a gallery wall. We have a bunch of pictures on a wall and then you move the camera, passing, ending up on the final picture that you want to focus on. To do that, I'm going to need a much bigger view port in my Final Comp panel and just this 100% view of my final rendered image. So I'm going to hold on Cmd or Ctrl, pressing the minus key to zoom down a little bit to give myself some more room to work here.

Then press and hold the spacebar to temporarily get the Hand tool move things over. Let's say I want to do a camera move from left to right ending up on our final high definition video. I'll start dragging up my layers in space. I'm just trying out some different arrangements for where I might want to place these videos. I can go ahead and place things randomly by different arrangements, seeing what you like. I have an engineer's mind I admit, so I might go for something a little bit more orderly and symmetrical, maybe something like around that, where I've got a nice rhythm of up-down, up-down final.

This is where you can be creative, come up with whatever arrangement you like. This just happens to be where I'm going for this project, but feel free to express yourself a bit. One thing I am going to do is I'm going to leave my Hero shot at its original position centered inside the composition panel. That will make it a really easy for me to craft the camera move later that ends up centered on the shot full frame. Once I've roughed out an arrangement, I need to make up my mind about whether or not I want to keep that rough, loose, random arrangement or give some mathematic precision to that arrangement.

There is a Window Align panel in CS6 to help you do this alignment or you can also select all of your layers down in the timeline panel. Press P to reveal their position and maybe do a little bit of math. I know, a little bit of math can be daunting to some people, but it's not bad, and just come up with a number to place between these things, like I have roughly 500 pixels I'll arrange between these layers right now. Let's go ahead and pick some numbers like, to say -1900, -1400, - 900 and 500 off of that is -400, taking up some even spacing in the X dimension.

Next, in my case, I want to have a nice even spacing on the Y dimension to have a little bit of rhythm here. I think maybe going off this center line of this final Hero comp, I'll go in the same space above and below might give me a good rhythm. Again, feel free to express yourself the way you like, this is just what I am up to. Seems like all of my videos are a bit on the high side right now, so if I drag them down, somewhere around there. Now I'm going to pull out a calculator and start saying, I'm roughly to 100, roughly 440, the center of my main layer is 270.

It looks like the difference is about 170 plus or minus. Let's just try that. 270-170=100, 270+170=440. So I use that spacing to create a nice symmetrical rhythm between these layers. Again, feel free to do what you want. Next, I want to put these guys in the 3D space and start to spread them out. So I am going to select all those layers and enable your 3D layer switch. Once you do so, After Effects is going to reveal their orientation and rotation parameters as well, we don't really need to see those right now, so I'll press P once to twirl up the body up, press P again to reveal this position again.

And now let's start playing around with alternate views, so I can look at my arrangement in multiple perspectives all at the same time. I'm going to go ahead and use my Select view layout. In my case, I'd like for wide screen to maybe do something like four views, maybe four views bottom. Where my main active camera spread out along the top and then I'm looking at the top, front, and either left to right views along the bottom of my display. I might need to do a little bit of zooming to fit everybody in.

For example, these are just showing me my Hero frame initially. So I'll press C to bring up the Camera tool and if I have a three button mouse, I will either right-click to get the Z Track tool or press the center mouse button to get the XY Track tool and help center up my layers. Use a combination of those until I've got them nicely centered in my rendered view port. If you don't have a three button mouse, you can just press C to toggle through these tools.

Here's my Z track, pulled back so that I can see all the layers and toggle around pressing C, until I get my XY track, and center them up that way. And I try to give these guys a little bit more room just so I can render more images. There we go. Whenever you're done using any tool, press V to return to the Selection tool. It's the one you use most often, and it'll keep you out of trouble. The last thing I might do is go ahead and stagger these extra videos in Z space. Again, just to create variety as the camera pans past these.

I could put them all in the same Z dimension so they really were like they were on the gallery wall, but I like to take advantage of Z space and multi-planing just to add more visual interest to my projects. So I'll go ahead and start selecting these layers and push some of them back and pull some of them a bit forward. Try out some different arrangements. Again, I could always change these later. That's looking maybe like a little too wide. Let's maybe get them a little closer to each other here.

That's not so bad around there. Then once I have roughly an arrangement that I like, again, I turn my eye back to my timeline panel. Look at the numbers and see what they are telling me. This is my closer value. I was out here. I'm just going to pick a nice even number like say + or -150 in the Z dimension. Again, this is not any magic formula. This is me exercising a little bit of trial and error to see what looks good initially and I can always tweak these values later.

So now I have my initial arrangement of my layers in 3D space. The next step is trying out some camera moves around these arrangements of layers to see how my gallery wall or whatever arrangement you've created is working out.

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