Post Production

3D from 2D images: After Effects + beyond

Making faces 3D with 2.5D animation

Faceripper4D is a newer “custom effect” for After Effects that helps you create 3D from 2D images. …But wait, there’s more. If you want to get to the point for After Effects, skip on down to the DOD Media tutorial!

Faceripper4D creates a 2.5D object, which will disappear at 90 degrees of rotation. There wasn’t a demo available for this article, and there a bit more info on the website if you’re interested in pulling the trigger on a low-cost download. Here’s Mikey Borup with his recent Faceripper4D toolkit review:


There are a number of standalone apps or browser tools that also create 3D from 2D. For example, see Vixago, Voodoo Cam Tracker/Blender (free), Gimpel3D (freeware no longer developed), FaceShop, or the impressive Autodesk ReCap 360, “a reality capture cloud service that includes image-based 3D modeling, to automatically generate professional-grade textured 3D mesh and photo-based point clouds.” Microsoft KinectFusion, possibly featured in Xbox One, does pretty impressive stuff, but the data may be stuck in the box.

Tools will probably get better quick now that 3D printing is beginning to hit its stride. For more see 3D printing in Photoshop CC, and especially the heads made from plain paper on the Mcor Iris (video).

Some apps or browser tools get a 3D effect by displacing a depth map, as done for example in @depth or in After Effects. For a basic explanation of depth maps, grayscale images often associated with depth-of-field blurring or fog effects, see a demo by RampanTV. Note that for video, rotoscoping and/or procedural mattes might be needed; see Mark Christiansen on using the Roto Brush. For many purposes though, you can create a depth map still in Photoshop or After Effects.

By the way, the Buena Depth Cue plug-in package was resurrected by Rowbyte to help mimic Z-depth with Camera Mapping and allied effects. There’s still a video by Dustin Klein on the Depth plug-in. See also the Andrew Devis introduction on Camera Mapping in After Effects, and Camera Mapper Intro San Francisco by Mark Christiansen (or page 294 in his latest AE vfx book).

While you can create a 3D head and import the model into AE using Video Copilot Element 3D, Cinema 4D, Zaxwerks plug-ins, or AtomKraft 3D, you can approximate a 3D head in additional ways. If you have Mettle FreeForm, you have something powerful already handy that can help bring to life with character animation techniques, as shown in the recent Dave Legion series. For the low down on 3D displacement, see the FreeForm Pro – The Ultimate Guide by Chris Lavelle.

Also check out check out Motion estimated morphing time-remapping on stills from AE Portal.


No one is promising you a pony, but you also get some of the same effect with the tools built into After Effects – see for example, Vale Productions on how to Bring 2D to life using Displacement Maps, and Tara Arts Movie on How to Make 2d Image to 3D using Displacement Map (After Effects & Photoshop):


Then Mikey Borup took a different but easy tack in Quick and Dirty Image Parallax, later adding Video Tutorial: Turning a 2D Image into 3D in After Effects:


DOD Media added a nice example with AE Tutorial – Give Stills Perspective with 2.5D Parallax and Displacement map, and Caleb Ward offered a mini-roundup with After Effects Video Tutorials: Adding 3D Depth to 2D Pictures:


A side note… Depth Effects Plug-in for After Effects by YUVsoft created depth maps automatically, but is intended to create stereo 3D.


Here’s one for the free Hitfilm Express that could also be leveraged in After Effects, displacement to simulate 3D depth from a single still image:

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Rich Young is a long-time After Effects user from the San Francisco Bay Area. His After Effects and Premiere Pro round-ups provide viewers with an easy-to-digest summary of developments. He also supplies info and links…

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