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Faking 3D in After Effects

Learn how to fake 3D using go-to 2D methods in After Effects

3D is ever present in the motion graphics world. It’s also hard to learn and, occasionally, overkill. That’s where moviola.com comes in. This week, we explore the different methods of creating 3D effects within After Effects to save you that extra bit of time and effort.

These days, every motion graphics spot seems to require at least a few elements of 3D animation. It’s flashy, impressive, and pretty much the industry standard at this point. But if you haven’t already developed mad Maya or 3D Studio Max skills, you might not have the time, in work hours or render time, to achieve an effect that can easily be faked.

First up in this week’s video we show you layer styles, the easiest way to add that extra dimension to your graphic. Adding Inner Shadow, Bevel, or even Satin will give it a layer of shading that implies it has depth. They’re simple effects, using the alpha channel information to create the shadows and highlights at the edges of the layer. For more control, we can imitate them manually through gradient fills or separate layers blended together.

Another easy way to apply 3D looks to a project is with 3D effects. Here are just a few to call out: CC Glass, CC Plastic, and CC Blobbylize, which apply shading and highlights in a more complex way to imitate how an object would react if it were made of different materials. CC Cylinder and CC Sphere, on the other hand, deform objects into specific shapes and give you controls to manipulate them. Explore the Effects Panel: There are hundreds of effects to choose from, experiment with, and combine to create unique 3D looks.

Apart from shading, the illusion of depth can be achieved by offsetting different layers in relation to each other, or in other words, parallax. Simply put, parallax is the phenomenon behind why things further away move slower than things that are closer. It’s easy enough to simulate with position keyframes, and maybe the linear expression to hold it together. We can also take this effect and apply it to shape layers with the Repeater property. Repeating a shape a few times, offset by position behind the original shape, simulates depth.

It isn’t too hard to fake 3D, depending on what effect you’re trying to achieve. It’s really just about focusing on what you want to imitate, then isolating what makes something look like that, whether it’s depth, or shading, or movement, and recreating that with the tools you’re familiar with. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look on the techniques we talked about today, check out the Fake 3D webinar on moviola.com, where this and everything else are absolutely free to watch!


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Established in 1919, Moviola created the very first film editing machine. Changing with the times, we now offer a full service non-linear editing rental division with 24/7 workflow design and technical support, camera rentals, tape…
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