How To Turn 2D Images Into 3D in After Effects

Updated on: August 30, 2022

Just talking about 3D layers would take us all day because it is a huge topic. However, if you are just getting into the world of motion graphics, there are some basic tools you should know to get started, especially if you want to learn how to turn 2D images into 3D animations in After Effects.

First, go to the Toolbar, and see how, right next to the enabled buttons in the home area, there are three other options that are grayed out or turned off. That set of buttons is related to the 3D shapes you have in your project, which means that none of them will be available while working on 2D layers.

The easiest way to convert 2D layers into 3D Layers

  1. Create a 'New Composition' and import your files to the Project panel. 
  2. Drag your 2D images to your Timeline and go to the Layers
  3. In that same area, locate the 3D Layer icon and check its box. You will recognize this feature because it looks like a Rubik's cube.
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Once you have done those three steps and you have your new 3D layer, you will notice that the three hidden features we mentioned previously are now enabled. These are the tools that will help you to transform your 3D objects.

  • Orbit Around Cursor Tool: This feature will allow you to rotate your 3D shapes on the same axis by moving the cursor in any direction. If you can't find it in your workspace, hit Shift + 1.
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  • Pan Under Cursor Tool: Use this option to move up or down your 3D shapes. To explore the other functions in this tool, hover over its icon and hold Shift + 2.
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  • Dolly Towards Cursor Tool: This option is equivalent to the zoom you usually perform when working with 2D images. With this tool, you can touch the 3D object you want to visualize better and zoom in quickly. 
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If you are a beginner in the world of After Effects and you are just learning to work with 2D layers, you probably won't need much of these last features.

However, if your goal is to become a top league motion graphics designer, it's good to get familiar with the basics of 3D tools right from the start. 

Andrea Mercado is a tech-focused journalist and copywriter with over 5 years of experience covering innovation, edtech, AI, and internet trends across media outlets. She is passionate about how technology can democratize access to education and is an avid learner when it comes to emerging tech like AI. Her articles and webinars help readers stay informed on the latest tech developments.
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