Moving an object in 3D space in After Effects

Updated on: September 22, 2022

Moving an object in 2D is not the same as moving it in 3D. Having a third dimension in After Effects works to explore depths in space as well, but also for handling the body and volume of any element on a Composition to create engaging animations. 

However, you don't necessarily need 3D objects to create 3D motion in After Effects. By following several steps, it is possible to make the software also apply these effects even to your 2D objects. 

You should keep in mind the process will be much easier if you have the 2021 or more recent versions of the software, since it has three new tools that simplify 3D work, such as the Orbit Around Cursor, Pan Under Cursor, and the Dolly Towards Cursor Tool.

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Creating a 3D layer to add 3D motion

Open a New Composition and import the files you will use in your project. After dragging them from the Project Panel to the Timeline, hover over the layer you want to animate with 3D motion and edit its properties:

  1. Locate the 3D Layer icon that looks like a Rubik’s cube and check its box. This will allow you to control your 2D layer as if it were a 3D object.
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  1. Open the layer properties by clicking the arrow on the left side of its label.
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Adding keyframes to generate 3D rotation in After Effects

Once you have the list of your layer properties open, take a look at the 3D transformation options that appear thanks to the previous steps. These are the values related to the rotation of the x, y, and z axes within the 3D space.

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To animate a basic 3D rotation, make sure you see a stopwatch next to each of your layer's properties. This button is essential because when you turn it on (and depending on the feature), it will help you perform an animation:

  1. Click on any of the properties. For this exercise, you can select Orientation.
  2. Place the Time Indicator at the second you want the rotation to start and hit the stopwatch.
  3. Move the Time Indicator once again to the point where you want the animation to end, and change the values highlighted in blue to your liking.
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Note two dots have been created on the Timeline. They are called keyframes and serve to indicate to After Effects the start and end of an animation. 

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Repeat the previous steps with the properties related to the x, y, and z axes so that your object moves correctly in 3D space.

Learning the above principle is essential when manipulating 3D objects because you must apply it when adding each effect to this type of space. Understanding it will help you to create high-quality animations in After Effects.

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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