Work in 3D Design Space

Learn about the 3D toolset in the 3D Design Space to design and manipulate 3D content in After Effects

Use the intuitive toolset to help you design and composite 3D content faster and more accurately, natively in After Effects. With all the 3D manipulation controls in one space, you don't have to constantly jump back and forth between 3D applications to get a single shot.

This design space has the following features:

  • 3D Transform Gizmo
  • Improved camera tools for navigating 3D

With the camera tools, you can always move around the scene to see where things should be, how they can be moved, and then you can use the 3D Transform Gizmo to move them accordingly.

 If you are new to working with 3D in After Effects, or if you want to learn the basics, see Work with 3D.

Open the 3D Design Space

Use the following steps to open the 3D Design Space:

Turn 3D switch on
Turn 3D switch on
  1. In the Timeline, turn on the 3D switch for all the 2D layers you want to manipulate.

 Create 3D Bins

When multiple 3D layers are placed together, you create 3D bins. They are groups of 3D layers that render together. When you place a 2D layer between two 3D layers, you creare separate bins which can cause visual changes in your project.

camera tools in toolbar
Camera tools in toolbar

2. This activates the 3D Design Space. The toolbar displays three camera controls - Orbit, Pan, and Dolly. Each of these controls contain multiple interaction points that you can use to manipulate objects in your scene in 3D space.

3D Transform Gizmo
3D Transform Gizmo

3. Click a 3D layer in the Timeline to use the Transform Gizmo that enables you to rotate, scale, and position a layer with a single tool.

Improved camera controls to navigate in 3D

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Use the reimagined camera controls to quickly move around 3D space immediately after turning a 2D layer into a 3D layer. In the previous versions, they were hidden under a single control and you couldn’t directly access them which was time consuming. These improved controls are active as soon as you turn the 2D layers into 3D and you can access them from the main toolbar.


Work with the different camera controls

Each of the camera controls have multiple interaction points that you can use to view and manipulate the objects in your scene. These controls have editable default settings. If you are coming from a different 3D application, you can change these defaults and save them for later use.

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Orbit controls

The default is set to Orbit Around Cursor.

Pan controls
Pan controls

The default is set to Pan Under Cursor.

Dolly controls
Dolly controls

The default is set to Dolly Toward Cursor.

1/2/3 keys are used for switching camera tools/controls (3D preferences). Use Shift-1/2/3 to cycle through each camera tools/control options.

You can also access the camera controls with the Alt (Win)/Opt (Mac) key.

Add a camera to your scene

After Effects allows you to view your layers in 3D space as soon as you start navigating. Once you are ready for a shot, add a camera to your scene by selecting View > Create Camera from 3D View. This creates a camera in your Timeline based on your current perspective. You can further add multiple cameras to your scene based on various viewpoints.

Default camera
Default camera

You can customize how different cameras move by selecting the different modes from the three camera controls. For example, if you want your camera to orbit around a scene by default, change the settings accordingly.

Use hotkeys to switch between controls

You can switch and navigate between the different camera controls seamlessly using the hotkeys (keyboard keys) - 1, 2, 3. You can edit the hotkey settings in the 3D Preference dialog.

3D Transform Gizmos

Use the 3D Transform Gizmo to scale, position and rotate 3D layers within a single tool. Unlike the older transform gizmo, this tool is faster and more intuitive, and gives you all the space manipulation tools in one. It works similar to Dimension, where it allows you to transform each of the axis within the same tool. You can eliminate the need to go into separate properties like position, scale, and rotate to manipulate these.

To use it, follow the steps in the Open the 3D Design Space section.

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The primary gizmo enables you to scale (square handles), position (arrows), and rotate (circles) an object in a single control. Simply click and drag the control you want to manipulate:

  • Position handles, represented by arrows, allow you to move your selection in the direction the arrow is facing. When you move it, the pink lines that follow work as guides for you to know how far the object has moved from its origin point. To learn more, see Dimensional guide.
  • Scale handles, represented by squares, allow you to stretch and scale your objects along the line the handle is placed on. Hold shift while scaling to scale uniformly in all directions.
  • Rotate handles, represented by circles, allow you to rotate your objects in the direction of the line the handle is placed on. By default, rotation moves in increments of 1 degree. Hold Shift while rotating to snap rotation to increments of 5 degrees. Hold Command/Control while rotating to turn off rotation snapping and get decimal precision.

Different gizmo variations

The older versions of Transform Gizmo does not have individual states. The 3D Transform Gizmo starts with a Universal state and the other variations are: Position, Scale, and Rotation. You can change them from the main toolbar.

Each of the colors represent different axis - Red for X (horizontal), green for Y (vertical), and blue for Z (depth). Move each of the axis to change the orientation of the objects.

States of gizmo
States of gizmo

Universal state

Universal state
Universal state

Position-specific

Position state
Position state

Scale-specific

Position state
Scale state

Rotation-specific

Rotation state
Rotation state

Different axis modes

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After Effects enables you to switch between local and world axis space, and view axis mode that perform the following tasks:

  • Moving anchor point
  • Position & orientation
  • Rotation with Y / Pan Behind / Anchor Point Tool

Tip: Try combining the world or local space or view axis mode along with the different states to get more control over the objects in 3D space.

Dimensional guide

3d_gizmo

Use the Dimensional guides while working with the gizmos to tell how far an object has moved or how many degrees it has been rotated. These guides update dynamically and give you information about the different states and modes of gizmo. 

For example, if you move the Position head (the arrow) it is followed by a pink line that indicates how far the object has moved from the origin point. There is also an intersection point made of pink lines, and the dynamic values of the different axes that add speed and versatility to your 3D workflows.

Use hotkeys to switch between gizmos

You can edit these properties separately using the 4, 5, 6 keys to go to individual tools and manipulate the axes, or press the V key to get back to the universal gizmo. You can also focus on one type of property for greater precision. Edit the keyboard shortcut for these in the Keyboard Shortcut Editor.

3D Preference dialog

3D preference dialog
3D preference dialog

You can change the 3D preferences from the After Effects > Preferences > 3D menu.

  • Camera Naviagation: Use Shift-1/2/3 to cycle through each camera tools/control options.
    • Uncheck the option of hotkeys for camera and transform gizmo navigation. If the option is unchecked, After Effects uses the keys as shortcuts to add markers. It deprioritizes camera tools with these hotkeys. When the hotkeys are enabled, the marker commands are deactivated.
    • Uncheck to deactivate the Left/middle/Right mouse clicks for camera navigation when the alt/option key is pressed. If it is unchecked, After Effects uses these mouse clicks for wireframes.
      • Camera Manipulation point: Select between None, Indicator, and Directional Indicator.
  • Camera Navigation - Dolly:
    • Mouse Scroll Wheel Behavior: Select between Magnify Composition, Dolly Camera, and Reverse dolly camera.
    • Drag Direction: Select between Normal, and Reverse.

Edit keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts
Edit keyboard shortcuts

You can customize the keyboard shortcuts to make them work for different camera navigations and transform gizmos such as when you want to orbit your camera or cameras around an object from the center of the frame or around the object itself. To learn how to edit the keyboard shortcuts, see Visual Keyboard Shortcut Editor.

Best practices

Stacking 2D layers between 3D layers create multiple 3D bins. Be aware that layers in different bins no longer intersect or cast shadows upon each other. So, create 3D bins keeping this experience in mind.