Preparing and importing 3D image files

Importing 3D images from Photoshop and Illustrator

3D object layers in PSD files

Adobe Photoshop can import and manipulate 3D models (3D objects) in several popular formats. Photoshop can also create 3D objects in basic, primitive shapes.

After Effects cannot import 3D objects from PSD files.

See working with 3d layers video on the learn tutorials page.

Vanishing Point exchange

When you use the Vanishing Point feature in Photoshop Extended, you can then use the File > Export For After Effects (.vpe) command to save the results as a collection of PNG files—one for each plane—and a .vpe file that describes the geometry of the scene. You can then import the .vpe file into After Effects. After Effects uses the information in the .vpe file to re-create the scene as a composition containing a camera layer and one perspective-corrected 3D layer for each PNG file.

The camera is on the negative z axis, at (x,y)=(0,0). The point of interest for the camera is in the center of the composition. The camera zoom is set according to the field of view in the Vanishing Point scene.

The 3D layers for the planes in the scene have a parent layer with its anchor point at the center of the composition, so the whole scene can be transformed together.

Vanishing Point exchange only works well for images that have square pixels in Photoshop.

Bob Donlon provides a tutorial on his blog that shows how to use Vanishing Point Exchange.

Lester Banks provides a video tutorial on his website that demonstrates how to use Vanishing Point in Photoshop Extended and then either bring the 3D scene into After Effects as a .vpe file or bring the 3D scene in as a 3D object layer in a PSD file.

Andrew Kramer provides a video tutorial on his Video Copilot website that shows how to use Vanishing Point Exchange.

Importing PSD files as 3D scenes

Paul Tuersley provides a script on the AE Enhancers website that turns a layered PSD file into a 3D scene in After Effects. The script creates a composition and adds expressions to the layers from the PSD file. When you move the layers along the z axis, the scene looks exactly like the original artwork through the Active Camera view. You can animate the camera around the scene to see that the layers are at different depths in 3D space.

Illustrator 3D effects

The effects in the 3D category in Illustrator—Extrude & Bevel, Revolve, and Rotate—give a three-dimensional appearance to any vector graphics object, including text and drawings. If you want to add depth to your vector art and text, consider creating it in Illustrator, using the 3D effects, and then importing the results into After Effects.

Importing and using 3D files from other applications

After Effects can import 3D-image files saved in Softimage PIC, RLA, RPF, OpenEXR, and Electric Image EI format. These 3D-image files contain red, green, blue, and alpha (RGBA) channels, as well as auxiliary channels with optional information, such as z depth, object IDs, texture coordinates, and more.

Though you can import composited files with 3D information into After Effects, you cannot modify or create 3D models directly with After Effects.

After Effects treats each composited 3D file from another application as a single 2D layer. That layer, as a whole, can be given 3D attributes and treated like any After Effects 3D layer, but the objects contained within that 3D file cannot be manipulated individually in 3D space. To access the 3D depth information and other auxiliary channel information in 3D image files, use the 3D Channel effects. (See 3D Channel effects.)

3D Channel effect plug-ins from fnord software are included with After Effects to provide access to multiple layers and channels of OpenEXR files. (See Using channels in OpenEXR files.)

After Effects can also import baked camera data, including focal length, film size, and transformation data, from Maya project files as a single composition or two compositions. (See Baking and importing Maya data.)

After Effects imports camera data saved with RLA or RPF sequence files. (See Import RLA or RPF data into a camera layer.)

Softimage PIC files have a corresponding ZPIC file that contains the z-depth channel information. Although you can’t import a ZPIC file, you can access the additional channel information as long as the ZPIC file is stored in the same folder as the imported PIC file.

Similarly, Electric Image (EI) files can have associated EIZ files with z-depth channel data. As with ZPIC files, you cannot import EIZ files into After Effects; instead, you simply store them in the same folder as the EI files. For information about creating EIZ files, see your Electric Image documentation.

A common technique when working in a 3D modeling application is to insert null objects, such as null lights or null locator nodes in the locations where you want to composite in an image in After Effects. Then, after you have imported the 3D file into After Effects, you can use these null objects as a reference for the placements of other visual elements.

Online resources about importing and using 3D files from other applications

Lutz Albrecht provides a two-part document on the Adobe website about integrating 3D applications with After Effects. These articles cover the creation of UV maps, mattes, and channels from various 3D applications, including Maxon Cinema 4D, NewTek Lightwave, and Luxology modo. The articles then show you how to use RE:Vision Effects RE:Map and fnord ProEXR plug-ins to use that data in After Effects.

Tyson Ibele provides tutorials on his website that show how to use output from 3ds Max (3D Studio MAX) in After Effects.

Dave Scotland provides a pair of tutorials on the CG Swot website in which he demonstrates how to create RPF files in a 3D application and how to use RPF files in After Effects. The first part explains the RPF format and how to create RPF files in 3DS Max. The second part shows how to use the Object ID and Z depth information in an RPF file within After Effects, using the ID Matte, Depth of Field, Depth Matte, and Fog 3D effects.

Using 3D tracking completes camera movements so that additional elements can be composited into the scene to make it appear to honor the same camera movement. The 3D camera tracker effect analyzes video sequences to extract camera motion and 3D scene data. The 3D camera motion allows you to correctly composite 3D elements over your 2D footage. For details about using the 3D camera tracker effect, see this video tutorial by Angie Taylor from Learn by Video. To know more about 3D camera tracker feature, see Tracking 3D camera movement.

Bartek Skorupa provides a tutorial on his website about using Blender and exporting the animation to After Effects. You can also watch the camera tracking in Blender tutorial that shows focuses on lens distortion issues.

Harrison Ambs provides a two-part video tutorial on the CGTUTS+ website that demonstrates how to import data from Cinema 4D into After Effects:

The tutorial Use Cinema 4D Lite with After Effects cameras and lights explains how to create an After Effects comp with cameras, lights, and solid layers, and then open it in Cinema 4D Lite to add 3D objects.

Import RLA or RPF data into a camera layer

After Effects imports camera data saved with RLA or RPF sequence files. That data is incorporated into camera layers—one for each camera in the sequence—that After Effects creates in the Timeline panel. You can access the camera data of an imported RLA or RPF sequence and create a camera layer containing that data.

  1. Add the sequence to a composition, and select its layer in the Timeline panel.
  2. Choose Animation > Keyframe Assistant > RPF Camera Import.

    To create an RLA or RPF file with the camera data in 3D Studio Max, save your rendering in RPF format with Coverage, Z Depth, and Alpha Channels enabled.

Baking and importing Maya data

After Effects imports camera data from Maya project files. Before importing Maya camera information, you need to bake it. Baking camera data makes it easier to animate with keyframes later in your project. Baking places a keyframe at each frame of the animation. You can have 0, 1, or a fixed number of keyframes for each camera or transform property. For example, if a property is not animated in Maya, either no keyframes are set for this property or one keyframe is set at the start of the animation. If a property has more than one keyframe, it must have the same number as all of the other animation properties with more than one keyframe.

Reduce import time by creating or saving the simplest Maya file possible. In Maya, reduce keyframes by deleting static channels before baking, and save a version of the Maya project that contains the camera animation only.


The following transformation flags are not supported: query, relative, euler, objectSpace, worldSpace, worldSpaceDistance, preserve, shear, scaleTranslation, rotatePivot, rotateOrder, rotateTranslation, matrix, boundingBox, boundingBoxInvisible, pivots, CenterPivots, and zeroTransformPivots. After Effects skips these unsupported flags, and no warnings or error messages appear.

By default, After Effects treats linear units specified in the Maya file as pixels.

You can import camera data from Maya project files (.ma) and work with the data as a single composition or two compositions.

For each Maya file you import, After Effects creates either one or two compositions:

  • If the Maya project has a square pixel aspect ratio, After Effects creates a single, square-pixel composition containing the camera data and transformations.

  • If the Maya project has a nonsquare pixel aspect ratio, After Effects creates two compositions. The first composition, which has a filename prefixed by Square, is a square-pixel composition containing the camera data. The second, or parent, composition is a nonsquare-pixel composition that retains the dimensions of the original file and contains the square-pixel composition. When working with imported camera data, use 3D layers and square-pixel footage in the square-pixel composition, and use all nonsquare-pixel footage in the containing composition.

When you import a Maya file with a 1-node camera, After Effects creates a camera in the square-pixel composition that carries the camera’s focal length, film size, and transformation data.

When you import a Maya file with a 2-node or targeted camera, After Effects creates a camera and an additional parent node in the square-pixel composition. The parent node contains only the camera’s transformation data. After Effects imports 2-node cameras automatically with the locator node as the point of interest, with the Auto-Orientation option of the camera set to Orient Towards Point Of Interest.

After Effects doesn’t read 3-node cameras.


After Effects reads only the rendering cameras in Maya files and ignores the orthographic and perspective cameras. Therefore, always generate a rendering camera from Maya, even if it’s the same as the perspective camera. If you apply the FilmFit camera setting, make sure to use either horizontal or vertical FilmFit, not fill.

After Effects can read Maya locator nodes, which enable you to track objects from the Maya scene as it is translated into After Effects. After Effects creates a null layer and applies the relevant transformations to it if the name of a Maya locator node contains the word Null, NULL, or null. Avoid parenting locator nodes to each other in Maya; instead, parent the locator nodes to geometry.


After Effects doesn’t read World or Underworld coordinates in the LocatorShape. Use a transform node to place them.

Working with Cinema 4D and Cineware

For detailed information on working with MAXON Cinema 4D files and Cineware (a full-featured workflow integration between Adobe After Effects CC and Cinema 4D), see CINEMA 4D and Cineware.

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