Artsy Rants

Using Adobe After Effects to “Fake” 3D Animation

  • February 25, 2015

First things first: I mean no disrespect to After Effects. It’s one of the sharpest tools in my proverbial shed and it’s incredibly powerful. I use it constantly, and love it. It comes with a nice suite of tools described as 3D but, as someone who usually works in “true” 3D modeling and animation, I consider most of them to be more like “2.5D”.

Editor’s note: It’s only the end of the first paragraph and already I tossed out some potentially confusing jargon. My bad. Let me clarify:

2.5D (“two-and-a-half-dimensional”), ¾ perspective, and pseudo-3D are terms, mainly in the video game industry, used to describe either 2D graphical projections and similar techniques used to cause a series of images (or scenes) to simulate the appearance of being three-dimensional (3D) when in fact they are not, or gameplay in an otherwise three-dimensional video game that is restricted to a two-dimensional plane.

From this Wikipedia article.

A fake book is a collection of musical lead sheets intended to help a performer quickly learn new songs. Each song in a fake book contains the melody line, basic chords, and lyrics – the minimal information needed by a musician to make an impromptu arrangement of a song, or “fake it.” The fake book is a central part of the culture of playing music in public, especially in jazz, where improvisation is particularly valued.

From this Wikipedia article.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled article:

While you can, indeed, move your cameras around in 3D space will full degrees of freedom, the elements you are working with are still flat—albeit projected onto flat planes that can themselves be moved around in 3D space (there’s interesting stuff you can do with camera tracking and interacting with 3D scenes created in other applications but that’s not where I’m going in this piece). One notable exception to that flatness comes when you start playing around with some of the plug-ins, like Shatter. That plug-in, as the name suggests, enables one to break an element into myriad pieces and fling those pieces apart (or bring them together) in many fun ways. One of the more interesting side effects to me, though, is the fact that the pieces are given actual depth—they look like “real” 3D objects right up until the point where the parent element is whole.

This feature, coupled with creative applications of the “2.5D” elements, can generate some pretty cool results. Take this sequence, for example, where I create a 3D “Flying Logo” based on my own Studio logo:

By keeping the camera moving as the blocks assemble, the fact that the final logo is really a flat object is masked. Adding some extra touches like flying the viewpoint through the moving pieces and including a moving star field helps sell the impression of stuff flying around in 3D space.

This type of animation is much less labor-intensive than creating a similar effect using “true” 3D modeling and animation software, and hence comes at a correspondingly lower price point.

What do you think of leveraging tricks like these? Please comment below, share this post far and wide, and visit my web site at to see many more examples of my work.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a high-tech 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit for more information and examples.

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