9 Replies Latest reply on Mar 20, 2013 9:08 AM by Matt Dubuque

    3D Camera movement help

    Pierre Devereux Level 2



      I have been working with After Effects for around a year now, And a few of you have been with me every step of the way - something for which I will be eternally gratefull (and there might even be a mention in the credits! who knows??) and I am now entering a part of the After Effects world, that is in great danger of breaking my head.


      I am pretty comfortable now in building some nice effects, quite comfortable with Keyeing, reletively comfortable with compositing (have not had too much production footage to play with as of yet) and very comfortable searching for tutorials () . The one thing (among many) that I have not yet touched on properly, and is really getting me down, is 3D camera and movement. At this point, I am more than well aware that After Effects is not something you just "pick up" on the fly - but are there some suggestions where I can pick up some help and tips? I started about three days ago, just to get a nice galaxy fly through - and I am really struggling.


      I am not sure why, I dont know if it is just a mind set, but getting the timing (slowly flying, then speeding up and gradually zooming into planets etc) and the "feel" just doesnt seem to come naturally to me! I understand, from the past years reading, that the best results come from mobing the camera, and the best moves come from using NULL Objects as camera controls. I cant seem to get the 3D Z-Space correct though. When setting up the 3D space to move in, how far should each layer be from each other, how should they interact, should they move themselves, as well as the camera?


      Now I understand, from the get go, that I am asking for a simple solution to a life-time learned skill, so I am not looking for the "make my camera fly through space button" - What I would love, is a point to some real world help/tutorials, or even books on working in the 3D space with After Effects and Cameras. I have the time to learn, so I would like to invest it, starting now!


      I set a scene up over the last three days or so, involving a camera, a null and a background plate attached to the camera (starfield plate). Where the camera went, the stars followed. It is a nice effect, and after having a few chats wirth Rick Gerard about star flights, it comes out quite nicely. I set up the scene to fly by a few planets, but just could not seem to get the moevement to work. Eventually, I got the planets to move, rather than the camera, through scaling and position keyframes I got it to be reasonable, but definitely not usable. I am going to assume that this sort of 3D work relies heavily on the Graph editor? If thats right, I would appreciate a few pointers towards resources for the Graph Editor. I have touched upon it in the books I have bought so far, but only the surface was scratched (the classroom in a book, and learn by video series).


      So, basically, any pointers to the start position on the track to me learning more about 3D camera's, 3D movement and the mathematics behind 3D space would be appreciated!


      Thanks again to all,



        • 1. Re: 3D Camera movement help
          Matt Dubuque Level 1

          Hi Pierre, congrats on your progress and these are the very issues I am currently immersed in. 


          I'm glad you are using a null object.


          You ask how to group your layers in z-space.  Part of our challenge is to learn to think spatially, rather than in a linear fashion.


          There is a general sense of aesthetics in 3D that is analogous to vanishing point and perspective and parallax concepts in 2D.  So I'm studying those concepts.  There's a good video2brain course on that and it helps with compositing as well.  Some things look harmonious in 3d and some do not.


          The graph editor is indispensable in this kind of work, because that is the space where it is conceptually easy to see how the bezier handles can be manipulated to make smoother movements in 3d space.   Easy in and out are also very helpful.


          As to the issue of whether it's just the camera that should move or also the planets, this is also something I am exploring.   To say the least, manipulating those two in tandem harmoniously is not easy for a beginner.


          I know mastering of the anchor point (the point of interest) is a key concept.  We have to have that down cold.


          Additionally, what views to use to help you navigate is important.   In addition to the active camera, I am using multiple views and I'm often finding the custom views to be helpful.


          I could not recommend the Chris Meyer After Effects Apprentice series over at lynda.com more highly to help you get started.


          http://www.lynda.com/After-Effects-CS4-tutorials/After-Effects-Apprentice-11-3D-Space/7964 9-2.html


          That is just one of 15 chapters of a fabulous book on AE by the same name.

          • 2. Re: 3D Camera movement help
            Rick Gerard Adobe Community Professional & MVP

            Remember my discussion about perspective and camera position? That's the key. The distances between objects need to represent the real world. When you're trying to simulate space you need to cheat.


            Imagine creating a room in AE using solids for walls and a floor. If you were to arrange solids in this 3D room and make the perspective look right you would set them up in the same way they were set up in a real room.


            Change this from a room to a street scene and the distance between objects for the perspective to work out when the camera moves starts to go up. Move to space and the distances are so great that if you you want to show any movement in a few seconds then your camera has to move very fast or you have to forct the perspective by cheating. Venus looks about the same size in the night sky as does Mars, If you were on Mars the Earth and Venus would look about the same size. When we went to the moon the moon didn't start looking significantly bigger in the view port until the space craft got about half way there. The farther away the viewer is the flatter the perspective and the slower the rate of change. To make a movie about space travel look like you are actually moving through space you have to force the perspective by greatly shortening distances. They have been using forced perspective for years when shooting mineatures. When shooting mineatures and forcing perspective you make elements in your scene that you expect to be paralell not paralell so you eyes are fooled and you can reduce the distnace between objects and scale the objects in the background so they appear to be farther apart. Since there are no roads in space you have to do this forced perspective with distance only.


            I don't have a formula for doing this. I don't know if one exists, but I have a tool that helps. It's easy to set up. It's a grid. It's the same thing that I've seen set builders use to shorten the distance between objects.


            Here's an easy setup that works all the time. Create a solid that's 10 to 20 times as high as your comp. Leave the anchor point for X at it's default position but move the anchor point for Y and Z to half the comp height, make the layer 3D and rotate it 90º in X. This will position the layer at the bottom of the frame and just enough forward of the angle of view of any camera you reate to put the far horizon near the center of the comp. The taller the solid the closer to the horizon it gets. Apply Grid uising the width slider set to a value of 1/10 the layer width. Now add a camera.


            You get something that looks like this Now arrange some comp high solids on the grid and see how they look. If you change the focal length of the camera reset the position. Z position of the camera should match the z position. Adjust the position to get the perspective you want, adjust the focal length to crop the shot, then you're ready to replace layers with footage and start animating the camera. This screenshot is using a 35MM lens.


            Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.43.34 AM.png

            This screen shot is using a 20MM lens (note the different camera position). There's a big difference in the relative size of the last object. There's also a fairly big difference in how the lines appear to converge. Monkey around with this setup for a while and you'll start to get the hang of how forced perspective works.

            Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 10.06.45 AM.png

            • 3. Re: 3D Camera movement help
              Pierre Devereux Level 2

              Hi Matt,


              Thank you for your reply. I am a great fan of training books, I am just a little worried about the online training and how it works. If I sign up for a month, it worries me that I wont be able to "File" the book I want to learn. I prefer buying either the E-book, or even better the physical book I can put here in my work library for future reference.


              Having said that, Lynda.com seems to keep popping up regularly as a very highly recommended site to go to. I have followed the link, and will chat to the team and see if it might be worth a month or two subscription.


              I am still rather terriefied of the graph editor, and even Dave LaRonde's "Deep Breath" tip doesn't seem to help!!


              After all is said and done - a few months on Lynda.com might the best way forward.


              Thanks for all the input, I will see what I can find, and also provide feedback as I get to it.



              • 4. Re: 3D Camera movement help
                Pierre Devereux Level 2

                Hi Rick,


                Once again, your help, and explanations are greatly appreciated. I am going to go through your steps, and then play around a bit - probably spend some time online as well, looking at a few examples, and maybe even sign up for a month or two to Lynda.com.


                I fear I may have dropped the ball a bit here, as I have spent a lot of time focusing on the effects, and how to get them done, and spent very little time on 3D camera movement and actual animation within After Effects. always under the impression that we would get away with all our shots by compositing alone - stock footage and green screened characters. Now I realize that all the space type shots (and being a space-show there are many *Doh!*) will need movement to make them work.


                Oh well, luckily, the production dates have shifted by a month or two, so I now have the time to cram as much as I can in (understanding perfectly well that this is a skill gained over years, rather than months) and see what I can pull off. Luckily most of the shots will be close up space battles, lots of swooping and diving, but the first few big shots are solar system/galaxy travel shots - and they must be "Perfect" as they set the stage for the rest of the show.


                No pressure!


                This, as well as every step I have taken so far, is a challange I look froward to, and am sure we will pull it off! (If the show makes my 10 month old smile, ill be happy!)



                • 5. Re: 3D Camera movement help
                  Matt Dubuque Level 1

                  Hi Pierre,

                  In Chinese martial arts, they say the most important movement is the first step and the first step is finding the correct teacher.


                  This After Effects "Apprentice" series by Chris and Trish Meyer really is quite an achievement.


                  Their book by that title matches each chapter lesson of the videos extremely closely and is chock full of color fotos and screen shots.  It is a fabulous learning tool by itself and it comes with a DVD.  Perhaps the best way to proceed is for you to purchase that book, which is highly recommended by others in this forum as well, including Todd.




                  It's a little pricey, but it's the closest thing you will find to a personal, private set of lessons from a grandmaster.  He worked on both Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean, as I recall.


                  The best approach is to work with both the book and the videos.


                  For a slight monthly premium you can pay a bit more to download the incredible Chris and Trish Meyer course files at lynda.com.


                  Not all the other courses at lynda.com are as high quality as this one.


                  If you are interested in learning the entire Adobe suite, the courses at video2brain are clearly superior than the typical lynda.com course.


                  This AE course is just an exception and video2brain has a very extensive training in AE, authored by our own Todd Kopriva and the very capable Angie Taylor.


                  For AE, Todd and I both recommend that particular lynda.com After Effects Apprentice course over the video2brain offering.


                  If there are other Adobe suite courses you would like to learn, I would have to say that video2brain is a better value, especially for Photoshop, where Tim Brown's work is astonishingly good.

                  • 6. Re: 3D Camera movement help
                    Todd_Kopriva Level 8

                    Since Lynda.com just acquired video2brain, a Lynda subscription will get you a lot of the video2brain material, too. (The changeover will be complete at the end of this month.)

                    • 7. Re: 3D Camera movement help
                      Matt Dubuque Level 1

                      Thanks Todd, I wasn't sure what that timeline was for the import of video2Brain to Lynda.com.


                      Also, Pierre can avail himself of the free 7-day trial at lynda.com as well.....

                      • 8. Re: 3D Camera movement help
                        Pierre Devereux Level 2

                        Wise words Matt-San,


                        Thanks for the link. I think I probably will pick up the book. I have a nice library started here at the office. Learn by video book, Classroom in a book, CS6 Classroom in a book and Mark Christiansen's Studio techniques. I also got a few other books, Audition CS6 classroom in a book, and then some more fun type books - Chad Perkins - How to cheat at After Effects, a few greenscreen, filming, lighting and colour correction books. I think the After Effects apprentice would make a great addition.


                        I really need to focus on the 3D side of After Effects for the next while, and I think after that, expressions might be a worthwhile study field. So much to still do, but looking forward to it.....



                        • 9. Re: 3D Camera movement help
                          Matt Dubuque Level 1

                          Good luck and have fun!