4 Replies Latest reply on Sep 9, 2016 7:42 AM by Rick Gerard

    Flying Cubes How-To?


      Hi there, can anyone on advise on how to / where a tutorial lies for the following idea?


      I would like to create 3D cubes (possibly with a hand drawn aesthetic) which fly in a group. The idea is that the group of cubes swoop and fly like a bird.


      Is this possible in After Effects or is this more a  Cinema 4D / 3Ds MAX type of project?



        • 1. Re: Flying Cubes How-To?
          Rick Gerard Adobe Community Professional & MVP

          You can create cubes in AE using 6 square 3D solids or shape layers, parent the layers to a 3D null and then fly the null around in 3D space. You can also create cubes and add textures in C4D lite, do the flying around animation in the 3D app. If you want to add swarming behavior like a flock of birds using some automatic behaviors and you are on a budget then using an open source 3D app like Blender (http://www.blender.org) will give you a bunch of tools. I think you want to make a single object that kind of looks like a bird using a bunch of cubes, some for the wings and maybe a couple of others for the body, then rigging the cubes on 'bones' so you can create flapping wings is going to require a full featured 3D app like Blender or the full version of C4D because C4D lite has a very limited tool set. Any 3D approach will require some texturing or tweaking or plug-ins to simulate a hand drawn effect.


          If you want a hand drawn look and you have some basic drawing skills and want to learn cell animation technique then you can hand draw the cells in Illustrator or Photoshop or even AE and then do the 2D animation there. There are a few software solutions for doing hand drawn animations, including Flash Professional (which is included with a CC subscription) but there are no open source apps I know of dedicated to hand drawn animation techniques. The commercial apps run from a few dollars to a few thousand. The right technique depends on your skill and experience, the available time yo have to spend working on the project and what you want the project to look like when it's done. 


          The easiest way to make a cube from 3D layers is to offset the anchor point's z value by the same value as the X and Y then rotate 5 of the faces in multiples of 90º. For example let's say you wanted a cube that is 600 pixels high. Here's a step by step.

          1. Create a new composition using one of the standard square pixel composition settings (HDTV 1080 29.97 for example) that is long enough to include the entire shot you are trying to create
          2. Select the rectangle tool
          3. Select the fill and stroke you want to use
          4. While holding down the shift key draw a rectangle shape anywhere in the comp
          5. Press the U key twice to reveal all of the modified properties of the rectangle
          6. You should see something like this:
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 5.20.31 AM.png
          7. Set the size of Rectangle Path 1 to 600, 600
          8. Reset the Transform Rectangle 1 position to 0,0 to center the rectangle in the composition panel
          9. Click on the Add button to the right of Shape Layer 1's contents and add Wiggle Paths and make some adjustments to give your cube a hand drawn look something like this:
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 5.50.52 AM.png
          10. Press the A key to reveal the anchor point of the shape layer
          11. Make the shape layer 3D
          12. The anchor point should be 0,0,0 (note: if you were using a 600 X 600 solid the anchor point would be 300, 300, 0)
          13. Because Rectangle Path 1 is 600, 600 you'll want to set the z value for the anchor point to half the width of the rectangle so adjust the Layer anchor point to be 0, 0, 300
          14. Duplicate the shape layer 5 times
          15. Select all 5 layers and press the r key to reveal the orientation and rotation property of each layer
          16. Leave Shape layer 1 at the default rotation values
          17. Rotate Shape Layer 2 90º in y, Shape Layer 3 180º in y, Shape Layer 4 270º in y, Shape Layer 5 90º in x, and Shape Layer 6 270º in x so the layers look like this:
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 5.34.43 AM.png
          18. Add a null to the composition and make the null 3D and name it Cube 1
          19. The null is now at the center of the composition world space and the 6 layers as a group are arranged around the null
          20. Make sure the Parent column is revealed in the time line (make it visible by right clicking in the column name bar)
          21. Press the r key or the u key to close up the layer properties, then select all shape layers and set the parent to Cube 1 then lock the shape layers so your timeline looks like this:
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 5.42.13 AM.png
          22. Now you can animate the position and rotation and adjust the scale of the null to control your cube. Add a 3D camera and have fun.
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 5.56.50 AM.pngv
          23. To build up a flock of these cubes or build a body unlock all layers and start duplicating them. The most efficient way to do that is to select all six shape layers, press Ctrl/Cmnd + d then Ctrl/Cmnd + ] to move the duplicates to the top then repeat. When you have made all of the copies you want lock the camera layer, press Ctrl/Cmnd + a to select all layers, hold down the Ctrl/Cmnd key and select all the null controllers and then shy all of the shape layers like this:
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 6.04.07 AM.png
          24. Click the Hide shy layers (third icon from the left at the top) and you have only your cube controllers to animate. Now you can size, scale animate and even parent these together to create your bird like this:
            Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 6.50.13 AM.png

          This should give you an idea of how to create a flying bird in AE. Personally I'd probably use Blender or the full version of C4D then import the project into AE for final compositing. Blender has some great hand drawn shader effects and it's a lot easier to rig and animate something like a bird.

          • 2. Re: Flying Cubes How-To?
            louiseh29973073 Level 1

            Wow Rick, thank you so much! That is incredibly helpful. Thank you for your time spent answering my question, I will have a try now!


            Best wishes,



            • 3. Re: Flying Cubes How-To?
              Sarah Clenbuterol

              Thanks all contributors!

              I got something more interesting on youtube after effects tutorial how to create 3d cube in after effects cs6 - YouTube 

              I hope this will help you guys. I learn step by steps.




              Sarah Clenbuterol

              • 4. Re: Flying Cubes How-To?
                Rick Gerard Adobe Community Professional & MVP


                That is a good example of a tutorial that demonstrates a technique that almost works the way it should. Unfortunately his technique will fall apart if you want to add a camera to the scene or add lights. Here's a comp that shows an efficient way to accomplish the same thing but gives you much better options for gradient color control and will interact in a comp with a camera the way a real cube would. The key is collapse transformations. Enjoy: Dropbox - Fancy Cube.aep (note: your browser may add a .txt extension to the AEP file when it is downloaded. Just remove it)