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AE is more of a "2.5-D" program than a true 3D program. You can manipulate planar objects in 3 dimensions. You can't create natively 3-D geometry from within AE. You can render 3D scenes, and import them into AE, but as it stands, without additional plug-ins, you can't import/create/manipulate 3D geometry from within AE. You may want to look into CC Sphere to help get your rotating Earth effect. I forget who it was (Rick, Jonas, Mylenium, etc...), but someone had made a very nice demo project doing exactly what you described from within AE.
I don't know what you're talking about when you say "scrapping the whole program...". If it's insinuating that there's a core difference between the PC version, and the Mac version, that would be a completely incorrect assumption...
If you're looking for a true 3D app, you'll need just that. A true, dedicated, 3D app.
You can do a rotating sphere using any one of several 3rd party apps. To create the effect using the built in effects take an image you want to use for the globe surface and apply the CC Sphere Effect. You'll find that under Effects>Perspective>CCSphere.
Apply the CC Sphere to the layer, make the layer 3D, change the Transform properties to Auto Orient towards Camera, then apply the followint expressions:
To CC Sphere X rotation:
r = lookAt(position, thisComp.layer("Camera 1").transform.position);To CC Sphere Y rotation:
x = r - 180;
value + x
r = lookAt(position, thisComp.layer("Camera 1").transform.position);To CC Sphere Z rotation:
y = - r;
value + y
r = lookAt(position, thisComp.layer("Camera 1").transform.position);If you really want to get fancy you can add expressions to light height and direction using a variation of the basic lookAt(position1, position2) language.
z = r +180;
value + z
Hope this helps. You might want to take a look at this sample project using one of the images picked from the google link above.
>For instance, I'm trying to create a rotating Earth, but instead of
>it rotating and being a sphere, it's just a flat layer that twists
Which is perfectly normal. Please do read the help files for what 3D in AE actually means and how "3D effects" like CC Sphere, CC Cylinder, Card Dance, Shatter, particle systems and several commercial third-party plugins function on normal 2D layers. If you are using CS4, you will gain access to extra options for 3D content handling and creation by ways of Photoshop Live 3D layers, so investigate this option as well.
Check out the "About 3D layers" section of After Effects Help on the Web. In addition to explaining what 3D layers are (and aren't) in After Effects, the page also links to some sample projects, scripts, and plug-ins.
Also, you can use Adobe Community Help search to find various tutorials and tools for making, faking, and using 3D spheres in After Effects.
Along the same lines as what Rick was saying, here's a link to a project for making an Earth: Jonas Hummelstrand's Beautiful Earth project