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I use orient to pose the layer before I use any of the transform functions like rotate.
It's explained in the Help files and LiveDocs:
One general way of thinking of the difference is that Orientation is useful for specifying the pose, whereas Rotation is useful when it matters how the layer gets into that pose. (E.g., If you want a layer to spin around ten times before coming to rest pointing in the same direction as the one in which it started, you'd use Rotation.)
Here's a quote from the "Rotate or orient a 3D layer" section of After Effects Help on the Web:
"You can turn a 3D layer by changing the layers Orientation values or by changing its Rotation values. In both cases, the layer turns around its anchor point. The Orientation and Rotation properties differ in how the layer moves when you animate them.
When you animate a 3D layers Orientation property, the layer turns as directly as possible to reach the specified orientation. When you animate any of a 3D layers X, Y, or Z Rotation properties, the layer rotates along each individual axis according to the individual property values. In other words, Orientation values specify an angular destination, whereas Rotation values specify an angular route. Animate Rotation properties to make a layer turn multiple times.
Animating the Orientation property is often better for natural, smooth motion, whereas animating the Rotation properties provides more precise control."
it's clear to me now
special thanks to Todd Kopriva