Short answer is, "no".
Long answer is, "yes, but..."
There are many ways to fake 3d in AE.
1. If your .PNG's are rectangular, you can create solids in AE to make sides and backs for your objects.
2. Make 20 (or so) duplicates of your layer and offset each one by 1 pixel in z space.
a. Zaxwerk's 3d Invigorator. Amazing and very useful tool (If your image isn't square, you can create an outline for it in Illustrator, then map the PNG to the front of the object)
b. Boris Blue or Red? (I've never used it)
c. Conoa 3d Layer (I've never used it)
d. There are more, I just can't think of them/don't use them
AE is not a 3d program it was originally a compositing program and now has expanded into motion graphics, it's a huge boon to have even the limited feature set we do have in it. And, once you learn how to work with it, you can achieve some very convincing 3d. Take a look at some of the tutorials at VideoCopilot.net, some great fake 3d in some (this one still astounds me with its beauty)
I thought that was propbably the case. After Effects' 3d capabilities are actually really good, but like you say, it's for compositing not for creating 3d models. Thanks for the links!
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Michael has given you some good information. One more thing that might help is to know that the term often used for giving thickness to 2D layers is 'extrude'. Knowing that, you can do this After Effects Community Help search for 'extrude', which pulls up some additional techniques.
Feature request for CS5, please!
Extrude and lathe
I could do so much with only these.