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There used to be a set of plug-ins for AE called Conoa 3D that would do this sort of thing.
I think the HD version of the Cycore FX Sphere can wrap and unwrap. Or maybe it's Boris Final Effects Complete. But they both cost money.
Maybe something like Freeform can do this? (I haven't used it in a while)
It's a cinch to do in a 3D app like Cinema4D with its Spherify or ShrinkWrap deformer.
As Navarro already mentioned, the only option that comes with AE is Freeform - if you really need a curved surface. Other than that you can always arrange 3D layers in a spherical formation, but this will only look good if there are enough of them, not just 4. There are otehr ways to cheat a bit, though. E.g. if you make CC Sphere large enough, it will look reasonably "flat", you'll just be limited to creating all other animation in the pre-comp that makes up the sphere texture, which could make things tricky to coordinate. Similarly, you could use Card Dance with suitable layer maps to create a bulged grid. If you're not too locked in to a specific style, there are a few options....
I'm still at this in between other projects, and realizing it's a lot harder than I originally thought!!...but I would still like to be able to achieve something at least close to this.
I've started playing around with Cinema 4D. I know this is an AE forum, but can anyone give me any more info on how I would achieve something like this? Or at least point me in the right direction??
I'd use something like Boris FX or Conoa Sphere for this effect. It's a simple matter of setting up one or more pre-comps and applying the effect. If you want the flags to come in one at a time then you'd set up a pre-comp for each flag with it in the starting position, then you'd apply the sphere to each pre-comp and animate the sphere shape. Duplicates to be used as track mattes to fix overlaps may be required.
You'd do the same thing in a 3D app. Warp a solid with a texture map into a sphere with the sphere's lined up.
Here's a sample from Conoa.
AFAIK. Boris is still the only sphere filter that privides a Wrap percentage setting that can be keyframed. It's really cool. Final Effects does not offer this featurethat I can find but m version is ancient.
Canoa can be keyframed also. See the link above.
Ah, never used Canoa, thought it was a stand alone 3D modeler. But you're saying it's a plugin for AE?
Yes. Conoa is a really good set of plug-ins with ray tracing, reflections, and great primitive tools. I've used it for years. Check out their demos. You'll have to run CS4 to render though. I forgot about that.