The problem

After Effects doesn’t work natively with 3D objects, but it can simulate 3D effects because there is a z-coordinate to position objects “as if” in a given space. Layers can be in front or behind one another, but in the end they’re just 1px thick so text in them is never going to be 3D.

The approaches

There are several possible ways to achieve the effect and I’m listing here some of the approches but I will only cover the first one, stacking in z-space, as I find it is easy to implement and later to modify and tune if needed.

The solution: Stacking layers in z-space

That is as it sounds. Replicating the text several times and moving them to the back will provide thickness. But don’t worry, you won’t have to deal with many layers whenever you want to change the text.

I will be posting a downloadable After Effects project ready to use at the end, but follow the steps if you want to be clear on how it works and why. A picture for the whole composition structure goes after the explanation, so that you can refer to it while reading.

1. Start a new project in After Effects

After Effects 3D text

Composition Final Structure

2. Write text in a text layer and precompose (ctrl+c) into a composition called (whatever you want, but in my case) “Text”. This composition will ensure that if you want to change the text later on, you only have to do it once here.

3. We now want to deal with the front layer of the letters, that is the face we see, and the rest of the stack, the thickness, separately. This is because we would like to be able to tune different effects to the front and the back. For this reason we will precompose again (ctrl+c) into two different compositions, our “Text” comp. Or if you rather, do it once, duplicate and rename. I’ve called them “FRONT” and “RepeatedLayers”. Why this name? Because this composition will be repeated as many times as you wish into Composition named “Back”.

4. So precomp once more (ctrl+c) “RepeatedLayers” into “BACK”.

5. Finally “FRONT” and “BACK” will compose your final composition.

After Effects 3D text


We don’t have a 3D effect just yet because we haven’t replicated the RepeatedLayers composition.

6. Custom ViewGo to your “BACK” composition and duplicate the “RepeatedLayers” comp several times changing their z-position by one pixel (click p while on the comp and change the third coordinate). To achieve multiple copies in an easy way, select a few of those copies you already made and duplicate. Still with the copies selected move them on top or down from the others, press p and increase the value from the third coordinate with your mouse. This will affect all of the selected layers and, as they were already in order… great! Although it is not that difficult to reposition them, Harry Frank posted a Graymachine preset that creates all these copies for you… easy! Download from the link, unzip, and import it (Animation >> Apply animation preset).


You can now check that you have achieved already a thickness. On your Custom View, press c for the camera and move around.

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 13.55.38

7. To achieve even more thickness you can repeat layers as many times as you want or increase by a little bit the z-coordinate from the scale transformation of the “BACK” composition. But be careful not to over do it or the layers will be noticeable too far apart.

After effects 3d text

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 14.01.56

8. Finally apply a Bevel Alpha to “RepeatedLayers” (and here’s the reason for this composition to even exist instead of using “Text” directly on “BACK”) and a different amount of Bevel Alpha to the “FRONT” composition, ideally a lot more subtle. Also a ramp to the “FRONT” composition is usually nice, and it is even very useful to animate and create the illusion of illumination changes. This is why we wanted FRONT and BACK to be separate on a first place. See here how they differ:

After Effects

The resulting project

This is how your project should end:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 14.05.44

The download

So here’s the download to the project:

[button type=”qd_button btn_xlarge” url=”http://beacabrera.es/downloads/3dtext-beacabrera.es.aep” target=”on” button_color_fon=”#d7cb00″ ]DOWNLOAD 3dtext-beacabrera.es.aep[/button]

The sources

Check out this cool (but long) live explanation of this process:

Author: Bea Cabrera

Freelance Filmmaker with a passion for big cities, snowboard, cinema and a weakness for the smell of freshly ground coffee. Engineer & Graphic Designer in a previous life, loving and living both: art and technology.  

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