After Effects tutorial: Make an animated 3D pop-up book

There’s a resurgence in the popularity of all things vintage at the moment – from retro patterns to kids’ sweeties – and motion graphics is no exception. A series of recent bumpers created by the likes of Studio AKA have used simple 2D cut-out shapes and characters to create lively scenes and stories. Although many of these have been created using 3D software, there’s a surprising amount you can do in After Effects with little or no knowledge of 3D at all.

In this tutorial we’re going to create a 3D animation of a storybook opening to reveal a pop-up scene of mountains, a road, bushes, moving clouds and a sun. Along the way you’ll learn how to create 3D primitive objects and nest them in your composition.

We’ve chosen a slightly retro look – the graphics we used are on the disc and in the zip file over in the sidebar, but feel free to replace them with your own; our completed shot will be a clean, colourful and dynamic scene with plenty of character.

Step 1
Create a new After Effects project and import all the image assets from the zip file linked in the sidebar by choosing File > Import > File. Once you’ve got all the files in your project, drag the bookFrontCover.png asset onto the Create New Composition button at the bottom of the project panel.

Step 2
We’re going to be creating one side of the book’s outer cover in 3D. First, make your existing layer 3D by clicking on the 3D button in the Layers panel. Next, duplicate the layer by highlighting it and choosing Ctrl/Cmd + D. Move your mouse over the Z axis of the new layer and push it back so you have two parallel faces in 3D space.

Step 3
Choose the Custom View 1 option from the camera drop-down and use the 3D Rotate tool to move around your book cover. Adjust the Z position of the second layer until you have something that looks the right thickness. Drag a copy of the bookSpineSide.png graphic into the project and make this 3D. Adjust the y rotation to 90º so this layer meets the existing layers at a right angle. Alter the size, X, Y & Z positions to line it all up.

Step 4
Repeat this process for the other side, then the top and bottom of the cover. The end result should be a 3D box you can rotate around without seeing inside. This can be a frustrating process, so make use of the top, left, right and bottom views to make sure everything lines up perfectly before moving on. You will need to resize the bookSpineSide graphics – especially for the top and bottom.

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