Life & Style tutorial: Make your text 3D in After Effects

Make your message stand out by transforming text with 3D extrusions in After Effects.

After Effects CS3 includes fabulous 3D, per-character text animators, but the ability to actually extrude text into solid 3D objects usually requires third-party plug-ins.

Unless, of course, you use the trick shared here by animator, designer and After Effects expert Angie Taylor, which permits you to extrude the text with no extra software.

There are other ways of creating true 3D text in After Effects, using filters like the Shatter filter. However, the trouble with Shatter is that it’s quite difficult to get the edges of the text looking decent and crisp.

The following technique is great as it’s fairly straightforward and quick to carry out. It also allows you to use 3D animators with your extruded text.

01. Copy the files from the cover disc onto your hard drive and open the project RightonBrightonDA_1.aet. This is a 3D beach scene, built in After Effects. RAM preview to see the basic camera move that has been set up. We will add some text, plus some vector-based flotsam and jetsam to the scene to create animated titles for my animated series, ‘Righton Brighton’. Select Composition > New Composition, choose PAL D1/DV Widescreen preset. Select the Horizontal Type tool (Cmd/Ctrl + T) then click in the centre of the Composition Panel. In the Paragraph panel, click on Centre Text before typing ‘Righton Brighton’.

02. Go to the Selection tool, then click the Wing Menu in the Character panel, choosing Reset Character. Select the Font Name in the Font Family field, use the Up and Down arrow keys to select fonts. Using this technique you can see your Text updating in the Comp panel. Choose Impact as your font (or a similar, chunky sans serif font), at 62 points, then introduce size variation by choosing the Horizontal Type tool and individually selecting the first R, both Ts and the B. Change the size these characters to 106 and Baseline Shift to -12. Open the Righton Brighton layer in the Timeline.

03. Select Text Property Group > Path Options. Choose the Pen tool and draw a simple, curved mask shape. Choose Mask 1 from the Path menu to attach the text to it, then adjust the spacing between letter pairs by placing the cursor between the characters you wish to adjust and adjust the Kerning value in the Character panel. Choose a warm yellow for the Fill colour and dark red for the Stroke colour, changing the Stroke Width to 10. Choose Fill Over Stroke from the Stroke Options menu. With the layer selected and time-marker at 0, go to Animation menu > Browse Presets. This opens Adobe Bridge. Navigate to Text > 3D Text Folder.

04. In Bridge, double-click the ‘3D Fly Down Behind Camera.ffx’ preset to apply it to the layer, and jump back to After Effects. Hit U to open up keyframes for the selected layer and RAM preview by hitting 0 on the number pad. Open Material Options for the layer and switch the Cast Shadows option to On. Change Light Transmission to 100%: you won’t see a result from doing this yet, but it will allow shadows, coloured by the layer’s pixels, to be cast by the text in the final composition. Select the layer in the Timeline and hit U to open keyframed properties.

05. Select all keyframes for the property by clicking the property name (Offset). Drag the keyframes so that the first one is at the two-second mark. We’ll create the 3D effect by duplicating the layer, so it’s important that you’re happy with the typesetting and animation before moving ahead. Close the layer and then hit the P key to open the position property in the Timeline. Select the Position property and then go to Animation > Add Expression. Replace the text in the expression text field with ‘value + [0,0,index]’ and then hit Enter on the Number Pad (not the Return key).

06. Before we create our 3D text, we’ll add another expression to create a bevel by gradually increasing the Stroke Width value. Open the Text property group and then click on the Animate menu, choose Stroke Width. Add an expression to the property and edit the expression so that it reads: ‘text.animator(“Animator 2”).property. strokeWidth+index’. This makes each layer’s Stroke Width value increase by one pixel as the layer numbers increase. Change your 3D view to Top and adjust the view so you can see your layer. Select the layer and select Edit > Duplicate. Repeat this four times to create a total of six layers.

07. Select the Stroke Width property on the bottom layer and select Animation > Keyframe Assistant > Convert Expression to Keyframes. This will turn off the expression but maintain the value produced from the expression. Click on the Stroke Width stopwatch to remove all keyframes. Select the bottom layer and go Edit > Duplicate. Repeat this 24 times to create a total of 30 layers. Select all the layers except the top and bottom layers, and change the Fill Color to None in the Character panel. Select top layer and change Stroke Color to a slightly lighter red.

08. Change your 3D View to Custom View 1 and use the Orbit Camera tool (C) to move around the view to see the extruded text effect. You may want to switch the Fast Previews menu to OpenGL Interactive so that you can pan around the views quickly and smoothly. It would be difficult to continue working with the text in this composition due to the sheer number of layers. To make it more manageable, nest it into another comp, where it will appear as a single layer.

09. From the Project panel, open the 01_Beach Scene start comp, then drag the Righton Brighton text comp into it as the top layer. Change your view to Custom View 1 and adjust it using the Camera Tools until it looks like the one in the image. Notice that the text layer is no longer 3D and does not react to the camera. Click on the 3D switch on the layer in the Timeline or go to Layer > 3D Layer. The layer jumps into the 3D scene but has no depth. In order to bring the depth through to this composition we must Collapse Transformations.

10. Click on the Collapse Transformations switch in the Timeline. Change Position value to 360, 420, -90. Change the Y Rotation value to 334.


01. Using Index in the expression will return the value of the layer number. In this case it increases each layer’s Z Position value by one pixel as the layer numbers increase.

02. If you notice that things are slowing down considerably, to temporarily limit the amount of rendering needed for previews, you can click the Solo button for the top layer in the text comp. Now you can add other layers to the scene before rendering. In the 01_Beach Scene composition, click on the Shy switch to expose the hidden layers.

Who: Angie Taylor’s work involves producing animations, visual effects and graphics for television, film, video and the Web. Her work regularly appears on British and European TV. Recent projects include visual effects on John Williams’ film Hibernation, and animations for a DVD album by Beck. She is the author of Creative After Effects 7, and she regularly tours with Adobe and Apple giving demonstrations and seminars.
Software: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Bridge
Time to complete: 45 minutes – 1 hour
On the CD: All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here or found on the cover CD. step

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