2D/3D with Photoshop CS3 Extended and After Effects

, / 729 28

Without a doubt, the best new feature in After Effects CS3 is the Vanishing Point Exchange with Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended. Creating very believable 3D movements from quite simple 2D digital photographs has to be seen to be believed, and the best thing is it’s a pretty easy process. However, there are a few caveats to keep an eye out for, so let’s take a trip into the world of two-dee three-dee!

The specs for this project are arbitrary and will depend entirely on the original image you choose to work with (unless you follow along with the download), but requires that you have Photoshop CS3 Extended and After Effects CS3 to make use of the new Vanishing Point Exchange features.

[If you’d like to download the project file used here to follow along with this tutorial (as well as preview the final effect), click here or visit http://layersmagazine.com/downloads.html. All files are for personal use only.]

STEP 1 Select High-Res Image
By far the most important step in this process is selecting the right image. Choose one with clean, sharp perspective angles and edges, but also ensure the image is as high resolution as possible. The Vanishing Point Exchange (VPE) process will bend and distort sections of your image to make 3D panels, so the higher the image resolution, the less “tearing” you’ll notice, especially when reducing it down to video resolution at the end. For this tutorial, I’ve chosen an image I took with a Canon EOS 5D in Brussels, which is 2048×1365 pixels at 240ppi.


STEP 2 Open Image in Vanishing Point
Open your image in Photoshop CS3 Extended, then choose Filter>Vanishing Point to open the Vanishing Point dialog. Determine which area of the image contains the most promising section to build a perspective grid from, then zoom in to 100% on that area. Here, the central wall between the two turrets on the right is the perfect area to start. Choose the Create Plane tool (C) and, beginning with the top-left corner of the wall, click on all the four corners in a clockwise direction to create the basic perspective grid angles.

STEP 3 Adjust Panel Dimensions
Zoom back out so you can see the whole image, then using the Edit Plane tool (which should be selected by default when you click the fourth grid point), adjust the width and height of the new grid panel to cover the boundaries of that section (e.g., the sky, edge, etc.). We’re building a 3D image from this but a simple grid is faster, and most times better because too many perspective grids in one image can yield strange results. Note: We’re putting the left edge on the side of the turret where it bends backward at 45°.

STEP 4 Create Angled Panel
Now let’s create our second panel angle. Hold down Command (PC: Ctrl) then click-and-drag the left-center control handle to the left to create a new panel in perfect perspective (at 90° to the first one). In this case, we need a 45° panel to match the edge of the turret, so hold down Option (PC: Alt) and drag the left-center control handle of the new panel to the left to rotate it to the correct angle. You can also enter 135° in the Angle field at the top of the dialog. Adjust the width again if necessary.

STEP 5 Create Third Panel
Now we can reuse these techniques to finish the grid easily. Command-drag (PC: Ctrl-drag) the new left-center handle to create the third panel, which again will come in at 90° to the previous one. Rotate it back round to 135° by either Option-dragging (PC: Alt-dragging) the left handle again, or entering the value at the top of the dialog. Then adjust the width and height of the panel to be sure to cover the height of the image.

STEP 6 Create Final Panel
Finally, Command-drag (PC: Ctrl-drag) the left-center handle of the last panel to the left to create the final panel at 90°, which for this image is just the right angle. Again, be sure to extend the panel to reach the edge of the image, and adjust the height accordingly. It’s not important that all the grids are the same height, just as long as they cover the available pixels in the image.

STEP 7 Export VPE
The hard work is done! Click the rather obscure right-facing triangle at the top of the Vanishing Point dialog, to the left of Grid Size, and choose Export to After Effects CS3 (.vpe). Select your destination, but I do recommend creating a new folder and exporting into it. The VPE export doesn’t create one file, but many: one VPE “construction” file, one 3D data file, and one image file for each of the panels you created. Naturally, it’s better to keep all of these in one snug location. [

STEP 8 Import VPE to After Effects
Now click OK in the Vanishing Point dialog and save the file as a PSD, because the 3D grids will be saved with it in case you need them again in the future.

Now switch to After Effects CS3, create a new, empty project, then go to File>Import>Vanishing Point (.vpe). Locate the folder that you saved the VPE into, and select the file with the VPE extension (ours is Cathedral.vpe). Click OK, and you’ll see a new folder and composition appear in the Project panel.

STEP 9 Open Comp; Adjust Camera
Double-click the new composition to open it, and press , (Comma) a couple of times to reduce the preview size to see the entire image. Looks just like the photo, doesn’t it? Well, hit C on the keyboard to access the Orbit Camera tool and now drag around inside the Comp window. That’s not simply a photograph anymore! Note: This is one of those instances where an up-to-date video card with at least 256 MB VRAM and support for OpenGL 2.0 comes in very useful.

STEP 10 Keyframe Camera Movement
Select the Camera in the Timeline, and press P then Shift-R to reveal its Position and Rotation properties, respectively. Making sure you’re at 0 seconds in the Timeline, click the Stopwatches next to Position and Orientation to add a keyframe for each. Now drag the Time Indicator as far down the Timeline as you want the animation to take (we chose 5 seconds), then drag on the Position and Orientation values until you reach the final view angle you desire.

STEP 11 Ease Keyframes; Import Logo File
Select the last two keyframes and press Shift-F9 (Animation>Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease In) to ease the motion into the end. So now that we have a 2D/3D environment, we should be able to insert any new 3D items directly into the scene, right? Yes, but with care.

In After Effects, import an Illustrator file of a logo or something similar to be inserted into the scene by going to File>Import>File. Then drag the file (here, Lion of Flanders.ai) into the Timeline, and hit Option-Home (PC: Alt-Home) to ensure it starts at 0 seconds.

STEP 12 Create 3D Layer
Now, under the Switches panel in the Timeline, click the 3D Layer icon for the new logo. Chances are your logo doesn’t align at 0° or 90° to the part of the image you expect, such as our case with the left-edge panel. You can adjust, position, and rotate the logo to match if you like, but it’s probably going to take time and still not match—so let’s use a workaround.

STEP 13 Duplicate and Replace Panel
Delete the logo layer, then in the Timeline select the panel image you want the logo to be parallel to (such as the main left background panel here), and press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to duplicate it (with all its rotation and position settings). Keeping it selected, go to the Project panel, select your logo file, hold down Option (PC: Alt), and drag it directly onto the duplicated 3D panel to replace it. You’ll see its top-left corner align with the old panel’s corner.

STEP 14 Reposition Logo; Animate
Now you can click-and-drag on any of the three colored axis arrows in the Comp window to reposition the logo in a 3D space, which perfectly matches the rest of the image! Hit 0 on the keypad to render a RAM preview and you’ll see your logo moving in perfect perspective with your image—which, remember, started out as just a digital photo! And this is only the very tip of the iceberg. As I said, this is the best new feature in After Effects CS3. Believe it now? Enjoy, my friends!


  • xiaoyun says:

    Thank you very much!
    I enjoy your demo at NAB.

  • Bulent Kalkan says:

    Steve…This is rock.. Thank you very much. Everyone must see this tutorial. I thing After effects not just a software, This is real world :) And we are masters..

  • Paul Pitton says:

    Thanks! I also enjoyed your demo at NAB. Got stuck trying to duplicate your steps. The tutorial took care of the problem. As always you rekindle the passion to expand and explore new techniques with the Adobe softwares.

  • teri says:

    ur r the best

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Thanks all for the kind comments – always so nice to know people enjoy the tutorials and gain that edge in After Effects.

    Enjoy! And thanks again

  • Martin Swinkels says:

    Hi Steve,
    Great tutorial, made several 3d scenes allready. Only one thing I don’t understand. when importing the .vpe it’s allways rotated about 40 degrees. So I have to rotate the camera before working on it. Any ideas why this happens?

  • sbalaji says:

    Thank tou for giving this usefull idea about 3d/2d effects.

  • damien Gaillardon says:

    I wonder, how to control the size of png created by photoshop ?


  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi all,

    I am not sure about the whole rotation of the camera (and sometimes the layers) when importing the VPE into AE. In CS3 it seems to be a bit more organized – but in a LOT of the 3D scenes we create, we bring in the PNG images and carefully rebuild the scene ourselves with everything on straight planes, so we can animate it more easily. Time-consuming, a little, but easier in the long run IF the camera is a little skewed on import, especially if you’re going to be adding items into the scene.

    As for the size of the PNGs, that is all dependent on the original resolution of the file you imported. The higher quality, the bigger “chunks” it will make.

    Of course, you could always open the PNGs inside Photoshop and down-size them, but that might cause confusion when the VPE is reassembled in After Effects, I’d be wary of that.

    Hope this helps – and thanks again for the great comments all,

  • JAILTON says:


  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi there “Jailton”,

    My Portuguese is a little rusty I must admit, but I think you are saying you have a photograph of your fiancee and she is perhaps standing behind a grill and you need to remove that? If so, then yes, you would need to do that in Photoshop. Removal CAN be done in After Effects, but it’s not really made for that process, Photoshop offering way more tools and techniques for such things, including cloning to be able to fill holes back in when items have been removed.

    Let me know if this helps, or if you need more assistance.


  • Barry Taratoot says:

    Do you recall a HOW TO instructional on painting with neon in photoshop CS3 extended, shown in May/June ’08 Layers Magazine on page 30?

  • Lu-Lush says:

    hi . . .
    im Lu-lush …
    from the Phileppines …
    i want to know . . .
    that …
    how can i change the color of an eyes . . .
    thank you …
    more blesing to come …

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi Barry,

    I see the page of that issue, but not an instructional anywhere. Does this have something to do with this 2D/3D tutorial?


  • pepe gallardo says:

    tko. do you have tutorial person picture 2d to covert 3d

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi Pepe,

    Sorry, but I don’t. The techniques offered here by Photoshop CS3 for slicing and exporting an image, are really defined by rectangles only, and it would take hundreds of shapes and angles to replicate the mesh of a human form, and then there’s the challenge of cloning back in the background so that the camera can move around and not show the duplicate person behind. I’m not saying it’s impossible because I’m sure it’s not, but extremely difficult, time-consuming, and probably would not yield the required results.

  • Stephen007 says:

    Holy ***T!!! This is one hell of a tutorial. A very commendable tutorial, ill probably visit your site from now on.

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Thanks Stephen! Glad you enjoyed it! Be sure to check out our After Effects Podcast we have launched on iTunes in conjunction with Artbeats, some very neat stuff there too.




  • Orlow says:

    Nice, but it would be more awesome with an Iris … éhéhé …

  • Doug says:

    Here’s my stupid question. This is all very cool but if, after creating an image that appears to be 3D or moves with foreground, mid and back round independent of each other, how is that displayed in, say, a slideshow that would ordinarily consist of still pictures?

  • Gilberto Balderas says:

    Hello where can I wath the demo version of this tutorial you used at NAB Muchas gracias

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hola Gilberto,

    The demo I presented at NAB on this subject, using the urban room we created for the Urbanicity title, was actually filmed by Adobe and posted on AdobeTV:


    Let me know this works for you?

    All the best,


  • Alexander Massey says:

    Hi Steve, saw your NAB video on adobe website, you were best out of all the speakers I thought (but then I am a Brit :p). I have had all your total training work on AE since 2005, and it never ceases to amaze me how ‘crisp’ your projects are compared with other tutorials, and even broadcast ready projects I have seen. Take the “Eight” series in CS4 essentials or the “Time to Reflect” podcast – the layout and look is what I think all after effects users are striving for. Keep up the good work, all the best mate, and many thanks for the hours of fantastic training.

    Alex Massey

  • jojolavideo says:

    this new feature will really help
    faster and better than ever !
    thanks fir this tuto

    see the result soon on my website

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Jojolavideo, glad you liked it! I looked at the reel on your site, nice use of the fractal noise in the background there, very cool!


  • Gilberto Balderas says:

    Hope we ever met, I live in Playa del Carmen,
    thanks for the link of this tut on NAB 09

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Sure thing, glad you like it :)


  • John Carter says:

    When I import the file into after effects it doesn’t fit together for some unknown reason. It keeps all the planes separate! Could you help? I feel pretty stupid but it makes absolutely no sense.