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3 Easy Ways to Create 3D Text in After Effects

By Sara Wade
After Effects

3D Text looks amazing and really elevates your work, but some artists find it too complicated to approach

One easy way to help your motion design work stand out is to add some flashy 3D text. The challenge comes from unfamiliar 3D renderers, complicated tools, and expensive programs. That's why SOM TA Sara Wade is here to show you a better way.
After Effects is a robust program, capable of more than you're probably aware. That's why we want to show you three easy ways you can create 3D text, without any fancy gadgets or gizmos (okay, one fancy expression). Today we'll cover:
  • Stacking 3D Layers in Space
  • Using the Built-In Extrude Function
  • Building with Cinema 4D Lite
Before we get started, make sure to grab the project files so you can follow along with me!

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3 Easy Ways to Create 3D Text in After Effects

Stacking 3D Layers

The first thing to do is create a simple text layer. I'm writing out 3D.
SOM-How to add text in After Effects.gif
Select the text layer and set it as 3D by toggling this switch.
SOM-How to make a layer 3D in after effects.gif
It doesn't look like much yet, but if I hit R, it opens up rotations. If I rotate on the Y-axis, you can see it is a 3D layer. Still not much to look at; it's too thin.
SOM-How to rotate a 3D layer in After Effects.gif
By adding in duplicate layers along the Z-axis, we can beef up this text so that it appears 3D. To do this, we're going to use a tiny little expression (don't panic!)
Alt-Click or Command + Left Click the stopwatch to open up the Expressions Menu, then type this command: [value[0],value[1],index*10];
The first value refers to the first position (the X-axis), the second is for the Y, the third will index off the Z as many times as I this case, I chose ten. Now, when I duplicate this layer, this same formula will be translated across Z space.
Next, we create a new Null layer and place it at the bottom.
SOM-How to create a null layer in After Effects.png
We select all the text layers and pickwhip them to the Null. Now that everything is parented to the Null, we make sure the Null layer is also set as 3D and...
SOM-How to Stack layers to create 3D text after effects.gif
It looks 3D, right? And if we adjust the colors of the lower layers...
SOM-Stack layers in After Effects to make things 3D.png
If you want a thicker 3D object, all you have to do is add more layers. The downside of this method is that, from the side, you will see the space between each layer and break the illusion.

Using the Extrude Function

The next method is to Extrude the layer. In After Effects, an Extruded object is one that appears to be 3D. Now, there isn't just an option that let's us extrude the layer. So how are we going to do it?
Once we make this layer 3D, you'll see the Renderer button pop up in the top right.
SOM-How to change 3D render mode in After Effects.png
This lets us select between Classic 3D and Cinema 4D. I'm going to select Cinema 4D, as that allows me to extrude. Some options are disabled, such as blending and motion blur.
SOM-How to Set Cinema 4D Renderer in After Effects.png
Now, when I go into the text layer, you can see all these new options since we're in Cinema 4D rendering.
If I add value under Extrude and rotate on the Y-Axis you can see my type is now showing up as a real 3D object.
SOM-3D Text options in After Effects.png
I can even add Beveling if I want. So you can see just how quickly I was able to make 3D text. I can even play with a variety of materials to find the best look for my text.
You should never be afraid of a little extruding.
Just as you shouldn't be afraid of a little strudel.
With this method, you can also rotate completely and it still looks 3D, unlike our stacked layer option. One drawback is the sides of the text are hard to see. To fix that, simply go to the arrow next to Animate and select Side > Color > Hue. What's great is that all of this is built right in to After Effects.
SOM-How to change side color of 3D Text in After Effects.png

Building in Cinema 4D Lite

Our final method for creating 3D text is to use Cinema 4D Lite, which is included in After Effects. If you're not familiar with C4D, that's okay. This is quick and easy, and it will expose you the power of that software while staying in your AE comfort zone.
Go to Layer > New > MAXON CINEMA 4D File...
SOM-How to create a Cinema 4D Lite File.png
Once you open the new C4D file, it will open an new window for you. Don't worry if this looks a little foreign. I'm here to walk you through.
I'm going to go to the Pen tool and select Text, which will create a 3D text layer for me to use.
Then I can quickly type in the layer to change the text to "3D" (it's been working for us so far, so why break the mold?)
If I click and drag around, I can see that my object exists in 3D space, but it needs a little meat on them bones.
How I do that is by clicking on the extrude icon and add an extrude object, then drag the text object under Extrude. I can also select the text and hold the Alt or Option key as I select extrude. This is how the object should be parented.
SOM-How to Extrude text in Cinema 4D Lite.png
Now I can change the extrude offset values in my object tab to make it look how I'd like.
SOM-Change text extrusion depth in Cinema 4D Lite.gif
Finally, I'll save my project and head back to After Effects, and my 3D text will be waiting for me!
Those grid lines you see won't be rendered and are just there to help you out. If you want to get rid of them, just go to the Render Setting in the Effects Controls panel and select Current.
SOM-How to remove Cinema 4D lite grid lines in After Effects.png
Now I want to add color to my object. We go back to Cinema 4D and under the create tab select new default material (CTRL-N).
SOM-How to create a new material in Cinema 4D Lite.png
I'm going to use the same purple-blue that I've been working with all day. You can change the color of a material in the attributes panel.
SOM-How to change a material color in Cinema 4D Lite.png
I just drag it onto the extrude object and...voilà!
SOM-How to add a color to type in Cinema 4D Lite.gif
And because this is an actual 3D object, the sides are properly shaded. I save my project (the long way, or just CTRL-S) and back in After Effects I'll see my colored text waiting.

Now you can make 3D text in After Effects

See? Not too complicated. After Effects is a robust program, and once you master the basics, the possibilities really open up. Just remember that you can stack layers, extrude using the C4D renderer, and jump right into Cinema 4D Lite, and you'll be cranking out some 3D magic in no time.
If you're looking to step up your AE game, or get a better handle on the foundation, be sure to check out Animation Bootcamp and After Effects Kickstart! We packed each course to the brim with the lessons you need to get to the next level.
Learn the basics of the world's most popular motion design software, and get the skills you need to stand out from the crowd!