Easily Create 3D Photos in Adobe After Effects

After Effects May 28, 2019 3 min read

After Effects is a flexible program that can allow you to make some really cool effects that you can use in your projects. In this tutorial, we’re going to go over how to create a simple 3D photo effect using After Effects CC.

This is a really quick trick to add some dimensionality to your pictures and overall visual interest. Once you’re done with this tutorial, you’ll be able to add a slight spinning motion to the subject in your photo. You can also apply the same technique to add depth to a landscape shot too. The main thing is that it is easy and fast to do! Let’s dive in! 

How to Make 3D Photos in After Effects CC

Step 1: Create Solid Layers

Once you have your photo inside After Effects, you’ll want to add a black solid layer by going to Layer > New > Solid. Once you have your solid layer added, you’ll want to move it to be your second layer, then go back to your image layer and bring the Opacity down a little bit by hitting “T” on your keyboard. 

Once you’ve turned the opacity down, add another solid by going to Layer > New > Solid, but this time make it white. Then turn the opacity down on the white solid layer as well. 

Step 2: Create a Mask & Feather 

Next, you’re going to want to draw a rough mask around the subject using the Pen Tool. This mask does not have to be perfect!

Once you’ve drawn your mask, you’ll want to hit “F” on the keyboard to feather it. Next, bring the black layer above the photo layer, so your layers are in the following order white, black, photo, then turn the white layer up to full opacity.

Step 3: Apply a Displacement Map Effect

Now you’ll want to select both the black and white layers, and go to Pre-comp. Name the pre-comp something like “Displace,” then hit OK. From here, turn “Displace” off, and go back to your image and bring the opacity back to full.

Next, apply Effect > Distort > Displacement Map to the picture. Make sure to assign the “Displace” layer you created as the Displacement Map Layer

At first, it won’t look like anything is happening, so switch the Vertical Displacement and Horizontal Displacement dropdown to Luminance. How you want the subject to move will determine the values for the vertical or horizontal displacement. For example, if you have a portrait shot of a person, you’ll likely want to keep the Vertical Displacement at 0 because you’ll want this effect to have horizontal movement. 

Using this portrait photo scenario, you’d then change the Horizontal Displacement to a value that gives you the look you’re going for. The trick here is to not overdo it because it will break apart the image! 

Step 4: Use RepeTile to Hide Any Crop

One thing that you might notice is that you could end up with an awkward black crop as you adjust the horizontal displacement. To correct this, go to Effect > Stylze > RepeTile.

Place the RepeTile above the Displacement Map and expand it left (or right if your crop is showing up on the other side). Instead of Repeat, change the dropdown to Unfold, and that will hide the crop. Of course, if your image has a more complex background, then you might have to scale the photo instead.

Step 5: Refine the Displacement of the Photo

The last thing you’ll want to do is refine the look of the 3D photo. 

To adjust the rotation, place a keyframe at the desired start rotation number for the Max Horizontal Displacement (for example -15.0). Then move forward for the duration you want it the subject to rotate (for example, 1.5 seconds). From here, adjust the Max Horizontal Displacement to be opposite number than your first value (+15.0). What’s helpful to choose an equal number on either the positive or negative side. 

Now if you do a preview run, you’ll notice your subject looks like they’re spinning. The background should also feel like it has some motion to it as well! Wasn’t that an easy way to add visual interest to your photos! 

Lastly, you may want to add a bit of a Scale animation to it. You can do this by turning on the Scale using the “S” key and adding a keyframe at the beginning and click and drag the scale a little bit. Now when you play it back, your image’s subject should be spinning while also zooming in a little bit. 


There you have it! In just a few minutes, you now have the skills to create 3D photos in After Effects CC. While this isn’t a full 3D model, it’s a fast and easy way to liven up your images.

We hope this trick ultimately saves you time adding motion and depth to your projects! If you want to check out other ways to animate pictures, Motion Array has thousands of 3D photo templates for After Effects.