How to Create a 2.5D Orbiting Shape Effect in Adobe After Effects

Software Home After Effects 14/09/2023 5 min read

Creating shape animations in Adobe After Effects is relatively straightforward, and you can produce incredible compositions with some practice. Creating a 3D environment is entirely different and can be complex when using AE. Instead, 2.5D allows you to create a 3D look without the complications of building 3D objects. This tutorial will show you how to create a versatile 2.5D orbiting effect that you can use in your shape and text animations.

  • Understand the difference between 2D, 2.5D, and 3D Animation.
  • Discover Adobe After Effects 2023 Camera Orbit Null layers.
  • Learn to create Orbiting Shape Effects from Scratch, or download the Motion Array Orbiting templates.

What is 2.5D Animation?

2D Animation uses shapes moving upwards, downwards, left, or right and will appear flat to the viewer. 3D Animation has all the same movements as 2D, but the 3D objects allow for movement toward and away from the Camera, allowing the viewer to see the object from any angle.

2.5D Animation is somewhere in the middle and involves using flat shapes in a 3D space to fake a 3D-style animation. With 2.5D Animation, you can make it appear like shapes are moving toward and away from the Camera or other shapes without needing a 3D object.

What is an Orbiting Null?

After Effects is constantly updating, and sometimes, this means changing how we create effects. Orbiting animations use various 3D Nulls, but the 2023 update has made the traditional way of circling shapes no longer work.

If you’ve watched a YouTube tutorial showing you orbiting effects, but it’s not worked for you, don’t worry. It is likely due to the Orbiting Null – a handy new Null object hidden behind a Camera Layer. 

How to create an Orbiting effect from Scratch in Adobe After Effects

We will use circle shapes to create the look of planets orbiting the Sun for our orbiting effect. Once you’ve mastered the technique, however, you can use the same method to animate any shape, text, or image layer moving around another.

Step 1: Creating your Shapes

For our orbiting effect, we’re going to use shapes created in After Effects, but you can use this method with image layers or imported graphics, such as these fantastic solar system graphics, to create a more detailed look.

  1. Create a New Composition using Command/Control + N, make sure the comp is 1080×1080, and call it Orbit Comp.
  2. Click and hold on to your Shape tool to reveal the menu, and select Ellipse.
  3. Double-click the Circle Shape now in the Tool Icon to add a circle to your composition.
  4. Select the Layer in the Timeline and hit S to reveal the Scale properties.
  5. Reduce the size of the Circle to fit within your scene, ensuring it remains central in the canvas.
  6. To change the color of your Circle, hit the Fill box at the top of the screen and select your preferred color.
  7. Click on the 3D box in the Layers Menu to make the layer 3D.
  8. In the Layers Panel, select the Layer and hit Return. Name the Layer Sun.
  9. With the Layer selected, hit Command/Control + D to duplicate it, and rename the layer Planet 1 – change the color of the Planet shape if required.
  10. With the Planet 1 layer selected, hit S to open the Scale properties and reduce the size to suit your scene.
  11. Grab the Planet 1 in the Media Viewer and drag it to the further point you want it to reach from the Sun Layer.


Step 2: Animating the Orbit Loop

Now you’ve set up a basic Planet and Sun scene using After Effects shapes. We can start to make it orbit. 

  1. Right-click in the Timeline, then choose New > Camera.
  2. Choose 50ml from the Preset Menu in the Camera Setting menu and hit OK.
  3. In the Layers Panel, right-click the Camera Icon and choose Camera> Creaet Orbit Null.
  4. Grab the Pick Whip from the Sun Layer and drag it to the Camera 1 Orbit Null layer to tie them together. You can also click the Parent and Link drop-down for the Planet 1 layer and choose Camera Orbit Null.
  5. Select the Camera 1 Orbit Null Layer and hit R to open the Rotation settings.
  6. Create a Keyframe for the Y Rotation at the start of the Timeline.
  7. Move forward in the Timeline to the point you want your Planet to have completed one full rotation – we’re moving forward 2 seconds – and change the setting to 1.
  8. Hold Alt and click on the Y Rotation Stopwatch to open an Expression Box in the Timeline.
  9. In the Expression Box, type loopOut(cycle); your Planet will continuously loop around your Sun layer. 

Step 3: Fixing the Orientation

At this point, your Planet will be looping around your Sun, but this is where you can see how 2D and 3D Animation differ. Since the shape is a flat object, it has no dimension from the side. As the Planet moves around, we can see its thinnest side, breaking the illusion that it is 3D.

  1. Select the Planet and go to Layer > Transform > Auto Orient.
  2. From the Pop-Up, choose Orient Towards Camera and hit OK.
  3. Select the Camera 1 Orbit Null in the Timeline and hit R to open the Rotation and Orientation settings.
  4. Adjust the Z and Y Orientation settings to create an angle to your Planet Layer.

Step 4: Glow and Echo

Your orbiting Animation is complete, but you can do a couple of things to improve the overall look and motion using the Glow and Echo Effects.

  1. Hold Alt at the bottom of the Project Panel and click twice on the bpc box until it reads 32pbc – this is the best for working with glow effects.
  2. Search for the Glow effect in the Effects Panel and add it to your Sun Layer.
  3. In the Effects Controls Panel, adjust the settings to get the sort of Glow you like.
  4. Next, search for Echo in the Effects Panel and add it to your Planet Layer.
  5. In the Effects Controls panel, adjust the length and intensity of the Echo to create a smooth tail of motion behind your Planet.

Top 3 Orbiting Animation Templates from Motion Array

If you want to use cool orbiting effects in your video projects but don’t have the time or patience to create them from scratch, then we’ve got 3 top templates you can download today.

Master Typography Stories

The Master Typography Stories pack includes 3 stunning portrait designs, with 10 text and 2 media placeholders. The clean and stylish design features spinning rings around your media content, ideal for portfolios, promotions, and social media stories. The modular design makes the pack ideal for producing 3 separate stories or combining them together for a longer video.

Download Master Typography Stories Now

Go Around Logo

The Go Around Logo template is a stunning animation with a single logo placeholder, ideal for quick logo indents and openers. The spinning logo is surrounded by 3D graphical shapes and objects that stretch and orbit your media. With a customizable color palette for the shapes and the background, this logo animation would suit any brand.

Download Go Around Logo Now

Stripe Thirds

The Stripe Thirds template is a beautifully animated title set with easy size customization for full-screen titles, lower thirds, and paragraph text. The large title blocks spin on the screen as if orbiting around an invisible object before bouncing into place and displaying your copy. This eye-catching and impressive title set is sure to impress your viewers.

Download Stripe Thirds Now

When producing an orbiting effect, you will be using several techniques that can be used across a variety of animation types, such as the Camera Orbiting Null and the Orient to Camera settings. Now you know how to create a simple orbit motion, use these techniques to produce new and exciting animation styles and compositions. If you’re looking for more trendy 3D effects, check out Motion Array’s collection of 3D animation templates.