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Can you change the Z position of a path?

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Martijn de Pooter
Can you change the Z position of a path?
on Mar 18, 2019 at 5:49:57 pm

Hey everyone,

I'm trying to make a 3D path in After Effects, and I was wondering if I can change the Z position of certain points in the path.

This is how the path looks like when the camera is on top.

But because the road is going up, the path doesn't stick there, since I linked it to the road that is on ground level, which means it sticks to 1m.

A close up to show that the path is not on the road.

Is there a way that I can select certain points in the path, and change just the Z-position of these points?

Thanks in advance!

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Steve Bentley
Re: Can you change the Z position of a path?
on Mar 18, 2019 at 11:54:11 pm

Yes and no.

All normal AE solids layer and shapes are 2D in nature, - even when you check the 3D box, its just a 2D layer tilted back in 3D. All paths you draw in AE are drawn on the flat surface of these layer types. So technically you can't take a few nodes on the path and push them into the Z.

However there are work arounds.

You can use TrapCodes 3D stroke (and Form and Mir). This doesn't really make a 3D path but it warps the shape of the path you have drawn and gives the illusion that it's tilted back in 3D. It is camera aware so it really feels like you can move around the path in 3D. It even thickens the line so when you look at it, from what would be the edge on the layer, it still has thickness. The catch is any manipulation of the points along the path are still restricted to the original flat plane x,y coordinates - with one exception: you can bend the path around an axis. While the overall path shape remains the same, the bending will curl the lines into what looks like the layer's Z space. Keep in mind that if you curl the lines around in a "C" shape, you can't really put another layer in between the ends of the C's "jaws". It's still a single flat layer in the layer stack so anything above the path layer will appear in front and any layer below will appear behind - again, with one exception: you can use two versions of the path layer - one in front and one behind other layers and mask the depth of the line so the illusion of behind or in front of other layers gets really persuasive.

Then there are other plugs ins like BOA That have taken this further and get closer (in fact, dead-on in some cases) to an actual 3D line.

Then there's Element 3D, that is actual 3D geometry, albeit in a separate program that is hosted by the AE interface. The Element render engine is doing the work to generate actual 3D stuff but the layer that you put the Element effect on is still a flat layer so again the "anything below and anything above" rule still holds as far as the layer stack goes, and you're back to a flat render of a true 3D object. Element does have depth masking though so you can get pretty close.

Finally, there is C4D. It does what Element does but in a completely separate program and you can either import the renders as movies or you can import the C4D project and have AE render them for you among your stacked layers - but again that render is just a flat card in the stack.

These last two options are good because you can transfer spatial data from AE to either of them and position your 3D paths exactly where they need to be in Z space.

There's probably a few other options (like Zaxwerks) that others will mention that I haven't thought of here.

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