Is there a way to make 3D layers in After Effects act/look more like real 3D things?

In After Effects if I have 3d layers with different video/image elements (so not real 3d objects), eg. a person, mountains, clouds (eg. the clouds from ActionVFX) and I want many clouds to move towards and past the camera (z direction), a problem is that when they go past another object (z value becomes nearer) like the person/mountain they instantly pass through the object instead of passing through more smoothly/slowly/realistically.

Is there a better, more realistic way of doing it using those layers? I thought of duplicating the cloud layer a few times and setting some slightly closer and further in z space (and with the nearest 1 and furthest at 50% opacity). I tried using layers for 1 cloud. While it does help slightly it’s still too fast/unrealistic when the clouded passes to in front of something else.

I also thought about creating multiple layers for the person and the mountains. Maybe instead of doing it for the clouds.

Is there a (hopefully simple) way of making the clouds move more smoothly through the other objects (z-depth wise), while not overcomplicating the composition? Using a pre-composition of the object at different z depths doesn’t work properly in the main composition.

Maybe layers could be duplicated and repositioned (maybe with masks to make different parts of eg. clouds visible at different depths) so the objects have multiple depths and then using the “shy” switch to hide all except 1 of them could make the composition simpler and also make the z transition smoother?

I also thought of rendering at a high frame rate and then lowering it with frame blending turned on but it would still be a very quick transition even though that might add a bit of blending to the transition point.

What do you think is the best but quite simple way?

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To do this with entirely 3D layers I believe the method you mentioned of layering elements with various opacities and what not works, but can be tedious to get the look you are going for. I’ve added other elements like atmospheres and fog that if masked right can be added into the mix to add some variation and movement. The goal is to imitate being inside of a volume, so it could take a lot of layers.

A different approach that would work well in this situation is a particle simulation using something like trapcode or particle world. There are some tutorials available online that go over creating and lighting clouds inside of AE. I haven’t seen any that match the quality of the AVFX clouds created inside of AE, but adding some volume to the set up you have already tried could help you go the extra step needed to sell the effect of the camera passing through the cloud. This way you could space out the 3D layers more and it would take longer to pass through the “cloud”. Alternatively, you could generate some cloud like layers with turbulent noise and layer them, but I would recommend the particle route. Hope this is helpful!


Thanks a lot. It’s the clouds moving through the person and mountain layers that’s the main issue.

The person I was doing it for has now said sideways moving clouds would be okay (so that should be a lot easier as the clouds won’t need to pass through anything). But I’ll still use the suggestions given here for in future/or to do it with the forward moving clouds if I can easily and show a rough version of that.

But for now I’ll do the sideways moving clouds as he’s okay with that currently. Thank you

Oh I gotcha, you could still probably get a particle system to work with that set up to add some added volume and get it to work, but it would be tricky and probably require some roto to fake different parts of the character like arms and legs being layered differently to show differences in density. Hard to say without seeing your set up. If the client is cool with it then :+1:

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That’s a great tip Clayton! Thank you so much!