Understanding 2D and 3D Layer Order In After Effects

August 25, 2009

In this GSG Cast, I try to make sense of how layer order effects visibility in After Effects when using 2D and 3D layers. There is also a tip on how to force a 3D element into place by using 2D layers. Enjoy!


  • You can use an adjustment layer to break up the layer order also.

  • See this page for a complete description of how render order affects interactions of 3D layers:


  • Even though you were winging this (;P), I GOT IT! Thanks for the explanation, Nick. This has been a perplexing problem for me, but not only have you made sense of this, you’ve turned it into an asset.

  • hey nick!.. im looking for something to make some good voice recording for some projects and i like to know what do you use for your tutorials. And everyone let me know what do you use or giveme some recomendations pls ;D

  • thanks for exploring the finer intricacies and facets of after effects…

  • i had this problem in my last project some times ago. i thought my AE was being emo. thanks fr the tutorial nick! keep em comin’

  • thx a lot, very clear for me

  • Is this why I’m sometimes having troubles with shadows not being reflected?

  • that’s a great tip. i never knew of separating 3d worlds

  • Rather than a solid with 0% opacity you can also use an adjustment layer between 3d layers to break the ae render cycle.

  • Me again. I actually got to use this on a project last night. Floated a 2.5D character over a 3D background, creating the illusion of a complete scene without the foreground messing with the background. Thanks again Nick! I’d have been wrestling with scale and z-distance without your tip.

  • why do you say “i am the gorilla” ????

  • Hey nick wonderful tip man u rock…..
    U know i have been following u ever since i got into after effects nd ur small little tips & basics come really handy nd that Gorilla at startup is really cool!!!

    Anyways inspired by ur Conform Non Conform, i tried nd came up with smthng looking good……well u must be busy but would really appreciate if u could jst take out a little of ur precious time nd see it


    Once again thanx a lot for evythn…MAN U R A TRUE INSPIRATION

    • Nice Ashish! You did well with the tone and colors of the piece. It’s a little similar to mine though eh? Try to use the techniques in the tutorial to build something different and own-able. The simple animation in the pre-comp can be anything. Try it with triangles instead of stripes? See what I’m saying? Keep working!

  • Great tutorial – loved the bit where you found out that nulls don’t work as separators >< I lol’ed abit – “hey he’s learning too!” hehe

    I was wondering if you could cover the basics of compositing a 3d object into a live action scene. Stuff like matching the lighting, colours etc would be really nice πŸ™‚

    Thanks for them great video tips ^_^

  • And that’s why you sometimes have problems with trapcode effects wich are applied on 2d layers. Had a few issues with my end of study work where Lux got over walls that were supposed to hide the volumetric light.

    We found that solution after a looong night of trials πŸ™‚

    Anyway great video, that helps a lot clearing things up.

  • I found this video after getting stuck at the beginning of your “How To Use Simple Shapes and Masks to Make an Entire Animation.” When I went to view my precomped stripes in Custom View, just like in this video, the 2D BG color solid disappeared.

    However, in this video you don’t mention how you got around it? If you go back and look at the video I just mentioned, when you are on your custom view 1 with a 3d layer (the animated stripes comp) your pale beige background is still showing up, whereas on mine and yours in this video, it reverts the BG to black or transparency grid as soon as you make that other layer 3D.

    Hope this makes sense. Just wondering what you did in your other video so that the beige 2D layer BG still shows up?

    • Hi Peter

      I’m kinda curious about that as well.

      I’m not sure how Nick handled it, but you could make the beige appear in Background Settings?

  • hello friend I like the tutorial explains excuse my English because they do not master the language very well but a question like cinema 4D step to manipulate the 3D After the program? and follow tutorials setting greetings from Venezuela

  • Alejandro Campollo December 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    hey nick! thank you for all the tutorials! i really learn a lot of stuff! keep doing it like u do, facing the problems on camera! really helps!

  • Very interesting! Insightful tips in an easily digestible format, thanks for covering such a convoluted topic in an easy to follow and interesting way.

  • So here’s a question. Does anyone know of a way to get 3D adjustment layers to respect 3D space. For example I have this matrix of tiles setup with different icons on each tile to represent chapter headings in and instructional video that I’m doing. Each time we switch to a new chapter, I have the corrosponding icon tile come to the foreground and while the rest of the matrix floats behind and goes out of focus. Yes I could us DOF on this but an adjustment layer works so much better since I can also use a level adjustment on alpha to also lowers the opacity of the 3D tile matrix as a whole with out any weird see through tiles. However, the problem arises in that to make this happen I have to use semi-complicated split layers and layer order since Adjustment layer (even though it’s 3D) will not use 3D space to define which layers it effects. Which seems a little dumb to me, so I must be missing something. I know this is a little complicated to explain but you can easily see the problem buy just setting up a few layers in the 3D space. I was thinking this might be and advanced 3D rendering issue, but so far no luck. Just looking for a more elegant solution to a problem I’ve sort of manhandled into submission

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.