The Fabulous Fifth Dimension

Usually I get ideas for “tips & tricks” postings going about my daily business of working in Production Studio. Then I have to think of a heading for the posting, and sometimes that thought process triggers memories, and in today’s posting, which is on After Effects’ 3D Camera, I was thinking “Third Dimension,” which led to “Fifth Dimension” (i.e. the famous ’60′s pop group), and then the “Fabulous Fifth Dimension,” which is what the Fifth Dimension were called when I played with them back in the early ’90′s.

The Fifth Dimension had loads of hits in the ’60′s, like “The Age of Aquarius,” “Up, Up And Away,” and a song that could have only been written & recorded in the ’60′s, “Stoned Soul Picnic.” I mean . . . lyrics like these:

Surry down to a stoned soul picnic
There’ll be lots of time and wine
Red yellow honey, sassafras and moonshine

Moonishine? You’ve gotta be freaking kidding me! Anyhow, by the time I played with them, the 2 most well-known of the 5 singers, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr., had long since departed the group. For legal reasons, the remaining 3 singers had to add “Fabulous” to the name of the act, and the act itself in the 1990′s was a half-hour “revue” of their most famous songs.

The first night I played with them, Florence La Rue (one of the singers) introduced me onstage, remembering my first and last name (which impressed me because we’d just met right before the show). Every show thereafter, she had to turn to me before introducing me and ask me what my name was. Too much moonshine in the ’60′s, eh Florence?

Alright, enough of that.

I find that many After Effects users never explore the powerful 3D capabilities within, which is a shame because you can do some really amazing things. One of the key things you need to understand in order to work in 3D are the Camera Settings.

ae_3d.jpg
The Camera Settings dialog in After Effects 7.0

The Camera Settings dialog appears whenever you select Layer > New > Camera or double-click a Camera in the timeline. There are loads of settings in here, but when you’re just getting started with 3D you should stick to one of the lens presets. In the above screencap, you can see the selections in the Preset menu. The smaller the lens, the more depth-of-field you will get.

The default setting of 50mm will not adjust depth-of-field at all, meaning that your work will look pretty much the same way it did in 2D. A smaller lens gives a more exaggerated 3D, while a larger (wider) lens flattens things out.

I suggest starting out with a 20mm lens as it’s easier to get interesting results quickly. Another good idea is to add one camera to your comp for each of the lens presets, and then toggle them on & off to see the difference.