How to tweak 3D graphics faster with After Effects and CINEMA 4D

Let’s say you have a teaser for a TV show in which clips from the next episode play on animated 3D screens. Each week, you have to replace the clips with ones from the next show to air. Traditionally, this would take hours of tweaking and multiple, lengthy renders – not much good if you’re working to tight deadlines.

However, the link between CINEMA 4D and After Effects lets you do the same thing in minutes. Here’s our guide to speeding up your 3D editing with After Effects.

Step 1

In your C4D project, open the Render Settings dialogue box. Go to the Multipass tab and select the passes you want to export, then go to the Save tab, select ‘Save as multipass image’ and set the target application to After Effects – this will ensure the passes are stored as individual layers in an After Effects-friendly compositing file.

Step 2

C4D exporting to after effects

Still in C4D, use the internal and external compositing tags to isolate any objects within the image you will want to work on later (to save them as object solids rather than positions, select ‘solid’ in the Tag Properties menu). Then go to the Buffer menu at the bottom of the screen and enable a buffer for each object. Each buffer will appear as a separate layer in After Effects, making it easier to manipulate your image.

Step 3

C4D scene imported and ambient occlusion layer

Once you’ve saved and rendered the project in C4D, open it up in After Effects. Each pass is stored as a separate layer, with the blending modes already set. C4D layers all normal passes for you automatically, but the odd special pass (in this case, ambient occlusion) has to be added manually. You can do this simply by dragging and dropping the file from the C4D Special Passes folder into your timeline.  Set the blending mode and then you’re good to go – just tweak the layers as you would in any flat After Effects project, and they’re applied to your entire 3D sequence in seconds.

Another advantage of the C4D/After Effects partnership is that all of your cameras and lights are imported too, so you can move footage between the two programs without losing any of the lighting effects or camera moves that you set up in C4D, no matter how much you edit the image.

Step 4

ae replacing video imported solids

Using the object solids you imported from C4D, you can isolate the elements you want to work with – in our case the footage on the screens. The good thing about being able to export object positions and solids is that the footage you place on the screens will be “glued” in place and behave as if it was part of the original C4D project. When the laptop moves, your footage will move with it. It also makes replacing content really simple – just select the solid you want to replace, then drag and drop the new content into its place.

Step 4 (and a half)

ae replacing video original video

If the new image isn’t the right size, you can edit it by going to the Edit menu, changing the measurement value to pixels and then entering the values for the original image. The new one will be resized to match.

Step 5

ae object mask for video monitor

Another useful thing about exporting object settings is that you can use them to create object masks which will automatically cut footage for you – in this example, one is used to make sure the footage on the monitor looks like it’s behind the laptop, giving the impression of a single, seamless piece of 3D work.

Once the new footage is in place, you can tweak it the way you would any After Effects project, meaning you can tell immediately if something doesn’t look quite right. Once you’ve got the animation looking its best, simply re-open the project in C4D and enjoy your seamless, renderless 3D animation!

ae adjusting specular highlights multipass layer

Although this tutorial focuses on After Effects, similar workflows are implemented in Cinema 4D for Motion, Shake, Combustion and Digital Fusion.

To find out more, call our 3D team on 03332 409 306 or email To receive the latest 3D news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.


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