So Trapcode’s 3D Stroke is a great After Effects plugin with a long history. And it’s only about a hundred bucks, so if you make a living animating just go buy the real thing. It’s a lot less hacky.
If you’re a cheap bastard, though, or if you enjoy using AE features in ways they’re not designed to be used, have I got the free preset for you!
A little backstory: I’ve been really sick for about a week, and one of the stranger symptoms has been a combination of fever dreams and terrible insomnia. This has led to me basically hallucinating a bunch of After Effects expressions that don’t work, but late last night (er, early this morning) it also led to the realization that the look of 3D Stroke can be achieved with text tool parameters.
I got out of bed to write this, guys. And it totally works! Check it out:
It’s fully reactive to the comp camera, too — that’s right, you get depth of field, motion blur lights, all that fun stuff. It works by making a 3D tube out of a series of circles that always face the camera.
The .ffx preset format doesn’t allow you to save things that aren’t keyframe data, so there are a few settings you’ll need to add yourself once you apply it. You also need CS5+ and to have the font Webdings installed (the circle is the lowercase n), or find another set of dingbats with a plain circle as an option.
How to use it:
- Apply the preset to an empty text layer.
- Paste in the mask shape you want to use and set it as the text path.
- With the text layer selected, go to Layer -> Transform -> Auto-Orient. Select “Orient Towards Camera” and check the “Orient Each Character Independently” box.
- Set the layer blend mode to screen or add or whatever looks nice for your purposes.
- Tweak all the text animation parameters. By default it draws itself on and has some color shift, blur and taper applied.
Here’s another example created from the preset:
There are a few things I’d like to tweak and a couple more features I plan to add later, but, in all, not bad for an insomnia project, eh?