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Converting a 2D Image to 3D Motion

By lunamik / August 11, 2016

Okay, we’re all aware of the massive popped bubble which was 3D televisions. Everyone thought it was going to be the next best thing, but, it wasn’t to be. Surprisingly 2D televisions have been ver resilient. However, since its early inception – in they days of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), 3D technology has been heavily integrated within cinema. Better still 3D videos seem to make shots a whole lot more dynamic.

So for those who are serious about developing 3D videos or those who are only wanting to experiment, then Lunamik writes with good news. Instead of acquiring costly and technical equipment, you can actually turn 2D images into 3D videos? And yes, I mean 2D images. The great part is that you can use a standard photo editing software to achieve a 3D video.

Below we will discuss the step by step guide on how to achieve a 3D effect.

In this article, we will discuss how to apply the layer stacking using two of the common tools for image editing: Photoshop and After Effects.


If you are more comfortable with using Photoshop, you can convert a picture into a 3D piece footage by creating plates for every section of your photo. Using Photoshop, you have to separate the elements of the 2D image. You can use the Lasso tool or Marquee tool to isolate a particular part of the image. Cut the selected portion then paste it onto a new layer. You can then use the Content Aware fill to seal the hole left by the lasso tool.

After Effects

After Effects is a software with motion graphics composition that makes use of keyframes to stack images onto a 3D space. Another advanced video editing software such as Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro has a 3D photo effect which makes everything a little more streamlined, but the end result is rarely as good. The stacking of layers in After Effects has the same principle in Photoshop.

Step by Step Guide to Convert from 2D to 3D

Step 1: Select an Image

The first thing you have to do is to choose a picture that you would want to render in 3D. The guideline for choosing the image is it should have a prominent foreground, mid-ground, and background to maximise the parallaxing effect. You do not want a photo with too much clutter and objects because editing it into portions will be a challenge. The more clarity in your image and the more clear the layers are – the more faster your editing will be. If you are running out of images to process, you can check out Shutterstock images suitable for 2D to 3D conversion.

Step 2: Layer the Image

After successfully choosing an image, the next thing you have to do is to separate the layers with respect to their distance from each other. Usually, it is divided into three parts: the closest, middle and farthest object from you. You also need to cut our other elements to have a better 3D effect. After cutting out the elements you do not need, you can fill up the gaps in the background using Clone Stamp tool. The covering does not need to be perfect. The important thing is to cover any overlapping of elements.

When processing a 2D to 3D image, the greatest challenge that we encounter is with the middle ground elements. Most of the time the middle ground has some foreground objects in front of it. Thus, it is also the part where there are a lot of details to be covered. Content-Aware filter and Clone Stamp are the useful tools to do this. The details of the image or photo are necessary if you want to create a convincing 3D image. Most of the time, the foreground is the easiest to cut using Magic Wand. After cutting, you only need to refine the edges to make it smoother. Adjusting the opacity of certain portions of the photo can be effective to reveal the background behind it. Once you have the separate layers, you need to save the file as .PSD to retain the ability to edit the image even after it is imported in After Effects.

Step 3: Import to After Effects

The next step is to import the .PSD files in After Effects. Make sure you select the Editable Layer Styles button when the dialogue box opens upon import.

Step 4: Animation

Once After Effects is open, you can start separating the layers into 3D space. You can achieve the different layers by checking the checkbox beside the 3D cube for each layer. You now have your layers in a 3D space. Select every layer and activate the Position command by hitting the P key. Adjust the third number to control the position of your image in Z-space. Scale down every layer to make it look the same as the actual 2D image. Adjust the scaling options by pressing the S key. After all of this, you will need to create a new camera under Layer>New>Camera. The 50 mm camera option is already good for basic 3D footage. You then need to adjust the keyframe of your camera to null 3D object. After this, you can evidently see the 2D image come to life.

Step 5: Stylize

The final step is to add some effects and styles to make your images and 3D footage look like reality. There are numerous adjustments you can play with to come up with the effect you want.