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3D Ray Traced Settings In After Effects: A Comprehensive Guide

Liza Brown
Liza Brown Originally published Sep 05, 22, updated Mar 27, 24

3D Ray Traced is a hot topic in the world of graphic design and video editing that allows you to create three-dimensional images from scratch or add realistic effects to existing 2D footage.

In After Effects, it is a lightning technique for generating a photorealistic image by tracing the light's path through a scene in three dimensions. Raytracing lets you have proper reflections, internal refraction, and transparency.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the basics of Ray Tracing and everything you need to know about 3D Ray Traced in After Effects.

In this article
  1. What Is Ray Tracing
    1. History
    2. Advantages
    3. Disadvantages
  2. How Does Ray Tracing Work
    1. Functions
    2. How Does It Work
    1. How To Set It
    2. When To Use It
    3. Ray Traced 3D After Effects Plugin Download

Part 1. What Is Ray Tracing?

Ray Tracing is a powerful rendering technique that can create incredibly realistic lighting and shadows. By tracing the path of light, algorithms can simulate the way that light interacts with virtual objects in a computer-generated world.

This results in more lifelike shadows, reflections, and translucence. Ray Tracing has been responsible for the dramatic increase in realism we've seen in video games over the years, and its benefits are only becoming more apparent as technology improves.

In simple words, Ray Tracing is a computer graphics technique for generating realistic images and works by tracing the light's path from the camera through the scene. This allows for accurate simulations of light interactions, such as reflection, refraction, and shadows.

ray tracing technology

Part 2. Overview Of Ray Tracing

In this part, we will explain what Ray Tracing is from the following sides and for your better understanding.


Albrecht Dürer first gave the idea of Ray Tracing in the 16th century through his invention, the Dürer's door. However, it was not until 1968 that Arthur Appel used a computer for the first time to create a shaded picture through Ray Tracing.

First conceptualized in 1969, Ray Tracing is a common technique used to create computer-generated graphics for movies and TV shows today. This is because studios can use the processing power of multiple computers to get the job done quickly and efficiently. However, even with this extra processing power, Ray Tracing can be a long and difficult process.

Despite the challenges, Ray Tracing is becoming increasingly popular due to computer hardware and software advances. And as technology continues to improve, we can expect to see even more realistic images in the future.


Here're some advantages of Ray Tracing:

  1. Realistic Rendering: Ray Tracing can create more realistic images than those created with traditional rendering techniques. This is because it calculates the light path more accurately, resulting in more realistic shadows, refraction, and reflections.
  2. Anti-aliasing And Depth Of Field: Ray Tracing can help you quickly get the anti-aliasing and depth of field effects.


The downside of Ray Tracing technology is that it requires a lot of computing power to run, and it can be difficult to create more complex lighting effects like caustics.

Part 3. How Does Ray Tracing Work?

Ray Tracking uses the process of denoising. The algorithm starts with the camera and traces the shades of shadows and lights.

Ray Tracing uses machine learning to fill in the gaps to form a realistic image. The brighter the scene, the higher the graphics quality; the higher the quality, the more expensive it is. This is why Ray Tracing didn't become popular in the video game industry until recently.

Part 4. Ray Tracing In Adobe After Effects

After the introduction of Ray Tracing, we will combine it with a popular video editor - Adobe After Effects to see how it works. Adobe After Effects is a useful and powerful tool for creating visual effects and animated graphics. Adobe introduced Ray Tracing or Ray-Traced 3D feature in After Effect to help graphic designers create photorealistic 3D images and render light and shadow. This feature was added in 2012 with the release of After Effects CS 6.

ray tracing in adobe after effects

However, the Ray Tracing feature was later removed from After Effects in 2020 due to multiple reasons:

  • The Ray Tracing tool always faced bugs and glitches.
  • This feature did not work correctly if you were not using Adobe Media Encoder.
  • NVIDIA would change the standards from time to time.


Though as mentioned above, the Ray Tracing feature was removed in 2020, its advanced 3D features are still worth of introducing. Here're some functions of Ray Traced 3D After Effects:

  • Ray Traced allows you to generate and place multiple lights.
  • You can set a material option for 3D layers.
  • Moreover, you can control how shadows are cast.

How Does It Work

3D Ray Tracing in After Effects works by giving your text and paths more depth. Extruded layers have a z-axis depth, making them three-dimensional. This extra dimension is viewable from all angles, even when the layer is rotated. In contrast, non-extruded layers have zero depth on the z-axis. So, they will disappear if you try to rotate them 90 degrees on the x or y-axis.

Part 5. Ray-Traced 3D Settings In Adobe After Effects

The release of the Ray-Traced 3D setting in After Effects CS6 made it easier than ever to create stunning 3D images and animations. Let’s focus on how to use it in After Effects appropriately.

How To Set It

Adobe After Effects has a three-dimensional space animation setting, but this doesn't include Ray Tracing. You need to change the default settings if you want to use it in your animation. To do so:

Step1 Go to the Composition Settings panel to set up the Ray-Traced 3D composition.

Step2 Open the Advanced tab, and from the "Renderer" option, select "Ray-Traced 3D" from the drop-down menu.

setting ray traced 3d in after effects

A layer becomes a 3D layer when the 3D checkbox is checked in the timeline and has more options than a normal layer regarding composition. When you open the layer properties timeline, you can access two options: Geometry Options and Material Options.

The former deals with the layer's depth and edges shape, while the latter deals with the interaction of layers with depth and includes shadow, reflection, refraction, and transparency option.

layer properties timeline in after effects

When To Use It

Here're some instances of when to use Ray-Traced 3D compositions in After Effects:

  • When you want to create true 3D types and animate them.
  • If you want to get a logo extruded and present it as if it was a real object.
  • When you want to create realistic shadows or reflections to create stunning motion graphics.
  • You can also use it to create realistic images or simulate lighting effects.

Ray Traced 3D After Effects Plugin Download

Zaxwerks ProAnimator AE is a 3D animation plugin for After Effects that makes it easier to animate objects in three dimensions. With ProAnimator AE, you don't have to use keyframes to animate objects.

Instead, you're given an interface that makes it simpler to learn than traditional 3D animation programs. Moreover, ProAnimator AE is capable of near real-time Ray Tracing so that you can create realistic reflections in very little time.

Video - What is Ray Tracing?


In this article, we've discussed Ray Tracing, how it works, and its function in Adobe After Effect. We also shed light on Ray Traced 3D settings in After Effect, how to set it, and when to use it. Moreover, we discussed a plugin to help you create photorealistic reflections and shadows.

Hopefully, your queries have been resolved, and you now fully understand the Ray Tracing technology.

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Liza Brown
Liza Brown Mar 27, 24
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