3D animation in Adobe Photoshop

by Rafiq Elmansy

When you think of Adobe Photoshop, you probably think of image editing and compositing. But did you know you could create 3D animation in Photoshop?

Animation in Photoshop was previously done through a companion application called Adobe ImageReady, which Adobe discontinued several years ago. This application was very similar to Photoshop in function and enabled you to animate using a timeline, which looked more like slides animation than the timeline animation you would see in other animation products such as Flash and Photoshop.

When Adobe discontinued ImageReady, the animation capabilities were integrated into Photoshop, which gave Photoshop more power and gave users a better workflow to create both graphics and animation in one application instead of two.

By adding 3D capabilities to the animation features, Adobe has significantly improved the Photoshop feature set in the last few releases.

In this article, I discuss both 3D and animation by showing you how to animate a 3D model in Photoshop in 3D space using the Animation timeline panel. This tutorial requires basic knowledge of Photoshop CS5 features, especially 3D. To follow along, download the working samples as well as the 3D model of the LCD television monitor, courtesy of the 3G Digital Arts Portal.

Importing the 3D model

Photoshop enables you to work with different types of 3D content such as:

To get started, let’s import a 3D model of an LCD TV in 3DS format. To import the 3D model:

  1. Create a new Photoshop document that is 500 pixels by 500 pixels.
  2. Create a background gradient.
  3. Choose 3D > New Layer From 3D File. Navigate to the file 15home-cinema.3DS, and click Open.

Creating the core animation

After importing the 3D model, the next step is to create the animation for the model. In this animation, we will display the 3D model while rotating it in 3D space. First we will display it as a wireframe. Then it will be transformed into a fully shaded model using the Cross Section feature in the 3D panel.

The Cross Section feature lets you display or hide parts of the model and animate the slicing plane. To create the animation in Photoshop, open the Animation panel. The 3D model layer is listed, and next to it, you can see an arrow that allows you to extend the layer properties that will be used to create the animation. Notice that the timecode that appears at the top right of the Animation panel displays the current time when you select a position with the Current Time Indicator slider. It also chooses the speed of the animation in frames per second (fps). You can change this by selecting Document Settings in the Animation panel's context-sensitive menu.

Make sure that the Current Time Indicator is placed at the beginning of the timeline. To rotate the 3D model, activate the 3D Object property by checking the Time-Vary stop watch next to this property sublayer. This will add a new keyframe at the start of the animation. Keyframes will be created automatically when you change the 3D object rotation.

To rotate the 3D object, select the 3D Rotate tool from the Tools panel. There are three ways to rotate the object. You can:

Note that you need to have a compatible graphics card with OpenGL support enabled to work with the 3D tool. You can find out if your graphics card supports 3D by visiting

You also need to enable OpenGL by choosing Photoshop > Preferences > Performance and selecting Enable OpenGL Drawing from the GPU Settings area.

To rotate the 3D object:

  1. Move the Current Time Indicator to frame 30 (the 1:00 mark in the timeline).
  2. Select the 3D Rotate tool and roll over the small arc on the green arrow to display the yellow cycle.
  3. Rotate the LCD TV by 180 degrees as shown in Figure 1.

The rotation of the 3D LCD TV at frame 30.

Figure 1. The rotation of the 3D LCD TV at frame 30.

  1. Move the Current Time Indicator to frame 60 (the 2:00 mark in the animation).
  2. Rotate the 3D TV 180 degrees further to complete a full rotation and return to the same position as the first frame. The final look of the timeline is shown in Figure 2.

The rotation of the 3D LCD TV at frame 60.

Figure 2. The rotation of the 3D LCD TV at frame 60.

Now we’ll make the animation gradually appear from top to bottom using the Cross Section feature in the 3D panel:

The animation with the Cross Section activated.

Figure 3. The animation with the Cross Section activated.

  1. Move the Current Time Indicator to the beginning of the timeline.
  2. Click the Time-Vary stop watch next to the Opacity value.
  3. In the Layer panel, set the opacity of the 3D model’s layer to 0.
  4. Move the Current Time Indicator to frame 60.
  5. Set the opacity in the Layer panel to 100.

You can press the spacebar on the keyboard to preview the animation.

Creating a wireframe animation

You have successfully created the core animation for the 3D LCD model. Now you need to create a wireframe animation that starts prior to the fully shaded model and animates before the shaded model appears.

  1. Duplicate the 3D model layer in the Layers panel. Notice that this creates a duplicate layer in the Animation panel.
  2. Move the duplicate layer to appear below the original layer.
  3. In the 3D panel under Render Settings, click the Edit button and select Wireframe from the Preset pull-down menu.
  4. Change the wireframe color to white and click OK (see Figure 4).

The 3D Render Settings dialog box.

Figure 4. The 3D Render Settings dialog box.

  1. In the Animation timeline, deselect the Time-Vary stop watch next to the Opacity property to remove it, and check it again to set the opacity of the wireframe to start with 100 at frame 30 and fade out to 0 at frame 60.
  2. Since we copied this layer from the original 3D model, it has similar keyframes. Now, select the first frame in the Cross Section property sublayer and drag it to the beginning of the timeline.

After finishing the animation, you need to set the Work Area that tells Photoshop the start and the end of the animation.

At the top of the timeline, you will notice two blue brackets at the start and the end of the timeline. You can use these brackets to set the part that you want Photoshop to render in the animation. Leave the Work Area Start bracket where it is, and drag the Work Area End bracket to the end of the animation at frame 60.

Figure 5 shows how the timeline should appear after you have finished the animation.

The timeline for the finished animation.

Figure 5. The timeline for the finished animation.

Exporting the animation

Before exporting the 3D animation to a video format, you need to set the model quality to ensure the best quality for the output video. In the 3D panel, you will notice that the Quality setting in the Render Settings is set to Interactive Draft (see Figure 6). This enables you to work smoothly with the animation without consuming your machine’s resources and waiting for a long time to load each step, but this choice does not ensure good quality for the output model rendering. You should use it only while working with the model.

To ensure the best smooth lines and quality for the 3D model, set the Quality setting to Ray Traced (see Figure 6).

The Render Settings options in the 3D panel.

Figure 6. The Render Settings options in the 3D panel.

After you finish the 3D animation, Photoshop gives you an extended ability to render your video and export it in different formats and settings in both video and an image sequence. The best output format depends on your project needs and the target media for your video animation.


The Location section lets you name the exported video, choose where to save it, and create a subfolder to save your video in, if desired.

File Options

In the File Options section, you can set the output format of the 3D animation. You can choose either a video format or image sequence.

You can export your animation in the following video formats:

If you choose Image Sequence, you can select one of the following formats:


The range section determines the number of frames that will be rendered in the output. The output range includes three options:

Render Options

The Render Options section enables you to set the Alpha Channel options and the Frame Rate of the exported content.

Rendering your animation

For this animation, choose File > Export > Render Video, and set the following 3D animation video options:

  1. Location: Set the name of the output video file and specify where you want to save it.
  2. File Options: Set the output video format to QuickTime. Click the Settings button. In the Video Settings dialog box, you can set the quality and the size of the output video file.
  3. Range: Set the video render range to Currently Selected Frames to render only the frames within the Work Area brackets.


You have successfully created and animated a 3D model in Photoshop and exported it to a video format. This tutorial is just an introduction to 3D and the animation features in Photoshop. For more in-depth tips and techniques, check out my book Photoshop 3D for Animators, which covers animation and 3D in depth with extended examples.

  • Learn about “Molehill” 3D APIs for Flash Player and AIR on Adobe Labs.


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    Rafiq Elmansy has been a creative designer for ten years. He runs his own design company, Pixel Consultations. He is an Adobe Community Professional and an Adobe Certified Expert. He is also a Friend of Icograda (the International Council of Graphic Design Associations). In addition to authoring books, Elmansy also writes articles for the Adobe Design Center and Adobe Developer Connection. His design blog is