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Create and animate 3D cogs in After Effects - Part 1

This quick video tutorial shows you how to create your own cogs inside of After Effects, and demonstrates a simple technique to ensure they animate together seamlessly.

By ChrisZwar | September 03, 2012

Sometimes jobs turn out to be more complicated than you expect them to.  Animating cogs and gears can be like that - it sounds like a nice idea, it's easy enough to arrange some stock photos of cogs together on a storyboard, but as soon as you try to animate them then things can turn pear shaped.  This quick video tutorial shows you how to create your own cogs inside of After Effects, and demonstrates a simple technique to ensure they animate together seamlessly.  Thanks to the new 3D capabilities of After Effects CS6, you can even create and animte 3D cogs and gears inside of After Effects without the need for a true 3D program.

Part 1 demonstrates the problems with trying to animate cogs, and how to solve them using standard 2D techniques.
Part 2 shows how to build on this technique with the latest features of After Effects CS6 - producing extruded, ray-traced cogs and gears that animate together perfectly.

The important thing to realise is that these tutorials show you how to create your own cogs from scratch.  This opens up endless design possibilities for every type of project you might be working on. Although the tutorial only shows simple white cogs, with a few textures and conventional compositing techniques you can create shiny metal gears, grungy old clockwork mechanisms, medieval wooden contraptions, or even ancient stone artefacts.

The creative possibilities are up to you - I'll leave the advanced designs in your hands - but by using the simple technique demonstrated here you'll know that your cogs will always animate together seamlessly.

(click the 'full screen' icon for best results)

If you've enjoyed this video then have a look at some of my other tutorials:
The 'After Effects Leftovers' series is a collection of short tips and tricks on features that are often overlooked:
After Effects Leftovers - Part 1

If you've ever been impressed by building projections, this 2-part series looks at the staging of two different building projections projects, including the largest building projection ever staged to date:
Building Projections - Part 1

The'Centrica Carnivale' is a 3-part series that includes an overview of how to use After Effects to produce results that look like they were made in a 3D animation program:
The Centrica Carnivale - Part 1

And if you're interested, you can always visit my website for free projects, the odd making-of video, and a few of my random thoughts.


Return to After Effects Anecdotes for more video tutorials by Chris Zwar.

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Jsovey: | March, 04, 2013

I also had to solve this problem for a client wanting cogs in his video. The solution I came across was to use an illustrator brush. free here:
this brush was great because it gave me multiple types of gear styles to use and illustrator managed the gear spacing for me. This also kept everything in vector form.
You can see how i used them in this video, gears start at about 30 sec in:

russellsrules: | April, 10, 2013

Do you know of any tutorials on how to build out the cog animation?  I’ve used the rotation properties; however, I’m having to animate each keyframe to get the “teeth” match up.  Is there a simpler way?  Thanks!

ChrisZwar: | April, 10, 2013

Thanks Jsovey for the link, obviously useful for those with Illustrator.

Russell - as I write this there has just been an update to iExpressions that deals with cogs and gears.  You can see the video here:

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