New Tutorial: Depth Compositing

In this tutorial we’ll use a technique called Depth Compositing to combine stock footage with 3D rendering and the use a Z-Depth pass. This method allows you to place 2D elements like stock footage into the depth of a 3D render. I also demonstrate how to export a Z-pass from 3D max, Cinema 4D and even use Element 3D to output a depth channel.

The stock footage are from Action Essentials 2!

Watch Tutorial

Here is the example of using Depth Compositing from a while ago, I know the sound FX are bad, but hey, I mixed them in After Effects!

September 6th, 2012 @ 9:52 am
Fantastic!!!! U R the man!!!! Thanks!!!!
    Ajith kamal
    September 22nd, 2012 @ 6:13 am
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:00 am
AWesome just awesome...
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:03 am
Thanks for the tips! Was surprised to see another tutorial here today. This is a method I've only used in animation, so it was great to see the VFX workflow.
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:03 am
OHHHHH YAA! finally, i remember this blog post "upcoming tutorial" like what seems like 20 mazillion years ago.. time to watch cause the clock just turned to 12pm here! :)
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:03 am
OK, that does it! Sam for President!
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:04 am
What Audio Program do you usually use?
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:06 am
I used zDepth to help comp the smoke in this intro:
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:14 am

I still think that Element 3D is by far the best plugin you can buy for AE, I would even change my platform to be able to use Element if I would run AE on my Computer.

Sense of Delight
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:25 am
you're always number one!!!
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:29 am
Hi, I don't want to sound like a smart ass, but technically, these aren't deep compositing techniques. You'd actually really require deep data (that AE doesn't support, afaik) and comp it a bit differently. Still a very cool tutorial (as always) and great results (also, as always). So keep the awesome work up!
    September 6th, 2012 @ 10:38 am
    To split hairs further... this is called Depth Compositing, not Deep compositing. Depth meaning it is based on a Z-Depth Pass.
    September 6th, 2012 @ 7:55 pm
    Deep compositing? LOL
    September 6th, 2012 @ 9:15 pm
    That would make a cool movie title.... Maybe the basis of AKs next intro tutorial :)
    September 10th, 2012 @ 5:48 am
    You can find a good overview/introduction to Deep Compositing at
    September 13th, 2012 @ 5:05 pm
    Or Maybe he wanted to say Johnny Depp, because that isnt Johnny Depp :P
    September 17th, 2012 @ 6:50 am
    Your brain is very DEEEEEP!
    September 17th, 2012 @ 6:13 pm
    Hi, you may not mean to but you do sound like a smart ass. And if you know "so much" about Deep/Depth composting than why are you watching a tutorial for how to do it.
    April 17th, 2013 @ 6:09 am
    There's absolutely no reason to ignore the obvious similarities of these two methods. More people will know about deep compositing, more people will ask for it to be implemented into After Effects. For those who are interested here's a detailed write-up on the subject
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:48 am
Another tutorial!
Thank you Andrew!
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:50 am
Really great tutorials and it couldn't have came at a better time. Thanks! :)
    September 10th, 2012 @ 1:24 pm
    9:46 am?
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:54 am
wow Very Nice , thanks VC , i like this tutorial
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:58 am
Nice! Will check out when I get home!
stamina ec
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:01 am
thank you for everything you taught me
Dipo Dipe
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:01 am
Great as usual...Thanks
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:13 am
i think.. u should have a like button :P
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:19 am
Please do a tutorial on rayfire! PLEASE
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:22 am
I second that please show how to fracture ground or break such things using rayfire..probably for you that will be 5 more minutes :)
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:38 am
Another amazing tutorial Andrew!! Thanks so much!! BTW, Element is an incredible time=money saver!! :) DJP
September 6th, 2012 @ 12:15 pm
Wow great!
Btw what's that music used in the video? Sounds really cool!
September 6th, 2012 @ 1:20 pm
OMG .Andrew you are such a great inventer . really studed alot from you sir ..yoour are the best ...this tutorial really helped me in present work for compositing ..really gived reality touch
    September 6th, 2012 @ 4:06 pm
    maybe you should have studied English a bit more
    September 15th, 2012 @ 9:15 am
    hmm may be .but i think after effect supports different languages ...So enjoy sebastian --lapicniki ya mataou--
Jose Ramirez
September 6th, 2012 @ 1:21 pm
Is there any way to use Rayfire with an AMD graphic card? Any alternative?
    September 11th, 2012 @ 12:00 pm
    Hi Jose
    I think rayfire doesn't work with your AMD card because you didn't download the Nvidia PhysX plug in FOR 3dsMAx, because you must download the plug in for 3dsmax and not only vidia PhysX. I hope I helped you. ;)
Jose Ramirez
September 6th, 2012 @ 1:22 pm
By the way, Andrew you are AWESOME man.
September 6th, 2012 @ 1:53 pm
thanks Andrew this is a good tut
can i make object animate in cinema 4d and import to element?how?
do you want to mach the element with realflow ?
    September 15th, 2012 @ 9:09 am
    tanks..Well that's too bad So I must say that he supports animated water animation in realflow and the support she gets After Effects

    If this was an excellent
September 6th, 2012 @ 1:58 pm
Wow great!
Btw what’s that music used in the video? Sounds really cool!
September 6th, 2012 @ 2:31 pm
HI ALL! I'm new to 3D and I had a question. How do you render out a Z-Pass from Blender? I have tried, and havn't seem to have gotten anyware:( PLEASE RESPOND!
    September 6th, 2012 @ 4:09 pm
    in the render setting in layers tick off z pass once you have rendered you multi pass go into the compositor and add an normalize node connect the zpass to the input of the normalize and connect that to the composite then make a new directory for the zpass and and render again
September 6th, 2012 @ 2:54 pm
Great tutorial. I really appreciate the fact that we can create a Z-depth mask using Element 3D. This helps when not having access to a 3D program. Great job.
September 6th, 2012 @ 3:21 pm
Andrew, awesome tutorial as usual, but every time I see some type of 3D destruction in a video like this I get exited and think we're going to learn how to make it in the 3D program. You always just mention it like it's no big deal, but to be honest whenever I attempt to create anything like this it either looks super un realistic or the fracturing itself just looks fake.

I would love to see a tutorial on 100% Rayfire and 3D Max textures and rendering :)
September 6th, 2012 @ 3:33 pm
Okay well ignore my last. I'm a moron and didn't realize you DID go over all that in the Epic Shatter tutorial... It's been a long day okay? LOL
September 6th, 2012 @ 6:27 pm
Nothing like going back to basics and learning something new. Nicely done :0)
September 6th, 2012 @ 8:45 pm
Andrew you are true inspiration. I know you must of heard it a thousand times, but I want to add my thanks to you anyway. Not only are you an inspiration as an artist, but as a person of integrity and humility. I want to thank you for the time you have spent helping many of us and I sincerely hope you continue. Also thank you so much for Element 3D... this thing is just beautiful to play with... I wish you great success in the future, you certainly deserve it.
September 6th, 2012 @ 9:08 pm
awesome like always, and by the way, what about the upcoming FX you posted a couple days ago, finished yet?
September 6th, 2012 @ 10:03 pm
Element 3D is quickly becoming a "must have" tool in a After Effects user arsenal. AMAZING value for the money.

Andrew Kramer and the VideoCopilot team are a precious resource to the design and VFX community.
September 6th, 2012 @ 11:45 pm
Hej Andrew. I notice your comment on mixing sounds in AE. I have always had problems with sound in After Effects, Windows and Mac. When rendering out sound effects don't come in at the right time and it seems that music tracks finish before the film does. Any ideas or can anyone else answer. Many thanks, Jay
September 7th, 2012 @ 12:01 am
Thanks!!!! u r the best
Paul Revere
September 7th, 2012 @ 12:21 am
I respect you for marketing your products, but please go back to Videocopilot the free Tutorials Website. Obviously, Can't Do Anything since I didn't buy Element 3D nor Action Essentials 2.
To learn in this website in the future, Should I buy these products?
I request Tutorials but with no 3rd Party Tools. Too many of them Lately!
    September 7th, 2012 @ 9:42 am
    Yo Paul! Actually this technique has nothing to do with our products, I'm just using action essentials as an example. It is a generic method for compositing live-action 2D footage with a 3D render from any 3D program including Blender which is FREE. With a little bit of work, you can even take a camera and film some fire yourself.

    If you limit yourself to only what is available in the application you will not be able to explore beyond the tools. Bringing in images, videos, effects etc. will only help you see what is possible.
    September 7th, 2012 @ 1:43 pm
    a fantastic and very true answer.
    September 7th, 2012 @ 9:30 pm
    VERY, VERY well put Andrew.
    September 10th, 2012 @ 1:33 pm
    "I request Tutorials but with no 3rd Party Tools"

    Who are you Paul? It's beyond my understanding and my common sense.. You are asking someone (more like ordering) to work for you for free in a manner that first it doesn't touch in any way your pocket and second it helps you make some money.
    It's just something that my mind can't understand, really..
    September 10th, 2012 @ 5:41 pm
    I agree with alaindeloc. Don't forget. For all intents and purposes, Andrew is doing you a favor by providing these resources. As he mentioned, you do not have to own those applications, and he even mentions that in many tutorials. In fact, I use Blender for a lot of my 3D rendering. Appreciate, don't critize.
    Paul Revere
    September 11th, 2012 @ 6:50 am
    Thanks Andrew. I get it :)
September 7th, 2012 @ 1:44 am
awesome :D thnx so muchhhh for tutorial Mr.Andrew Kramer
September 7th, 2012 @ 2:11 am
Very good technique .. ! Thanks Andrew ..
September 7th, 2012 @ 8:45 am
simple and cool technique.... but is it possible to create a shadow of the dirt charges and smoke on the 3d render. Suppose there was a fire burning in between the rocks and the shadow falls on the fragments.
    J Valberg
    September 9th, 2012 @ 6:39 am
    For the smoke you could put the same footage you used in the render, and make it look flat on the ground, but realisticly smoke don't create much of a shadow inless it is really dens, and a light is shining brightly on it. For the shadow on the pieces it self, you could make a rough shape in your 3d program and make your pieces a matte shadow object and only render that, then composite it into your shot (may not work great, but it is only a suggestion).
Justin Kuhn
September 7th, 2012 @ 11:13 am
Great tutorial! That finisher you did with Element really opened my mind to the possibilities.
September 7th, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
Awesome dear Andrew You are so Nice Sir
September 7th, 2012 @ 2:11 pm
Hey Andrew if you don't mind i want to know which sound recorder did you use for recording sound for your short film and how did you create the sound of announcement of Kramerican Airlines .
September 7th, 2012 @ 2:58 pm
Element 3D - Burning Violin!
September 7th, 2012 @ 4:43 pm
Amazing work Andrew Kramer!

Check out my channel i do vfx to!
September 7th, 2012 @ 8:00 pm
Andrew, are the devs even looking at the Element 3D sub-forum? While it's nice you guys are updating Element 3D, there are still some bugs, and no comments from anyone with a Red name makes us wonder if the devs are paying any attention to the bugs people are finding.
September 8th, 2012 @ 1:38 am
I like how this is very easy to follow, but I have a question. Is it possible to pull off a Z-Pass on Trapcode Particular? Particular is a powerful particle engine, but it lacks the ability to work in 3d space with other elements.
September 8th, 2012 @ 6:17 am
Hi Andrew,
Can you tell us the software that you use for making ( not mixing ) the sound fx?
Thank you for the tutorials.
    September 8th, 2012 @ 7:58 am

    To be honest ‘most’ sound editing software will do the trick. Adobe Soundbooth, cakewalk, simple sound editing can also be done in Adobe Premiere while you piece your work together. If you want free sound effects, register at

    You can find almost anything you want. I say “almost” loosely, if it’s not there, there is always the opportunity to overlay different sounds, slow them down and speed them up to finally get what you are hoping to achieve.

    Hope this helps.
    September 11th, 2012 @ 6:37 am
    Christian Michael,

    Thanks for the information. But I do not think that Adobe Premiere or After Effects can create rhythms. We can take rhythms and change them. What I want to know : Is there a software that can CREATE rhythms?

    Thank you.
September 8th, 2012 @ 7:04 pm
Here is my latest work done with ELEMENT 3D ... Hope you will like it:
    September 8th, 2012 @ 7:24 pm
    Very nice....
    September 8th, 2012 @ 7:27 pm
    Thanks a lot Christian
    September 10th, 2012 @ 1:26 am
    Great. Looks like it would smell good. :-) The bottles you gerendet element with 3D?
    September 10th, 2012 @ 3:20 pm
    Hi MrVideolog, Thanks for watching and your kindly words. Yes, the bottles were rendered in After Effect using ELEMENT 3D. I have created my model in 3D Studio Max and exported as an OBJ File. Imported it back into ELEMENT 3D and textured by using ELEMENT 3D STANDARD MATERIALS + some adjustments .. Cheers !
September 9th, 2012 @ 3:58 am
Thanks! Amazing!
Next you can do a tutorial for animated 3D object tracking? Thanks so much!
From Italy
September 9th, 2012 @ 8:01 am
Awesome vid! There's one question I'd like you to answer: where do you get all your 3D stock footage like the helicopter parking thing??
September 9th, 2012 @ 1:52 pm
Andrew, it's Andrew,
I love this tutorial, I never knew about this and its been sitting right under my nose for so long. It is a tremendous help. Thank you.
September 9th, 2012 @ 4:01 pm
I've seen in some AE Tracker tutorial that you always flatten all of your nulls to get them in a stright line I know that is better as you state in your tutorials, but I would like to understand why this is so I can apply this technique by understanding things.

Thanks for all the stuff at video copilot

Jesus, not the messiah
September 9th, 2012 @ 6:12 pm
While these tutorials are really cool, not everybody has $150 to drop on Element, so could you do some tutorials that aren't so heavy on Element?
    September 10th, 2012 @ 1:30 am
    This tutorial will focus line not to Element 3D. Andrew has been shown only for the Element 3D that this possibility offers. I think it's good that he's so strongly supported in his products.
    September 10th, 2012 @ 7:17 am
    For us that did buy Element, there is a lot of potential that the tutorials have just started to explore. There are lots of sites where you can find AE tutorials, only one for Element as far as I know. VCP has a nice portfolio of products - I fully expect them to support and educate their customers first. But even when the tutorials use VCP products, I always pick up plenty of AE tips that Andrew throws in.
    September 10th, 2012 @ 9:33 am
    As Andrew Kramer himself pointed out:

    Yo Paul! Actually this technique has nothing to do with our products, I’m just using action essentials as an example. It is a generic method for compositing live-action 2D footage with a 3D render from any 3D program including Blender which is FREE. With a little bit of work, you can even take a camera and film some fire yourself.

    If you limit yourself to only what is available in the application you will not be able to explore beyond the tools. Bringing in images, videos, effects etc. will only help you see what is possible.
September 9th, 2012 @ 10:34 pm
More tutorials that also contain Element would benefit the lots of people who do have it and eventually the $150 must become affordable. Save save save! Tutorials without any VC products are just pure kindness. Thanks for whatever you decide to provide VC Team :O)

By the way, is there a way to get to the Element Help Page directly from the home page or a menu somewhere? I still can't seem to find the link to reference all the Element specific videos.
    September 10th, 2012 @ 8:17 pm
    Thanks for that. Just what I was after. I kept clicking on My Account > Support or Products/Plug-ins Element 3D > Details and couldn't find it.
September 10th, 2012 @ 5:21 am
Bad.. from plastic soled shoes .. does not sound heel .. not synchronous step artificial parts of the wall stands .. shapes etc.
September 10th, 2012 @ 9:08 am
Thanks.Very nice tutorial. :)
September 10th, 2012 @ 3:43 pm
Awesome piece of visual effect. I would like to know what format the video was made render of with the shadow cast on the ground invisible in 3ds max 2012? with vray? But please reveals the secret of your render. Many thanks in advance.
    September 11th, 2012 @ 3:50 pm
    Thanks for not answering anything. I already found the solution of topic material for vray matte/shadow thanks to the forums here outside.
    September 14th, 2012 @ 11:10 pm
    Would you mind sharing a link on the matte/shadow info? Thanks if you can.
    September 17th, 2012 @ 10:55 am
    Never mind, found some on YouTube
    September 17th, 2012 @ 4:59 pm
    I could not put a link here, because the moderator does not want to compete with anyone. Sorry. Videocopilot otherwise would have to explain more precisely the tutorial which launched on this issue.
September 10th, 2012 @ 4:59 pm
you should show how to do stuff like physics or like fumefx
September 10th, 2012 @ 5:32 pm
Great tip! Thanks for the tutorial and inspiration.
ah shang
September 11th, 2012 @ 12:44 am
i love element 3D!!!!muak !
September 11th, 2012 @ 1:43 am
Hey Andrew,
too sad you have removed the resume download support as we dont have that fast connection to watch it online and without resume support download goes very slow and fails and have to start over!
    September 15th, 2012 @ 9:50 pm
    Download now ... okay try again at the top of the key player download tut ..
September 11th, 2012 @ 6:14 am
September 11th, 2012 @ 2:37 pm
Love the music in the promo. Who created that?
September 12th, 2012 @ 3:43 am
September 12th, 2012 @ 11:16 am
Awesome You Helped Me A Lot In Compositing Part And Motion Graphics Part
The Doctor
September 12th, 2012 @ 4:44 pm
Nice one... and really useful too. Any particular reason for the use of .png? i mean besides the obvious alpha one... something like Size, quality or stuff like that.

    September 15th, 2012 @ 9:48 pm
    This plugin does not support png file, but a file photo of the mask will support.. auto react
September 13th, 2012 @ 3:35 am
I enjoyed very much. Thank you. Andrews. :) The plugin element alone processing power, which in the past has remained much the same time?
September 15th, 2012 @ 12:04 am
Andrew the new bundle pack will be this year?
    September 15th, 2012 @ 9:46 pm
    Let's take a break. Andrew
September 17th, 2012 @ 2:49 am
you are always the man
September 17th, 2012 @ 7:22 am
amazing Andrew Thanks
September 17th, 2012 @ 9:21 am
.. and here another short clip made with ELEMENT 3D.
Feel free to comment and share .. Cheers !
September 17th, 2012 @ 7:12 pm
Awesome and useful tutorial as always. Though my addled brain continually read "depth" compositing as "death" compositing over and over and over again. Made the concept much more intriguing from an existentialist point of view. Maybe I just need more coffee.
September 23rd, 2012 @ 9:48 pm
Very great tutorial!
Greets from Germany :)
October 15th, 2012 @ 2:12 am
What song is used here? Would really like to know. Thanks.
December 13th, 2012 @ 5:26 pm
You are the man . What is this ? Aren't we men ? :\ oh ok. you are the best man. then Are we the worst men ? LOL.
anyway, great great great. you definately are the man. it's okay even if we are not man. ;) But someday we will also be "the man".
March 29th, 2013 @ 4:34 am
Wooow Its Amazing ... but Element 3D V1.6 Is Better .. Because its World position in Z Depth Pass . Andrew You are Amazing .. ))
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