3D anaglyph in Photoshop or After Effects

I’ve always been obsessed with 3D images. Even as a kid, I discovered that I could create my own 3D drawings with a red ink pen and a blue ink pen (what I wouldn’t give to find that epic Ninja Turtle battle I drew in fourth grade). So, it’s no surprise I still love creating anaglyphs (the red/blue kind of 3D) in both Photoshop and After Effects. After being asked a few times, I thought I’d share the process.

NOTE: You’ll need a pair of Red/Cyan glasses for this to work. Mine have the RED ON THE LEFT and the CYAN ON THE RIGHT. If yours are reversed, you’ll need to flip the colors at the “Levels” step.

First, you should know that – for stills – there is an iPhone app (3D Camera) that will do this all for you, extremely easily. It’s limited to the resolution of the phone, and it only works in portrait mode – not landscape – but it’s still the easiest way to make anaglyph images in no time. I love it and use it often. However, if you want to use a higher-res camera, don’t have an iPhone, or want to create anaglyphs in video or animations, this is how it’s done in both Photoshop AND After Effects* (demonstrated with Photoshop):

Take two images:

Whether with your camera, 3D software, or video camera, take two images – slightly offset left and right. Try to keep them level vertically. This is how your eyes create depth, and it’s the only way to do this correctly. For stills, you can use the same camera, but for video you’ll need two (I’ve rigged two Flip cameras side by side and had success). In 3D software, create two cameras and render them separately. Now you’re ready to open Photoshop or After Effects.

Bring in both photos and layer them on top of each other in the same document. I always put the left on top.

Desaturate the images.

3D anaglyphs can be pulled off in full color by avoiding certain hues and through color correction, but there’s a bit of a science to it, and it’s far easier to create them in black and white, so that’s what we’ll be doing.

Line up your middle ground.

Aligned images
Temporarily lower the opacity of the top layer to align the positions of a subject in the image. The spot you align will become your neutral depth plane, (the plane that will appear even with the frame of the image). Anything in front of this plane will appear to protrude out at the viewer. Anything behind it will recede back into the frame.
TIP: Try to keep anything that bleeds out of frame even with, or behind, this plane to prevent awkward results.

Add the red/blue with Levels.

NOTE: this is for glasses with RED on the LEFT and BLUE (cyan, actually) on the RIGHT. If your glasses are reversed, you’ll need to reverse the colors mentioned here.
On the right image, add a Levels filter and set the Red channel to zero. Then on the left image, set both the Blue and Green to zero

Finish with a blend mode.

Set the left (red) layer’s blend mode to Screen. Crop off any errors around the edges, and you’re done! Put on your glasses and enjoy.

The most common method of creating anaglyphs in AE is the “3D Glasses” effect. However, it only allows horizontal control over the alignment of your images. So, if your shots are even a little bit off vertically, the effect won’t work correctly. For this reason, I find that it’s more effective to use the same manual method in both Photoshop and After Effects.

If you still want to try it the other way, this is how you would use the effect: Import your two footage into AE and create a composition. Under Effects/Perspective, apply “3D Glasses” to one of your layers and set the Left View & Right View to the corresponding footage. Then, align the Convergence Offset until your images line up. That’s it.

Hopefully this has sparked some interest. If you create anaglyphs, be sure to drop a link in the comments or shoot me a message. I love looking at them.


7 thoughts on “3D anaglyph in Photoshop or After Effects

  1. Why flip the process when you can bend the glasses the other way? 🙂

    Thanks for the tutorial! There were others around but they aren’t as effective without taking two pictures. It’s worth the effort if you want the right effect. Thanks again!

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