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Team Think Labs | Animation in Photoshop
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Animation In Photoshop

Animation in Photoshop

Animation In Photoshop

Wanna learn how to use the Animation Timeline in Photoshop? Then read on Dummy!


Most of you know that Photoshop is not at all an animation substitute for Flash or After Effects. So why use it you ask? Man you’re pushy! Well, one of the best reasons is that most everyone is very familiar with Photoshop. The learning curve to understanding animation in Photoshop is very quick, especially for those who already have a basic understanding of timeline animation or video editing. Although Photoshop can animate specific properties (i.e. position, opacity, and layer styles, etc.), it’s most effective function is the gloriously-tedious frame-by-frame animation. I highly recommend using it the next time you need a raster-image frame-by-frame animation!


If you are going to be animating in Photoshop make sure you set your workspace to Motion or at least open the Timeline window by selecting Window > Animation. Also, make sure you select Enable Timeline Shortcut Keys from the animation-timeline drop-down in order to allow things like moving forward and back frames by pressing the arrow keys.


We are going to be looking at the following animation solution, which was created frame-by-frame in Photoshop and then implemented into a 3D Scene in After Effects:

The End Result Animation

In order to create this scene, the Photoshop was split into 2 parts. The first we will discuss in a moment. The latter was created by first exporting an animated environment from After Effects and importing it into Photoshop as a video layer. This is done by selecting Layer > Video Layers > New Video Layer From File…

Our video layer contains reference lines that will be omitted in the final scene but that we need at this point to have proper movement in our animation.

Once our layer is imported we created a new video layer that we can animate on top of by selecting Layer > Video Layers > New Blank Video Layer

Once we’ve created our animation we can export from Photoshop an import it back into our original scene in After Effects as a transparent MOV or PNG sequence.

Here is a breakdown of the Animation during all stages.

Photoshop Animation Breakdown


The most important things to take away from this tutorial are two basic concepts:

  1. Altered Video
  2. Onion Skinning

Altered Video is how Photoshop affects a video layer. It indicates that a Video Layer has been animated in some way (in our case, it has been drawn on top).

Onion Skinning is the animation tool that makes Photoshop so effective. It allows you to see an overlay/underlay of the frame before and after your present state on the timeline. It is meant to simulate the effect that cel animators would make by constantly flipping pages of paper to reference what they drew on the previous frame. To activate Onion Skin Mode, click the icon located at the bottom of the animation Timeline next to the trash icon.


Have fun spending countless sleepless nights creating beautiful frame-by-frame animations in Photoshop.


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