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Animate a character in After Effects

A survey of resources [updated]

By Rich Young | May 31, 2011

After Effects provides a variety of tools to animate characters, including Painting, Puppeting, and Parenting. Fortunately, there's an equally wide variety of tutorials available online on using these tools. Here's a survey of some of those tutorials from Daniel Gies, Angie Taylor, Todd Kopriva, Stuart Preece, Rex Crowle, Pete McEvoy, Ryan Boyle, Marcin Zeglinkski, and Dave Scotland, plus additional tips, expressions and scripts from other After Effects and animation luminaries going all the way back to Walt Disney himself.

Ryan Boyle of Sketchy Pictures posted How to make a cartoon in After Effects, a series of 7 video tutorials that explore character design and setup, creating a walk cycle using the Puppet tool, expressions, lip sync, camera animation, and lighting in After Effects. Here's the first episode. [update: see Ryan's Crash Dummy Character Rigging Using Newton, a plug-in that does physics simulation in AE.]


Two other substantial resources also appeared not long ago: a free series on character animation in AE offered free by Daniel Gies (see embed below). and Video2brain training sets by Angie Taylor, Animated Character Design in Adobe Illustrator2D character animation in After Effects, and Hand drawn animation with After Effects paint tools.

Rig A Realistic Puppet, a newer 17-part series by Daniel Gies, started in October 2011. Mettle's Freeform Pro  is used to add impressive depth to character in After Effects, and numerous tips are shared including IK (inverse kinematics) with the free Duik Tools (IK scripts for After Effects). Another example of 3D depth with Freeform (no longer bundled free with AE) is Gareth Jones for Virgin Media.

Gies has continued beyond his 2 big series with a variety of other tutorials, including Rocket Randee, which was later rebooted into a 3rd major series showing how to build a multi-angled, segmented puppet using After Effects, Photoshop, Premiere Pro and Pro Tools.

Here's a sample from the early series by Daniel Gies and one from Duik Tools:


Todd Kopriva had been tracking and outlining character animation tutorials (including uses of the Puppet Tool), so check out his important summaries: making of "Something Left, Something Taken"tutorials for After Effects and 3D by Dave Scotland, and character animation tutorials (and more) from Robert Powers. Here's a sample from the series by Robert Powers:


PuppetTools 3 by Greg Gunn, from, has a good number of useful features:


Mettle sponsored a 9-part series, Build Me Some Hope: Lip-Synced Character Animation Series by David Legion. Here's the overview, but please check your audio volume:


In Animate a character in After Effects at Computer Arts magazine, Stuart Preece explained how to breathe life into your character designs using After Effects' built-in tools. They also have a 2007 Animate a character in After Effects tutorial from Rex Crowle. Pete McEvoy's Rigging a character for After Effects beforehand in Illustrator also appeared that year in Digital Arts, which later added Design and Animate a Stylish 50s Cartoon Character by Ben Mounsey. Rob Mize added more in additional tutorials, for example with Character Design and Animation in AE, using shapes matched to a pencil sketch. See also more recent tutorials at AEtuts+ like Learn How to Rig and Animate a Character and Create your Own Odyssey Day 1 and Day 2 by Marcin Zeglinski.

Resources in Lip Sync in After Effects, an AE Portal roundup, may also be useful.


LeeDanielsART posted After Effects tutorials, including Animating 2D Cartoon Faces and Animating Coils & Antennae. Here's the latter:


Tools for character animation in AE include Duik Tools AE script panels and the beta of a new script by Marcus Loeper, RigitScript, for character rigging in After Effects. In addition, see Animating a Walk-Cycle Using Loop Expressions by Dan Ebberts as well as his in-depth explanations of expressions in Inverse Kinematics (riffing off Brian Maffitt) and refinements in Inverse Kinematics Redux. It's important to avoid too predictable variation in motion cycles, so some may need to change up their variables more often, as when using expressions (as discussed by Anders Sundstedt) or with assistants (as mentioned in AE Preset: Back N Forth + animation aids).

Update: Emotions and Facial Expression by Joumana Medlej is detailed and interesting, as are the many artful infographics on the website. See also a 4-part video series on AE: Inverse Kinematic Character Animation and IK Character Animation: Walk to the Beat by Andrew Devis.

See also these AE Help pages, especially the extra resources: Animation, keyframes, and expressionsParent and child layers, and Puppet tools overview and resources.

Additional resources include basic grounding found in The 12 basic principles of animation for After Effects. John Lasseter's 1987 SIGGRAPH paper based on The Illusion of Life is especially useful, even for those who find inspiration more in nature and photography. Shaun Freeman's website also provides tips and links on character animation. There's also interesting stuff in Behind the Scenes of ParaNorman: Angry Aggie,

Beyond the character, there's also the world.

Pan & scan techniques are useful; see Chris and Trish Meyer's article on pan & scan at Artbeats and More Motion, Less Control (on adding a human touch) at PVC for good results. For examples of taking the effect to the next level with camera mapping & multiplane animation, see another article by Trish & Chris at Artbeats, Bob Donlon's example in Son of Ken Burns, a Richard Harrington video in 'Motion Control' with After Effects. There's much more in AE Portal archive posts tagged multiplane animationcamera mapping, and the AE camera.

Multiplane film cameras were explained well by Walt Disney in this video from 1957:


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