Jazz up your Illustrations with a Parallax Animation in After Effects | Vera Rehaag | Skillshare

Jazz up your Illustrations with a Parallax Animation in After Effects

Vera Rehaag, Freelance Artist

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7 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Choosing your Artwork

    • 3. Separating Elements using Photoshop

    • 4. Filling in the blanks

    • 5. After Effects 101

    • 6. Adding Magic in After Effects

    • 7. Last Words


About This Class


Hello and welcome to my Skillshare class!
My name is Vera and I am a freelance illustrator and animator from Hamburg, Germany.

In this class, I will teach you how to animate your illustration with a simple
Parallax Effect using Photoshop and After Effects.


You should have a basic understanding of digital painting and working in the respective programs. Even though I do my best to explain everything I'm doing, this class is better suited for intermediate students. 

I will show you a few examples of how this effect can look like, and explain a general approach to creating an animated illustration.

You can tag along in my process step by step, and either follow the assignment by using the provided templates (see class project), or do the assignment from scratch.

  • Choosing an Illustration
  • Preparing your Illustration
  • After Effects setup for a Parallax Animation
  • Additional Magic

I recommend this class for a bit more experienced students. But as long as you are feeling confident and are up for a challenge, I encourage every artist to join in!

The Parallax Effect will add depth and dynamic to your artwork, support your storytelling and just look awesome with comparably little effort.

Have fun!



1. Intro: Hello and welcome to my Skillshare class. Thank you for joining me. My name is Vera. I work as a freelance illustrator, animator. And today I'm going to teach you how to spice up your illustrations with simple and nice parallax animation. We've gotten to work in Photoshop and After effects. Even though I try to explain everything I do as neatly as possible, it might be better suited for intermediate students who have some basic knowledge of the software. First, we are going to choose an illustration and then we are going to put it into After effects. I will teach you the basic setup for a parallax animation , and I'll teach you some more specific techniques that you can use to put a bit more magic into your work. The techniques can be applied to any of your own illustrations and you're welcome to use my artworks for the class projects. They are attached in the class project. You will learn how to prepare and animate a simple parallax effect and see your work come to life, enjoy. 2. Choosing your Artwork: First of all, you have to decide which artwork you would like to animate. I've attached a few for you to choose from, but you are more than welcome to use your own illustration. For the best or rather most interesting outcome, the illustration you use should have different visual layers. So you want to have fore, middle, and background. What also works well is multiple characters and object directed towards the camera, so you have some foreshortening or something like rain, snow, or leaves blowing around a single character. Of course, you can use any artwork of yours that you would like to. But the more visual depth it has to begin with, the easier it will be to give it a bit more jass was this animation technique. 3. Separating Elements using Photoshop: [MUSIC]. Open the illustration in Photoshop. I am demonstrating two different techniques here to show you how you can approach the separation from a technical standpoint. My main tool is the lasso tool. I use the shortcut L to access it quickly and change between the free form lasso and the polygonal lasso by pressing Shift and L. [MUSIC]. Select the visual layers of your illustration. You can add selections with the lasso tool by pressing Shift. And you can subtract something from your selection by holding Alt. When you are separating the elements, you can either copy the selection to a new layer or you can duplicate the main layer first and then press the layer mask button after you've made your selection. This will hide the rest of your artwork and only show the element you've selected. The layer mask option gives you the advantage of easy adding and subtracting by simply painting into the mask. The separated layer option doesn't really give you any advantages. I just find it personally a bit cleaner in terms of organization. You need to be more precise though with this option because altering your selection later, honestly it's a bit more complicated.[MUSIC]. 4. Filling in the blanks: Once you have separated all the elements in space onto different layers, you can start filling in the blanks. Each and every layer of the illustration needs to get cleaned up and painted so that the formulae overlapping parts are no longer visible. Imagine the Victorian paper theater. Once we bring everything into after effects, we will set up the layers as such. Seen from the front it will just show the illustration as it was. But once we start shifting our view, different parts that were formally hidden will be seen. This is why it's important to paint everything as neatly as possible. I usually begin with the background because it is the furthest away in space, and I can see earlier on in the process how everything works together. Let's go and disable all other layers for now so you can see my selection. For the background, it is usually a good idea to alter the size of it a bit, so when we animated in after effects later, there's no blank space around it. Either shrink it down and add to the edges to fill up more space, or alter the size of your art word by pressing C, and using the crop tool to add more to all sides. There are different approaches to cleaning up and fixing the elements. I usually use them all and combine them to my advantage. Photoshop CC has this great function called content aware of fill, which can give you really great results with little to no work on top. Select the area you want to fill on your layer and go to edit, content aware fill. A window opens and lets you to find the area that you want to have content picked from to complete the selection. After clicking Okay, Photoshop fills in this space as shown in the preview, and you can then start fixing it if necessary. To do so, I either use the brush tool and try to match the painting style as close as possible, or I work with the healing brush tool. Define an area to pick from by holding down Alt, and tap the respective area. The healing brush can be used to replace content or to blend the existing with a defined preset. You can change modes by using the drop-down menu in the brush controls. These tools should help you clean up all the layers. Depending on the range of camera movement you will want to animate, you might need to be more accurate in fixing these parts. When you think everything is cleaned up, makes sure that it actually is. I'd like to add a black or a white background, depending on the value range of the illustration to find these little snippets and relex that I missed before. Then I save every layer separately and with a transparent background as a PNG file. 5. After Effects 101: Now we're getting to the good stuff. Let's set up a project file and after effects. Go to the folder where you have your separated PNGs in, and select them all. If Create Composition is checked, it will automatically make a composition from the imported footage. You can change everything along the way. Right-click the composition to access its settings. You can either go with our automatically generated aspect ratio and frames per second, or you choose a preset from the drop-down menu. I will go with this preset, set a bit longer time and hit "Okay". Now make sure all the layers last for the whole duration. If necessary, scale the layers to fit the composition. S will toggle the scaling menu from either the selected layers in the composition or if none is selected, all layers. If you are like me and you haven't thought about numbering the layers, now rearrange them so they are in the correct order according to their content and space. Fix the positioning if it's not quite right, which usually it should be when the layers are exported from the same file though. If you toggle this drop-down for a quality of view, you can choose between different settings. The playback might run a bit longer when it's set on full. Now, an important step, select all layers and make them into 3D layers by clicking, "right "and hitting "3D Layer". Toggle the View drop-down to set up your preferred view. I use two views horizontal for the active camera view, and on the other one, I put custom view 1. This shows me my camera setup for the bird's eye perspective, and I have a visual presentation of my layers in space. As you can see, they are all on the same place in space at the moment. You can change the positioning by dragging their arrows or hit "P" to toggle the transform panel in the layer and change the numbers. If you like, change the setup to display separate dimensions by right click "Separate Dimensions". C gives you control over their view in the left setup, left-click and drag, rotates the view middle mouse and drag moves the view, up-down and side-to-side. Right-click and drag, zooms in and out. Now it gets exciting. We set up a virtual camera, go to layer, new camera. There's two types. A one-node camera my rotates around itself, a two-node camera rotates around a fixed point of interest. I choose the latter one. The presets each imitates a real world camera, and each preset defines the specifics of angle of view, zoom, focused distance, aperture value and focal length. For instance, the 15 millimeters gives you a very wide field of view, and the 80 millimeters, a very narrow field of view. You can create different cameras to change between if you want or just play around with the Preview on, to find out what works best for your work. You can always change the settings as you go. You can also use multiple cameras to cut between. I only use one in each of my examples though, hold and drag the arrows on the camera to adjust positioning or use the drop-down menu in the layer. If you select a camera and a layer, you can right-click on them and select, "camera link focus distance to layer," that will lock the cameras focus to the layer you have chosen. In this case, if you move the camera, it will remain focused on the hairy layer. Let's move the layers that bit in space, so you can see the effect a bit better. If you go into the camera settings by double- clicking on the layer, you can adjust the blur level. A 100 is a natural blur for the type of camera preset to you chose. Feel free to play around with all the blue numbers to find out what they will do and what works best for you. If you move the camera now and set this view on the right to a 100 percent. It will show you how it will look in the movie clip later. Per default, the anchor point is fixed to the center of the layer. The center point of your upon position or your file, your exported the PNG from. You can change the anchor point positioning of the layer by adjusting the numbers and then drop-down in the layer. But that will keep the anchor point fixed to the center. If you toggle this button, you can drag the anchor point to another place in the composition. Be careful with the anchor point though, because it's the point where every movement or alteration to the layer is affixed to. If you already have keyframe positioning or animation, it might get messed up. If you change the anchor points along the way. If you want a camera or a layer movement, let me show you how to use the keyframe so quick, you basically define a place in space and in time. Press the stop watch of the respective aspect you want to animate position, for example. Then set your playhead to another point in your timeline and alter the positioning and space, the second keyframe will automatically be set there. Now if you hit the spacebar or drag the playhead along the timeline, you can see the movement or alteration you have made. This is the basic setup of what you need to know to animate an After Effects. In the next video, I will show you a few more specifics to spice up the parallax animation. 6. Adding Magic in After Effects: Before we get to the real magic, I want to talk about keyframes again real quick. I will not mention them anymore, but just so you have an idea what is happening. Let me explain real quick. There's different types of keyframes. The default one is diamond shape one has now specific interpolation but you can control the behavior of the keyframes. With a right-click on any key-frame selected, you will get to the key-frame assistant. There are three options highlighted. You can choose from. Easy Ease, Easy Ease In and Easy Ease Out. Easy ease is basically slowing things in and out on each side of the key-frame. That means if its a movement from A over B to C, and you apply Easy Ease to B, the object will travel less space for each frame that is getting closer to B. It will in the same way travel increasingly more space each frame moving towards C. The little dots on the arc represents the position of the angle point of the object in each frame. Watch how they move when the keyframes are changed. Easy ease in and out basically do the same thing, just only in one direction each. The key-frame assistant will help you get much smoother movement so much on keyframes. Let's begin with this artwork here. I think the camera movement already gives a nice touch and since there isn't anything dynamic happening in the scene, I'm going to use a bit more subtle magic. I have this light coming in from the left and one to emphasize it. I'm very well aware that there specific light layers and after effects but I like to play around to create my own effects. For that, I create a new shape layer and draw into it was a pan tool and a nice bright color. A mascot to have a bit more control over the shape, and get the light direction we already have in their right, then I reduce the opacity of the mask as well as increase its feather. To make the shape even smoother, I also add a Gaussian blur and then change them all to overlay bam, more light. As an extra step, I would like to add some dust that is drifting in that light. In this case, aftereffects has a great library of effect presets. If you look on the right, you can find the tab called "Effects" and "Presets". If you cannot see a check under window if it is activated and in case it is not, click on it to add it to your workspace. Go ahead and type in particle. There should be three results, and I chose the "CC Particle World". Before we can use it, it needs a layer to be applied to. That can be as simple solid layer. Now grab the effect and drag it into that new layer. You will see how the solid color vanishes, and when you move your play head, you can see the effect. It looks nothing like one and two. I am going to go into the affects setting that opened in a new tab on the left. You can uncheck the guides if they destruct you like they're destructing me. Under particle, change from line to faded sphere and change the birth and death size so that they are very small. We don't want glowing orbs floating around. Here you can also set the color to whatever you feel is the right color for dust and light. To spread everything out a bit and our producer grab the X, Y, and the Z and make it a little bit bigger. To affect how the particles are going to be floating around, we go into physics and set the gravity to zero or even negative so they float a bit up. Increase the longevity so that I stay on the screen as long as you want them to and also change the physics from explosion to viscous. If you want to reduce the amount of particles, set the birthrate down, you want more, pump it up. Under extras, you can find at the bottom the random seed. This will impact where in the area the particles are. Move that up to spread them around a bit more. Here we have some dust particles floating the light now. This artwork that I animated is more dynamic to begin with. I want to show you a little tool that is going to have a huge effect if you use it sparingly and in the right ways. First of all, this artwork gives some great opportunities to move the camera. We not only have the leaves in the foreground, we also have the hands that are coming towards the camera plus that's snowflake and the sparkles that are detached from the character. I have animated the snowflake to be floating up and down a bit. For the sparkles, I want a bit more dynamic movement and since they are all on one layer and I'm too lazy to duplicate, mask, and animate each one, I'm going to use this, the puppet tool. You can find the pin button at the top, select the layer you want to animate. In my case, I work in this sparkles layer. The puppet tool will only pin elements of the layer that are not transparent. Make sure to have the play head at the beginning of your timeline because the usage of the puppet tool will generate keyframes. Put pins until sparkles. Some will automatically be grouped because they are close together but that is not too important. Once you have pinned all the elements you want to effect, move your play head. You can see that the yellow pins move along as they are pinned in the space. Choose a place in the timeline. Now you can grab one off the pins and move it a bit. We just want to have a slight bit of floating up and down so it doesn't have to be much. Move the play head play to check how the transformation looks like. You can either copy the first position key-frame and after moving ahead in time paste it, or are you add more keyframes throughout your timeline? That is all up to you and your animation. Check in between how it looks like. It has happened, that I was so eager to move the pins around that the timing on it was terribly off and ended up doing double the work. Now we can do the same thing for the hair floating in the wind. The difference is that in this case, all the pixels we want to be moving belong to the same big shape. They will affect one another. To avoid having something like a face distort, pin the head there. Now we have some nice dynamic movements in there in addition to the camera movement. My last example is a bit different. I have actually created this illustration with the type of animation in mind. So the layers were all very separated and everything was prepared to be animated with a parallax animation. In here, I have not animated the camera very much but more the elements in the scene. The camera is mainly there to give me control over the depth of field. Let's look at the layer separately. In the sky, there is nothing happening. This cloud though, it's moving a little bit. It's very slowly moving and fading out over time. Then there's the tree line and has a pointless movement outwards that nobody sees because it's almost completely covered. Now the tree is passing by, actually the same three trees over and over again. I have made an embedded composition and duplicated the animated layers to fake the movement of the card passing a lot of trees. When you press you, it will show you the key frames of the selected layer, or just all key frames in the composition when no layer is selected. Pressing E shows the same, but for effects applied to layers. Here you can see that I have put this effect called wiggle on everything basically that is not the background. What it does is it well wiggles the layer. As with every effect, you can play around with the settings on the left in the effect step. In addition to these, I also have used the puppet tool on the clothing in the foreground to have it move under wetland card and I have some subtle animation embedded in the cat and the character to the left. If you look closely, you can see them blink every once in a while. The character animation with a butterfly is a 2D animation I have made. If you wanted to learn more about it, check out my course, telling an characters story with a 2D looped animation. This is about it. Now you have learned some magic tools. I'm looking forward to see what you do with them in your class project. 7. Last Words: Thank you so much for taking my Skillshare class. Now, you should be comfortable to slice up your illustration, put it into After Effects, apply cameras and sparkle some magic into it. I hope you could take some new and interesting knowledge away from it. Let us see what you have learned by uploading your work into the class project. I'm happy to provide feedback. If anything that I said is unclear to you, please, please let me know in the comments so I can clarify stuff. I just want you to learn some magic, and basically, Hogwarts, just one person and for art. I hope you had fun and that you learned something. I am looking forward to see your work in the class project. Until next time. Bye.