Traditional Animation: How to Animate Fire | Johannes Fast | Skillshare

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Traditional Animation: How to Animate Fire

teacher avatar Johannes Fast, 2D Animator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (53m)
    • 1. Welcome!

    • 2. The Theory

    • 3. Animating a Flame pt.1

    • 4. Animating a Flame pt.2

    • 5. Animating a Fire pt.1

    • 6. Animating a Fire pt.2

    • 7. Animating a Fireball

    • 8. Bonus!

    • 9. Thanks

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About This Class

Join animator Johannes Fast for his second instalment in his cel FX series, this time on how to animate 2D fire effects digitally using "cel" animation in Adobe Animate.


Ever wanted to add that extra "flare" to your animations, but don't know how to animate fire in 2D? In this class you'll learn the theory of how and why fire moves like it does, and how to apply this to your own animations, in the end of this class you will have the skills needed to create a believable fire effect. 

What you can expect to learn:

  • The theory of how fire moves
  • How to animate a candle flame
  • How to animate a fire
  • How to animate a fireball

Who is this class for?

The class is aimed towards beginner or intermediate animators with some prior experience animating traditionally. It's a great class for new animators wanting to learn their first animated effects, or for more experienced animators looking to spice up their work or learn a new skill they haven't had time to learn yet. Even film editors and content creators can use these techniques to add cool effects to their live action work. 

By the end of this course, you'll know the basics on how to animate 2D fire traditionally on a professional level.


A digital animation program is required for the class, preferably Adobe Animate. You'll also need a form of digital drawing tablet. A mouse will work but it will make the process a lot harder. An iPad with an animation app also works great. 

Recommended apps and software:

  • Adobe Animate
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Rough animator (iPad)
  • Calipeg (iPad) 
  • Flipaclip (Apple/Android)

Instagram Feature:

Every two weeks a pick a few of my favourite student projects across my classes to be featured on my instagram. If you wan't a chance to get featured, post your work in the student community and tag your instagram. And if you share your work on instagram or twitter, tag @johanimation so I can see it! 

Want to learn more?

Find even more classes here

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Johannes Fast

2D Animator


Hi! My name is Johannes Fast, I'm a traditional animator & motion designer living and working in Vancouver, Canada. I was born and raised in Sweden, the country of meatballs and cheap furniture.

I started out my career in animation attending a motion graphics focus education at Hyper Island, during this time I took multiple online classes focused on traditional animation to hone in on my craft. After my time at Hyper Island, I went on to spend roughly 18 months at multiple internships around the world, and I've been lucky to spend time at places like BRIKK, NERDO and Giant Ant.

During my career I've been grateful to have had the opportunity to work for many amazing clients and on many incredible projects like Arcane, Studio Trig... See full profile

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1. Welcome!: Hi, my name is Johannes Fast. Welcome to my class on how to animate fire using sole animation. I'm a traditional animator working at the fantastic studio called Jana, in Canada. I've been animating for about five years now, and this is the kind of stuff I like to do. In this class, I'll teach you how to anime fire. If you're completely new to animating, I'll recommend you to check out my course in the basics of animations before you take this one. Effects animation is one of the most fun things when it comes to traditional animation, and it can really add a flair to your projects. During this class, I'll give you assignments to complete and upload to student community. This is a great way for you to learn and also get feedback from me and your fellow students. Just like I did in my small class, a few weeks from now, I'll pick a handful of students to give more specialized feedback to. I'll then create a feedback video and upload it to the class. If you want a chance to get more personalized feedback, please upload your work into the community. Every two weeks, I'll take three of my favorite student works to be featured on my Instagram. Please leave your Instagram panel on your posts. Make sure to watch the whole class. Makes in the end, I'll show you you a trick in After Effects of how to make your flames to look even better. 2. The Theory : We're going to start by looking at the theory behind fire. Fire behaves much like a fluid, squashing, stretching, rolling and flowing, and randomly breaking up like water flowing down a river. If you think of your flames like rolling waves, it will help you greatly in conveying the movement of the flames. We have three components to making a fire. The first being fuel. Secondly, we have heat, and thirdly, we have air. Now you might ask why we need to know this because this isn't a class on how to actually make a fire but this does play a big importance in how your animation would look. The fuel and the air plays a big role in how your flames blow, what color they are, and how they move. When we animate a fire, one of the biggest things we need to take into account is the airflow around it. Firstly, we have the hot air rising. This is what's pushing the flames upwards. Then above and around the flame, we have the cool air. The cool air will push down the flame, but the cool air also gets pulled in and creates this turbulence that we see in the flames. In some cases, we have really big wind flows that really twists and turns to flames. Let's start by looking at a candle flame. Here we have a very simple and a recognizable shape. If a fire has access to a big fuel source with lots of oxygen, we get these big rolling clouds of fire instead, and as you can see, this looks very different from our candle flame. As animators, it's our job to match the effects to the environment of our animation. Just like smoke, fire can be broken down into a wave motion. If you haven't tried animating waves yet, I'd recommend you to take my class on the basics of animation, there I'll cover how to animate waves and flags. Talking about flags, a great exercise to practice your fire animation is to animate flags like this. Once you animate these flags, you can apply the design of your fire on top like this. But one thing to keep in mind when you animate fires is that even though you can have the basis of a flag, you still want to make it very dynamic and really get that shape of the fire going. Because if you look at this, this still looks like a flag. When we animate a fire, it's important that we think about the shape of the flame. We can make it very quick and random. One thing that we really want to watch out for when we animate our fire is twinning. Twinning is when your design is mirrored on each side. If you do this, it will make the fire look really weird. We also want to stay away from very unnatural looking designs, like this flame design you see on the side of cars. We also want to stay away from making our fires look like this. Because with this type of design, we don't have any apparent airflow and it looks more like an explosion than a fire. That covers the theory. In the next video, I'll show you how I animate. 3. Animating a Flame pt.1: Let's start easy by looking at a simple candle flame. Like we talked about in the theory part, is that the flame can be broken down into a wave motion, like you see here. But with these smaller flames, I don't want to push the wave motion too hard. I want to keep it in mind, but I want to get some more life going. Here's a really basic flame. You can see that this follows the wave motion back and forth. This movement works but I find that it's pretty boring as it just goes back and forth and doesn't have much life going. Let's not do that. Here I've animated a flame that I feel has a lot more life going. You can see that it has a wave motion, but it also has a lot more randomness to it. It goes up and down and it reacts to the airflow around it. To give a flame a bit more life, I like to think of it almost as a loan. The flame goes down and breaths in fresh air, and it expands out. Then as it exhales, it shoots upwards and elongates. It goes down and here it sucks in new air, and it grows out to the sides here. Then it shoots up and elongates. Then in this bobbing motion of breathing and going up and down, then I try to implement the wave motion. When we do that, we get something like this. Here you see the bobbing and it makes it feel like there's some life and air going on around it. We can put it even harder. Here, it's almost getting blown out and it's shooting off these little smaller flames here. Flames are really organic movement and they can be very crazy. But we don't want to overdo it though. We still want to keep a coherent movement. Because if we start to make it a bit too crazy, it goes up and down and shoots to the side. Yes, look way too messy. We want to keep the randomness in mind, but we want to still make a smooth and flowing movement. 4. Animating a Flame pt.2: Let's try animating a flame now. I'm going to draw my first frame here. Something like that. Then I'm going to go to the next frame. I have [inaudible] getting turned on here so I can see the flame before. I'm going to start by making the flame react to a wind gust pointed that way. I'll draw my second frame and I'm going to start pushing it to the side now. But I don't want to push it too fast. I'm going to push this a bit closer and then go to the next frame. Now, I'm going to make it go a bit faster. I'll speed it up like this. This will be the spacing roughly. Now, I want to think about the way of movement here. I don't want to push the flame going like that and then going like that. Instead, I want to add a little old bump in here and make it go a bit slower up here like that. Then I'm going to do my next frame. I'm going to keep pushing this in here. Here, you can see my spacing. It starts out slow and it builds up in speed. I'm going to erase this part in here now, but I'm going to push this out a bit so we can get this rolling motion. The wind comes here and this flicks back and we get this wave movement where this part starts to go back again here. Now, I'll start speeding this up a bit. Now, we've got the wind movement like this. Now, we can start flipping it over. We flip the top over a bit and then it starts going back faster. Now, making this bump in here start to flatten out a bit again. Then we can speed it up a bit. Now, I'm going to try to put it almost all the way back. To give it a bit more live, I'm also going to make it bob up and down now. I push it up and in. I'm going to add another frame of it going higher. This is what it looks like now. Here, we are getting this kind of movements. I think we should let this piece here become a smaller flame and rise. Now, I'm going to make it go back down and it will widen out. I'm going to start to make this thicker down here. This part here, I'm going to just draw like that, then I'm going to erase this out here and start bringing back the shape of the flame here. I'm going to erase this in with another frame like that. We have a little wind gust and the candle reacts as it comes back up. I'm going to move this down a bit here. Now, I'm going to continue to move towards this shape. It will go down and then I'm going to make it go back up a bit again. You can play around a lot with the flame going up and down. You just want to make sure to not make it too erratic. We can try to make the flame go down here again. Then we can try to make some more fast movements in here because this moment is slow. It feels like it's reacting to some wind that is coming from quite far away. We can try to add some more erratic bobbing now. I'm just going to draw in a few more frames here around the last frame. We don't want all the movement to happen at the same time. We need some breathing room to give the flame more dynamic. I'm drawing a few more frames here. Just tracing the last one, not too perfectly though. I just want to give it sometime if the flame doesn't go back and forth and up and down all the time. We needed some stillness in the animation. Now, I'm going to add one more of these little gusts here. I'm going to go to my last frame. Turn on your [inaudible]. Like before, I'll start the movement in the middle of the flame. It pushes in. Still we get some nice overlapping action here. Now, we're going to try to make this loop. I'm going to grab my first frame here, and I'm going to copy-paste that, and I'm going to put this a few frames back here. I'm pasting that here. Then I'm going to turn on my own scanning and I'm going to extend so I can see that frame. Now, I'm basically just going to start easing out toward that frame. Something like that. I'm going to delete this frame here. This is what we have right now. Now, I'm going to loop the playback and we're going to see if this looping works. I'm looping only the diaphragm. We're going to ignore that frame. Otherwise, we're going to get a duplicate. Here, we have a looping flame. For your first assignment, I'd like you to try to animate a flame like this. I want you to animate a 24-frames per second and [inaudible]. That means that you animate every second frame. Once you're done, I'd like for you to export a GIF at 1080 by 1080 pixels and post it in the community so me and your fellow students can see it. Good luck. 5. Animating a Fire pt.1: Now we're going to take a look at how to animate a fire. Like the flame, a fire can be broken down into a wave motion like this. A wave motion like this doesn't give us much volume though, and a trick to practice fire animation is to animate flags, like this. Then, on top of this flag, you can go over and drawing your fire. This is a really great way to practice your bigger fires. So if you really learn how to animate this kind of wave motion and flags, it will really help you in animating fires. So when we start animating a fire, we want to take into account a few different things. First of all, we have the heat of the fire rising upwards like this, and then around the fire we have the cool air, and that cool air around it helps creating these shapes we see here. So the heat pulls the cool air in, and that creates these terrible ounces that we see. So we get this kind of movement. The fire is almost rolling outwards and upwards like this. Then finally, we have a layer of cool air above the fire. This is pushing down on it and pushing it outwards. So with this cool air in mind here, when these flames break off from the main fire, we can now roll them outwards as they rise. When we think about the shape of our fire, we want to make it feel organic and very natural. So here's an example of an organic and flowing looking flame, and here we're having an example of a very even unmirrored and an organic looking flame. We don't want a flame that looks like this. Finally, we also want to make sure that we don't have too many odd shapes. Here, for example, we have the main mass of the fire down here but there's this weird tube of fire that goes up like this. This feels more like some electricity or some form of magic. So we want to stay away from that. We also want to make sure that when we do our fire design that we don't make it look mirrored. There's a few things we can keep in mind when we start animating our fire. The first is to wave that we talked about. It also helps to think of the fire as a ball traveling upwards and starting small, getting bigger, and then going small again. That will help us to keep the main shapes of the fire flowing. When we start animating a fire, it's really important to keep in mind the airflow around it and the setting of where the fire is. If the fire is inside, say in a fireplace, we don't have a lot of airflow going around it that would affect the flame. If it's outside, we might have a lot of air affecting the flame. If the fire is, say on a torch that someone is holding, we will have a lot of drag and a lot of random movement. Now, I'll show you how I animate a fire like this. To simplify this movement and to help sail the movement of the moving flame, I start out by making a reference line. So here you see a wave motion that reacts to the movement of the torch. I feel that making this wave motion as a reference helps you to get the turbulence of the flame. So if we look at the wave here and how the flame follows the wave, it helps in sailing this movement. 6. Animating a Fire pt.2: I'm going to start out by making the line reference. I'm going to make a pretty fast wave motion here. If you're struggling to get this wave motion down, I would suggest that you take my basics of animation course before you take this one. I'm making this movement pretty fast here because I want the flame to feel quite aggressive. But if you want a slower moving flame, you can make this wave motion a lot slower. The trick now, as the torch starts to move, is to make the flame follow the trail. I'm going to keep on making my wave motion here and now the torch starts moving. I'll keep on doing my way motion but I'm going to follow the previous flame here, like this. This will give it the feel that when a torch move, the flame get sucked with it, is in the turbulence of the air. It's important here to stay connected with the previous flame. You see it as one long arch here. Now, the torch comes up, so make quite a forceful snap up here. You could think of this almost as a string tied to the end of the torch. As the torch start to slow in here, the flame will come back to its original form pretty fast. This is what it looks like now. We have our reference here, and now we can start adding our actual flame design. I'm going to grab my first flame here and here you can see that it roughly follows the shape of the wave motion here. Now, I'm going to draw in the next flame here roughly following the wave. When it comes to the timing and easing of this, I tend to make it a bit slower down here. My spacing would be something like that. These details you see here, they come in a bit slower and then as they go up, they start to speed up a bit. Then I continue on to the next flame. This part here, I start pushing that up. These flames here that comes off the main one, I'll make them last for about 2-3 flames. I usually go in and add these smaller flames and sparks. You can add them quite randomly. Sometimes, you only need to show them for one flame for it to work. You can make your drawings quite random. Just try to make sure that you're following roughly the main shape of the previous flame. Make sure to always play your animation and see how it's looking, so you can spot your mistakes and fix them as you go along. It's a lot easier to fix a problem that you spot early rather than doing the whole animation and then realizing after that you need to change something. Sometimes, that can force you to change the whole animation. Now, you can also see why it's good to think about this spheres traveling inside the flame. It really helps in selling the movement of these bigger parts coming off from the main flame. I'm going to keep on drawing in these flames. I'm continuing to roughly follow the movement of the line reference. We want to keep in mind the air above the flame here that is pushing down on it. If we want to convey that turbulence, we can add a rolling motion through our flames, like I did right here. To do that, it helps to draw these smaller flames almost like a teardrop shape, like this. As they rise, they start rotating. Just make sure that you don't shoot them downwards. The shape of the flame will convey the rotation but they have to keep moving upwards. Now that it's starting to move a bit upwards here, we're soon going to start making the flame react to the big movement of the torch. Now that the torch is moving, we still want to make sure that the flame is going upwards and the gas is still rising, and the heat is rising, so the flame won't start tipping over. Like we see here, we might actually want to move that up a bit like that. As the flame starts moving, we can add some more turbulence and make it a bit crazier as it gets all this fresh air coming in to that source of the flame. Now, I'm going to drag the flame even more here and I'm going to break up the flame quite a lot now, when it's moving. Here in the quick movement, I really want to add some bigger flames here, so we get some secondary emotion to this. To make it feel like it has turbulence here, I'll make a teardrop shape to roll around. I'm making a lot of these breakups happen here in the fast movement. Now, I'm starting to come back to the same movement as we had in the beginning here. Now, we're settling back into the final flames here with that flame being stationary again. This is what we got. Your assignment for this class, it will be to animate a fire. You can animate any kind of fire you want. If you want to animate a moving fire and want to use this torch I have here, I'll make this file available for you in the student community. Once you're done, I'd like you to export a GIF at 1,080 by 1,080 pixels and post it into the community, so me and your fellow students can see it. 7. Animating a Fireball: Now we're going to take a look at animating a fireball. With this fireball, we have the force creating the fire pushing this way and then we have the force of the air it's going through pushing on it like this. The force from the source of the fire will make a speedup in the beginning and then as it pushes through the air, it will start slowing down and dissipating. Here I made a timing chart that I'm going to follow and here you can see that it starts out slow and it speeds up. It reaches max speed around here, and then it starts to slow down again here. To make it easier for me to animate this, I'm going to start by animating a ball traveling across this line. I'm going to start by drawing a ball here and I'm going to go to my next frame and then make it a bit bigger here. Then as we start moving this way, just like a bouncing ball, I'm going to stop stretching this. But I'm going to push the proportions quite a lot here. I will stretch it way more than I would if I would be animating a ball. Here in the middle, it will be the most stretched and then as it starts to come in here, it will start to come back to the original shape. I'm also going to make it dissipated here like that. Now I'm going to start making my first frame here. With the previous fire, I'm going to make these little indentations in my fire here. Here's my first frame and as I go along here, I want to keep in mind where these little bumps are and I'll push them back and I'll start introducing more details in the font. That's our second frame. I'm going to keep on going and now I'm going to follow the ball reference here. So I'm going to make my flame start to taper in like that. Now I'll start introducing these smaller flames like that and then I'm going to go to my next frame, and here I'm going to make this tapering even more aggressive. These smaller ones, I'll make them go in this direction, but they will slow in a lot faster. I'm going to introduce more and more as I go along here. With these fast movements, you don't have to be super careful on how you crazed your design. It can be quite random. The most important part is that it doesn't look too similar to the previous one because then it will look like your fireball is just sliding across the screen. Now as we go along here, we'll start slowing in a bit. I'm going to start making my main shape a bit chunkier here. Let's see what we have. Now as we go to the last few frames here, we're going to start squishing up the fireball again, and make it start to dissipate. Now I'm going to make it a bit rounder and shorter and I'll start breaking off these bigger shapes here. Now we can also introduce some more turbulence coming this way with the force of the fire. So we can make these smaller shapes push outward like that. Now I'm going to break up this shape even more and I'm going to start pushing this out a bit. Then for the final frame here, I'll make them even smaller. I'm going to move this one down here because we don't want them to speed up. Here's our rough fireball. Now I'll show you how to clean this up to make something that looks like this. We have our rough here. I'll create a new layer on top and call it clean, and then I'll split that up and then I'm going to grab this tool here. I'm now going to trace over this rough with the paintbrush tool. I'm not going to make it too accurate because I like how this tool can get really sharp edges and I feel like that helps a lot when animating fire. Then I'll move on to the next frame and I'm going to trace that one too and then I'm just going to continue doing this. Where I feel like it's too round, I will go in with the pen tool and start breaking it up. Now I have my pen tool paths. Now we just need to go and fill in this with color and if you want to make a gradient like in this fire here, I'll show you how to do that. So I'll grab my paint bucket tool here, and then I'll click the "Fill Color," and I'll select the gradient down here. So here we have a gradient. Now if I want to tweak this, I go up here and now I can see my gradient here. So I click this little square here and I select the color to the right and then I select the color to the left, like that, and then I just go from frame to frame and fill all these in. If your bucket tool isn't working, just make sure that your lines are connected or you can go to your bucket tool and click down here and select close, small or medium gaps. To control your gradient, you click with the paint bucket tool and pull. Here we have our fill and now to get rid of these lines, we go and edit multiple frames. We pull these handles out, and then we select all this, we go to the stroke color and we click this button here. Then we turn this off and then we have something like this. Now if we want to make an inner color like this, we just make a new layer on top of our clean here and we basically do the same thing. We just go over and make our paths. You can rough it out first if you want or you can just go straight ahead with the pen tool. We make a rough and then we just do the same thing where we grab our color and we go and fill it in frame by frame. Finally, we just delete all these strokes. After we've done that final pass we'll have something that looks like this. If we want to make it look super smooth like this one, we can just go in and in-between all these frames here and make it all once, and that will make the fire looks super smooth. Your assignment for this lesson is to animate a fireball like this and once you're done, I'd like you to export a GIF at 1080 by 1080 pixels and post it into the community so me and your fellow students can see it. 8. Bonus! : Okay, so as a bonus, I'm going to show you how to shade your fires in After Effects. Before that, I need to export each layer separately, so I'm going to start out by hiding this layer here, and before I say this, I need to go up to "File ", "Publish setting" and make sure that Include Hidden Layers is turned off. Otherwise, we will export everything, even the hidden layers. I then go to "File", "Export" and "export movie" and here I make sure that I export as a swift movie and I click "Save" and then I do that for the next layer. Once I've saved my Swift, I go with After Effects, and here I make a "new composition". I make sure that the frame rate is 24, and I hit "okay". I then import my two layers and pull them into the composition, and I just want to make sure that my middle layer is on top, and then I'm going to go ahead and make a background, and I'll put that at the bottom. First I'm going to make these into pre-comp. To do that, I'll select these layers, I'm going to go up to "layer" and "pre-compose". I'll then go into this pre-composition by double-clicking. Here, I'm going to duplicate my bottom layer like that, and I'm going to turn this one off for now. So I'm going to start out by blurring this layer. To do that, I go to effects and presets, and I'm going to search for "Fast Box Blur", and I'm going to apply that, and then I'm going to crank this up. This is how that layer is looking and on this layer here I'm going to apply the same effect. I'm doing this because I style like this file quite a lot. So it's a bit jagged and I'm going to make it a bit rounder. I'm just going to blur this a bit, and then I'm going to go up to effects and presets and look for "Simple Choker", and then I'm going to pull this up a bit and tweak this until I think it looks good. All right. Now the shape is a bit more rounder and then with this layer selected, I'm going to go up and search for "Glow", and I'm going to tweak this a bit and I'm going to pull down the intensity quite a lot. Something like that. All right. So this is how it's looking and then I'm going to go ahead and make this layer visible again and this layer, I'm also going to apply the fast box blur. I'm going to pull up that slightly, and then I'm going to apply this same glow effect and now I'm going to tweak this a bit, like that and on this layer I'm going to press "S" so I can see my scale. I'll then select this tool up here. I'll move this point down there and then here I'll stretch this out a bit like that. I don't want it to spill out like it's doing here. So I'm going to grab my main layer here, I'm going to duplicate that by pressing "Command D", and I'm going to put that on top. I'm going to select my flame layer here and go to "Alpha matte". Now we only see what's inside the main flame. I'm now going to go ahead and copy this layer here, and I'm going to go out into my first column and paste it on top like that, and then on this layer here, I'm going to select "Alpha inverted matte" like that, and then I'm going to push this down a bit, and I'm also going to up the blur and play around a bit with the scale. Something like that. I also want to get rid of this highlight here. So on this layer, select my rectangle tool and draw a square like that. Then I'm going to take my pen tool and add a point here and I'm going to pull that up, and then I'm going to click "F" on this layer, and here I have my mask feather and I'm going to expand this a bit like that, and then finally I'm going to select this layer. I'm going to go up to my effects and presets and search for CC Radial Blur, and then I'm going to select this center point and put it a bit under the flame. I'll select type and change to "Fading zoom" and crank up the amount, and here we have our shaded flame. 9. Thanks: That's it for my class on how to animate fire. I really hope you enjoyed it. We covered both the theory and the practicalities of how to animate fire and we even learned how to shade it in After Effects. If you enjoyed this class, please check out my other classes and stay tuned for the next one. Thanks.