Creating Animated Character Illustrations with After Effects | Kelly Larkin | Skillshare

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Creating Animated Character Illustrations with After Effects

teacher avatar Kelly Larkin, 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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Our Class Project


    • 3.

      Cleaning Up Your Illustration


    • 4.

      Importing Into After Effects


    • 5.

      Parenting And Pivot Points


    • 6.

      Swap Drawings


    • 7.

      3D Layers


    • 8.

      Puppet Pin Tool


    • 9.

      Exporting Your Project and Creating a Gif


    • 10.

      Thank You!


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About This Class

Have you ever wanted to take your illustrations and breathe the life of animation into them?

In this class I will show you how to turn your illustration into an animation friendly puppet, import it into After Effects, and teach you some handy tools that will allow you to animate your character. Even if you are new to After Effects, I will show you tools to get you started.  You will learn skills including pivot points basic rigging, the puppet pin tool, 3D layers, and more.

By the end of this class you with have an understanding of how to make your characters seamlessly move and look alive with the power of puppetry!

Meet Your Teacher

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Kelly Larkin



Hey there! My name is Kelly Larkin and I'm a professional animator living in Los Angeles, currently working at DreamWorks Animation!

I have a variety of experience in animation, from motion graphics to advertising, and educational content to TV shows. I love working with inspiring groups of people to make amazing content!

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Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Kelly Larkin, and I'm an animator living in Los Angeles. Today, I'm going to teach you how to take your illustration and turn it into a gorgeous animation, using the power of After Effects. I'm going to go through how to make your illustration animation ready, in Photoshop and Illustrator. In addition, we'll be jumping into After Effects, and I'll give you a crash course on some really fantastic tools you can use to bring your illustration to life. Even if you're a first time After Effects user, don't worry, I got you. I'll show you some useful tips and tricks and ways to take your illustration and turn it into a gorgeous animation. We'll be going over concepts today such as the Puppet Pin Tool, Swap drawings, Pivot points, and a few other things. I hope you'll enjoy the class and make sure to reach out to me if you have any questions, I'll be more than happy to help. 2. Our Class Project: For the class project, we will be creating a 1-3 second animated GIFs using the skills that we've learned in this class. Make sure that you do something simple to start off such as a character waving or looking at the camera. Nothing too complicated. Once we get into the depths of copy animation, we can have your character doing back flips. But for now, let's keep it to a simple gesture, a look, or something that can be done within the 1-3 second time frame. Makes sure that you touch upon every single subject like 3D layers, swapped drawings, pivot points, and the puppet pin tool. Make sure that your GIF is able to be put online and easily played. Once you've finished your GIF, please show it to me and I'd be happy to give you some feedback. 3. Cleaning Up Your Illustration: Before we begin, I want to tell you that I have a bird. You'll hear him sometimes in this video and that's okay. His name is Romeo and he says Hello. Before we go into any program, I would like to go over the four core principles of creating animation ready illustration. I will show demos and examples about how these techniques can be used. Number 1, anything that moves should be its own object. Number 2, you will be able to see behind objects that you would not usually see in an illustration. Number 3, more separate layers allows for more control. Number 4, things like arms, legs, hips, necks, etc, should have rounded corners to allow for smooth movement. Let's go into these in more detail. Number 1, anything that moves should be its own object. Whether it be a head, arm, hand, anything that moves should be its own object. That allows you to have a lot of control. In my demonstration, the head and the neck are two separate objects, as well as the hair on the back and the hair in the front. This allowed me, when I started innovating to get quite a bit of unique motion that I would've not otherwise had. Number 2, you will be able to see the hind objects that you are not usually see in an illustration. Because of this concept, it's important that anything that you might see be finished off. In my illustration, I had to go back and fill out the hair that way I could rotate it and there wouldn't be any problems. I also had to do this for the hand. Number 3, more separate layers allows for more control. When you separate your layers, which can be addictive and honestly, you can go forever. It allows you to create a highly nuanced, very controlled animation. As an example, I separated the pupils on my character's eyes so I can move them independently. I also separated the two eyes from each other because I wanted to create a foreshortening effect later on in this series using 3D layers. Number 4, things like arms, legs, hips, neck, etc, should have rounded corners to allow for smooth movement. This is a very important factor when creating illustration that's ready for animation. If you create rounded ends to moving limbs, it allows you to strongly control your animation and create really beautiful movement. As an example, I separated my upper arm, my lower arm, and my hand, allowing the arm to fold up and move. Both Photoshop and Illustrator have a pivot tool, if you transform into objects, you can move the small cursor. That is a circle with an x in it to the point of your choosing, then you can rotate your objects. This will give you a good idea of how your objects rotate within after effects. Here's a quick time lapse on me separating my layers. You can see how in depth I get. It's very important to have as much control as possible when animating. But make sure you don't do too much to drive yourself crazy. Seriously, I could get more crazy. I could separate the fingers. I could make the shoulders there on objects. I could add more of a body. But this works perfectly for what I have in mind. Up next, we will be importing our finished illustration into after effects. Stay tuned. 4. Importing Into After Effects: In this section, I'm going to teach you how to import your illustration from either Illustrator or Photoshop into After Effects. I'm going to tell you some things that I wish someone had told me as a young illustrator, in Photoshop folders will always import as compositions, a little more on what that means later. In Illustrator, sub-layers will always import merged. This is way I highly recommend separating everything into separate layers and making sure you don't have any sub layer. I also recommend if you're used to working in print, double-checking your colors settings. Illustrator has a particularly aggressive changing colors once imported into After Effects, if you've made it CMYK. To import a project, all you need to do is right-click on the leftmost project part. Once you've done that, go ahead and select the file you would like to import. A dialog box will open that has a few options. The option that you're going to want is composition retain layer sizes. What this means is that each of your layers will be an editable object, and the pivot points will depend on the layers themselves as opposed to the entire size of the documents. This will get us heading in the right direction. Now that your files have imported, go to your composition is marked by an icon that looks like a movie film which shapes in it. Right-click it and go to composition settings. You're going to want to make sure that your composition is at least two seconds long, or you can change it if you'd like to, something longer or shorter. Remember, our personal project is going to be 1-3 seconds long. You also want to make sure that you are using 24 frames per second. Just the current industry standard for how many frames per second within your animation. A few of you might have been wondering what that weird red boxes around my composition. That's something I set for myself at the beginning of this project. Knowing that I really wanted to have a square format, I put it there to help myself frame my drawing more appropriately within After Effects. If I double-click on my composition here, you can see all of our layers are now present and visible. Next up, we're going to add pivots and we are going to parent our layers together to create a rudimentary rake. Stay tuned. 5. Parenting And Pivot Points: Welcome to the world of parenting and pivot points an alternate game to Dungeons and Dragons, bad jokes aside, what is parenting? Hopefully this strange chart can give you a little more information. When you want to pick up an object, your shoulder and upper arm moves, which helps your lower arm move, which helps your hand move. This is the fundamental idea of a parent-child relationship. In after-effects, we use parenting to connect one layer to another. This way, when we move one layer, it will cause the others to move as well. This allows us to create naturalistic movement, which will only be enhanced by other techniques that I will show you today. If you've worked in Photoshop or Illustrator, you probably have some familiarity with pivot points. Pivot points tell the program you're using how you want an object to rotate or move. If you have a pivot point within the center of an image, that image will rotate based on the center. However, if you move the pivot point higher or lower, the point in which the object rotate changes. Using both parenting and pivot points, we are going to set a foundation for our layer here. When you click on a layer, you see a symbol in the middle of it, that is your pivot point. If you go up to your toolbar and select the image that has a dotted line with arrows facing outwards, this is the tool you will use to change your pivot point. To create parent-child relationships in after effects, you are going to make sure you have your parent and link the window visible, which should be connected to your layer. If it's not there, try pressing the toggle switches slash modes key until you see a box that says parent and link. There are two ways to parent, one, you can select the spiral icon of the child you would like and drag what we call the pick whip to the parents. If playing with cool spirals isn't your thing, you can also use a drop-down menu and select the layer you would like to be the parent. For this section, I'm going to take some parents and children and connect them together. I'm also going to change some pivot points around, to make sure that my rotations are as natural as they can possibly be. Something else I will do in this section, is use something called an adjustment layer, which is an empty layer that I will use to parent large structures to. I'm going to create an adjustment layer that has all of them may face elements parented to it. This is incredibly useful, meaning that while they have the face master layer moving, I can also select the people which are parented within the face layer and move them individually. When I have my break all set up, I'm going to animate, or at least begin animating. If you select the drop-down arrow next to your desired layer, you will get a number of different items, such as translate, rotate, anchor point, etc. If you select one of them, you'll get a key. You'll know because a blue diamond will appear in your timeline. Animation is all about a good feeling as much as it is studying it. My advice for you when it comes to beginning your animation, is to have a clear picture of what you would like the character to be doing. That way, there's no confusion. Remember, you can also press zero key on your number pad to have a ram preview or a frame-by-frame accurate preview of what you're looking at. You can also use the page up and page down keys to toggle through your animation and look at it frame by frame. For our next section, get ready to go back into Photoshop or Illustrator because we're going to make some swop drawings, so that's going to make our animation pop. See you there. 6. Swap Drawings: After animating with pivot points, I had an animation that looked a little bit like this. It looks pretty cool, but I thought I could push it a little bit more with the magic of swap drawings. In this case, I'm going to create two extra drawings to allow the character to blink. However, you can use swap drawings for a number of things, such as creating different mouth shapes. Perhaps your character is grimacing and they transition into a smile. Maybe your character flashes a peace sign from a fist. All of these are excellent use of swap drawings. The first thing we're going to do is go into Photoshop and create our drawings. You can see here that I have two that I've made. Next, we import them into After Effects and we are going to use a technique called Toggle holds keyframe. Traditional keyframes or easy ease, which some of my keyframes are, you can note those by the fact that they look like an hourglass. I get those by right clicking and selecting that option, or by pressing "F9" on my keyboard. Unlike traditional keyframes which transition from 0 -100 percent with a gradual gradient in between, hold keyframes will toggle from 0-100 percent, at the flip of a switch. Toggling the opacity of the desired layers is going to create the instance swap outs for our spot drawings. I decided that I was going to keep my pupils instead of drawing another set. I ended up creating a mask using the pen tool and tracing around. Then once again, using holds keyframe to manipulate the size of the mask as my character blinked. Now that our character moving and blinking, we're going to give her a whole another set of dimension by using 3D Layers. I'll see you there. 7. 3D Layers: One of my favorite things to do in After Effects is to cheat perspective by using 3D layers. In order to make a layer 3D, you must check the box that has a cube as its icon. Each layer that you want to make 3D must have this selected. Once you open up the options on your 3D layer, you'll find that quite a bit is changed. You have a new axis to work with, and your rotations have been separated into X, Y, and Z. With 3D layers, I'm going to take my master face layer and, I'm going to skew it slightly. So my character looks like she's actually moving her head as she looks at us. In addition to that, I'm going to take my eyes and do some separate 3D treatment on them, to push the perspective on them even more, and also to reduce the scale on one side and increase the scale on the other side. I'll also do this treatment on the ears to really sell the effect. My general advice for this section is to mess around until things look right. You'll be able to tell really quickly if you've pushed it too far by using your artist's eye. It can be very overwhelming to think of moving an entire face in 3D space. That's why I recommend starting with one piece, in my case, the master layer. Then adjusting the rest of the layers around it. We're almost done with our animation. The last thing we're going to do is create some really beautiful fleshy deformations using the puppet pin tool. I'll see you there. 8. Puppet Pin Tool: The puppet pin tool is easy to learn but difficult to master. You can access the puppet pin tool by going to the top toolbar and clicking on the image of a thumbtack. By placing your pins on various locations on your layer, you can create a very naturalistic motion. If I check the mesh box on the top toolbar, I can actually see what the puppet pin tool is doing. It's creating a series of meshes that your pins are using to deform your layer. As you can see, I'm using the pen tool to make my hair movement more natural, as well as add extra movement to the stray strand of hair on the characters from. I'm also going to use it to give my character some shoulder motion, and to increase their smile into a slight smirk. When it comes to using the puppet pin tool for the arm to add a little extra deformation, first, I'm going to right-click on all three layers that make up my characters arm. I'm going to right-click on them and I'm going to pre-compose them, which puts them in a new composition. This way, I can have the puppet pen tool affect every layer simultaneously. I'm going to have to increase my mesh size with this particular layer because it is very large and moves quite a bit but I really like the result at the end. I recommend doing it. If you do not increase your mesh size, unfortunately, you might see some tearing or scenes as you move your layer around. Here we have our finished animation. I'm really happy with it, and I hope that you like what you're working on too. Next, I'm going to show you how to properly export your animation into an animated GIF. Let's do it. 9. Exporting Your Project and Creating a Gif: Before we render out our file, let's go into the composition settings to make sure everything is good. I personally precomposed my animated illustration into new composition to get the right dimensions. Once I'm satisfied with everything, I'm going to press "Control M" on my keyboard, which is a shortcut for adding our file to the render queue. For this particular file, I would recommend using an MOV or MP4 format. AVI is a little too heavy for what we are going to do here. Once you have your file name and location picked out and the correct video format selected, press "Render" and then hit the "Caps lock" on your keyboard. This will allow the file to render quicker. Unfortunately for After Effects, their GIF making-tools are not very good. We're going to make our GIF using Photoshop. Once you've opened Photoshop, select Import video frames to layers from the File menu. Select your file and press "Okay". We are going to use the legacy format, Save for Web. Hopefully, Photoshop replaces this soon with something newer and better because After Effects just isn't cutting it. By increasing the number of colors in your GIF, messing with the types of dither, and overall just playing around with the few drop-down options, you can decrease the size of your GIF and make it a little more palatable for the internet. With that, we have a finished GIF. Congratulations, you made it to the end. 10. Thank You!: That's the end of the class. Thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate your time. We took your static illustration and turned it into a moving animations with the power of After Effects, great knowledge. We went over how to set up a basic rig and After Effects and enhance it with smoke After Effects, fantastic features such as 3D layers, the puppet pin tool. We even created some extra drawings to give our animation a little extra. Thank you so much for joining me in this class and once again, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I'm more than happy to help. Once again, I'm Kelly Larkin. Thank you so much for joining me.