How to Animate In Photoshop

VonGoldAnimationFrame1Though most people know it as an single-image software, Photoshop has some great features for traditional animation. Here are some of the simple tools I used to create my latest animation.



I’ll get into buttons and functions at the end of the post, but here is my overall process:

1. With my video reference up in the corner of my Photoshop document, I drew out the rough poses in red, laying the foundation. Of course, this didn’t feel alive yet, but it provided a great road map for the animation.

2. Utilizing the onion skin features in the Timeline Window’s dropdown menu, I drew the in-between drawings and refined the original drawings. I spent a lot of time here pushing everything until the animation felt solid to my eye. Animation is a skill that takes years to master, so I can’t stress the importance of this phase enough. Because my drawings here are rough, I found myself making even more adjustments later on so the animation felt right.

3. After creating my color palette, with the Animation at 30% opacity, I filled in the main blocks of color using the lasso, fill, and a hard brush. During this process, I had to watch closely as sometimes the tools produce a jagged edge that needed refining. I often switched between this dark background and white in the layers panel depending on which color I was blocking in.

4. In the longest part of the process, I rendered each feature (eyes, nose, cheek, hair, etc.) in its own separate video group. This method was useful as I often reused the same element over multiple frames using the transform tools. And I could often use the base color blocks to wand select and speed up my process. I also manually added motion to the hands to enhance the animation. To add the final touches, I used After Effects because I was able to throw in the diamonds at the end with speed and precision. I mixed the sounds in Premiere.

The Nitty Gritty:

At the beginning of the process, you have to choose what kind of animation you want to do, I chose “Create Video Timeline” because the Frame animation is older to Photoshop and I find it’s less useful for my needs. Right away, in the Timeline Window, I make sure to go into the drop down menu and set the frame rate to 24 frames per second.


The drop-down menu also contains the onion skinning features that are so crucial to hand drawn animation. By selecting the settings option herein, you can tell Photoshop how many frames before and after you want to see as you draw your in-betweens. You also have a few display modes that can help as your animation becomes more detailed.

The Split At Playhead button is also crucial. The first time you use it, the frames will appear on different layers. With “Enable Auto-Grouping Of Clips” checked in the drop-down menu, you can drag the upper clip down next to the lower and create a video group. Each time I use this tool I ask myself, “Do I need a clear layer for my next drawing or will I re-use part of this current drawing?” If it’s the former, I split the clip before drawing. If it’s the latter, I wait until I’m finished to split the clip.


Hopefully, this post was enjoyable and helpful. As this was a test for my upcoming short film, I currently feel I need to make more discoveries to speed up and improve my process for digital, hand-drawn animation.  If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment.  Enjoy!

  • Shawna Tenney

    Cool! Thanks for sharing. I actually have to learn a little bit about animating in Photoshop because I want to make a book trailer for my book. Probably nothing as fancy as this, but you’ve gotten me motivated to start learning some of this stuff. The animation turned out really nice! I can’t wait to see more!

    • Yes, we can chat more about this. In your case, it might also be useful to use after effects. That’s how I made this trailer:

      I only used photoshop to layer the images.

      Can’t wait to see your stuff too!

      • Shawna Tenney

        That’s awesome! But dang! I don’t own After Effects- I’m still using the CS6 Design and Web Premium which doesn’t include that program. 🙁

        • Too bad. One possible solution would be to get creative cloud just for the month you plan to create your trailer. You’d want something like premiere for sound. Or you can try alternative software.

  • Lauren Chaikin

    Fabulous, Scott!

    So, I know very little about video itself. I’m super intrigued by your process, but I’m unfamiliar with some of the lingo in this context, like “splitting a clip” or “playhead”. What do these refer to?

    • Great questions! “Splitting” is making a new keyframe (or a new drawing) in the animation. You do this by selecting one of those purple “frames” and clicking the scissor icon.

      If you look at my image of the timeline above, the “playhead” is the blue icon with the red line under it. It indicates your current spot in the animation timeline.

  • Dante Panora

    Know I’m a little (very) late to the game, and this may be confidential, but did you animate this with the help of Nimble Collective’s power?

    • No worries, Dante. Nimble Collective has helped a ton as I’ve developed the Animatic for my short film (also hand-drawn), but this animation was done as a purely self-directed test.

    • Btw, thanks for commenting!

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