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Character Animation Fundamentals for After Effects

Mikey Borup

Learn the best techniques to give characters cartoon-like movement in After Effects. In this tutorial, we’ll cover the AE puppet tool and everything you need to get started with character animation.


Character animation can be intimidating – but with After Effects you can actually give your characters realistic movements quite easily. In the following tutorial I’ll walk you through the fundamentals of character animation and the puppet tool. I’ve included the After Effects project file below so you can try it alongside the tutorial on your own.

Using Photoshop, I first created a 2D character that we’ll be animating in AE  (I’m calling this character “Baldy”) . Grab the After Effects project file and Baldy’s corresponding Photoshop file here:

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By breaking your character into individual layers in Photoshop, you can apply the animation to each layer individually in After Effects. So, when importing the PSD into After Effects make sure the layers are retained:

Apply the AE puppet tool, and then pins, to each layer of your character (the pins will be used to control the character movement). In the tutorial I show you how to tweak the pin positions to create unique movement for each layer.

Once you’ve got the body movement animated over time, you can continuously loop it with a simple time remap expression.


We’ll finish up by modifying the overall position of the character so that he appears to walk across the frame, and by adding a shadow to give the animation more depth.

Using the puppet tool and simple keyframing techniques, this tutorial is perfect for anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of character animation in After Effects. It’s not nearly as intimidating as you might be making it out to be!

Got questions about this After Effects tutorial or character animation?
Share in the comments below!