While animation in Photoshop is not a new concept, it definitely has come a long way in the last few years: The Timeline panel has been overhauled, video layers have been introduced, as has the ability to create keyframe animation. These additions have really upped Photoshop’s game.
Even though Photoshop is still a long way off from being able to create the high-end and cinematic animations of such programs as After Effects, it still has enough power to create complex animation — which is especially useful if you don’t want to spend time learning a new application.
In this article, I will share several advanced techniques to help you create complex animations. We’ll look at the Timeline panel and the different properties that can be animated. We’ll also explore the roles that adjustment layers, filters and smart objects can have in animation (and how to combine all three for some amazing effects). Because the topics and techniques in this article are advanced, a moderate level of Photoshop knowledge is expected.
Overview Of Timeline Panel
Opening the Timeline panel (“Window” → “Timeline”) allows you to select between two types of timelines: video and frame. The frame timeline is for frame-by-frame animation and can be very limiting. It generally works by converting the layers in your Layers panel to individual frames. I won’t go into any more detail on this timeline; I want to focus on the video timeline.
The video timeline allows for keyframe animation — which is an animation process in which you define key points of animation along a timeline and Photoshop will interpret the in-between frames to create a cohesive animation. Let’s go ahead and create a very simple animation to see how this works.
As you probably noticed from the image above, the video timeline shows a representation of layers in the Layers panel. Each layer in the timeline has a dropdown panel that exposes the layer properties (these are the properties that can be animated). To animate a layer property, simply click the stopwatch icon, which enables keyframe animation. Notice that a keyframe is automatically placed at the current time indicator.
Move the current time indicator to another point in the timeline and reposition the layer. Again, another keyframe will automatically be added to the timeline.
Playing back the animation shows how the object on the canvas moves from one position to the next.
Now that we have a good idea of how the animation process works in Photoshop, let’s take a closer look at the common layer types that can be animated. Because different layer types have different properties to animate, pay attention to which layer types are being used.
The standard (pixel) layer is a layer that contains pixel information. This is the most common (and most basic) layer in Photoshop. Layer properties include:
Adding a layer mask or vector mask to any layer will introduce additional properties specific to that mask. Layer properties that are added to the layer’s existing properties include:
- layer or vector mask position
- layer or vector mask enabling
A shape layer contains a shape (whether from one of the shape tools or the Pen tool) or a line segment. Because shapes and line segments are built with vector mask information, those mask properties will appear in addition to the other layer properties. Layer properties include:
- vector mask position,
- vector mask enabling.
A text layer contains editable text. If text has been rasterized, then the layer will no longer be a text layer, but rather will be a standard layer with pixel information. Layer properties include:
- text warp.
A smart object can contain any one or combination of the above layer types. A smart object acts like a wrapper for any layer, preserving the original layer while using a new set of properties. These properties include:
A word of warning when using smart objects. Because a smart object preserves the original quality of the layer or the set of layers it contains, it can be scaled and rescaled without losing quality. However, it cannot be scaled any larger than the size of the original layer it contains. Doing so would cause the smart object to lose quality.
At this point, I want to mention two other layer types — a video layer and a 3D layer. Both of these layers are completely unique from the other layer types mentioned. The video layer is actually a layer group that contains its own set of properties, while the 3D layer — besides containing a unique set of properties — is manipulated in an environment entirely separate from the other layers, adding to the level of complexity. Due to the uniqueness of these two layer types, I will not go into detail here. You can see how both layers are represented in the timeline below:
I encourage you to explore these two layer types on your own. For the rest of this article, I will be focusing only on the traditional layer types, excluding video and 3D.
Now that we have a grasp of the different layer types, let’s examine the different properties that we are able to animate. Knowing how each property works is important to understanding their limitations and how to get around them. Let’s look at the common animation properties.
The Position property allows for movement along the X- and Y-axis. Manipulate the position of an object by using the Move Tool.
Opacity allows you to keyframe the opacity of a layer. The Opacity control can be found in the Layers panel.
The Style property allows you to keyframe the layer styles of a layer. Access the layer styles by double-clicking a layer in the Layers panel.
The layer mask or vector mask position keyframes the x and y positions of each mask. It works best when the mask is not linked to the layer.
Enabling or disabling a layer or vector mask is also possible. To enable or disable a layer mask, go to “Layer” → “Layer Mask” and select either “Enable” or “Disable.” For vector masks, go to “Layer” → “Vector Mask.” Alternatively, you can “Shift + Click” the mask in the Layers panel to toggle on or off.
Specific to text layers, the Text Warp property allows you to keyframe any text warp applied to a text layer. You can access a list of text warp effects by going to “Type” → “Warp Text.”
The Transform property allows you to keyframe transformation to a layer. Various transformations (such as Rotate and Scale) can be accessed by going to “Edit” → “Transform,” or by pressing
Control + T to enter Free Transform mode.
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