November 16, 2013

Tutorial: How to Animate Still Photos in After Effects

Still MotionOne of the post-production techniques I've yearned to know more about was animating still photos. We've seen this used in countless film intro sequences, and now motion graphics artist and director Joe Fellows shows us how to achieve this 3D effect in After Effects. By separating the background, mid, and foreground, you can animate your photos creating a parallax effect that will turn your simple 2D still images into moving 3D storytelling devices. Check out the tutorial after the jump.

We've seen this effect in the title sequences and end credits in films, where still photos are animated to have 3D look -- mostly in recent action films. A still shot shows up on-screen, and it appears to be moving in 3D space, the camera zooming or tracking forward toward the subject.

According to an article from The Creators Project, Fellows worked on the 2D animations for Ad Hoc Films to create incredible visuals for the World Wildlife Foundation, using their photo archive to create the parallax effect show in the video below:

If you're wondering how to create the effect, never fear. Fellows walks you through the process in the tutorial below. Mind you, this isn't necessarily a step by step deal -- you're going to have to know a little bit about After Effects, namely how to isolate elements to create a solid background from a still shot, and how to create keyframes to animate individual pieces from the photo. Fellows uses a tablet (like a Bamboo) to work on the stills.

Check out the tutorial below to learn how to animate photos in After Effects:

What do you think of the tutorial? Do you have any tips on how to animate still photos that you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments.

Link: How To Turn Your Photos Into Animated Clips -- The Creators Project

Your Comment

30 Comments

I appreciate the short tutorial. But I do wish he would have broken down how he did some more elements in that shot. ie - spinning ping pong balls, it seems like the paddle is almost rotating.

November 16, 2013 at 10:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

8
Reply

Andrew Kramer's website www.videocopilot.net has a step by step tutorial on this subject. He is using adobe 3 or 4 in the tutorial but you can still follow the steps very well.

November 16, 2013 at 12:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Marcus

Dang MARCUS!! You beat me too it, but ya Andrews Tut will explain it all. Since MARCUS didn't tell you which tutorial it is here you go :) This is one of them anyway to take the still animate the camera to get the parallax effect and create depth. http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorials/virtual_3d_photos/

November 17, 2013 at 5:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Buddy

Does he explain the spinning part?

January 18, 2017 at 8:22PM

0
Reply

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_BaQVLOcbs&t=0s This is the 2nd part of the video from the creators project

January 18, 2017 at 8:28PM

1
Reply

Thank you for the tutorial! Although this technique does require some effort, the result is impressive!

November 16, 2013 at 11:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

"Although this technique does require some effort, " haha! Oh dear :)

November 16, 2013 at 2:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Kraig

There is nothing worth doing in AE that doesn't require alot of effort :). If it was easy everyone would do it hehe. This effect does require quite a bit of rotoscoping or masking for 2d photo I guess I should say.

November 17, 2013 at 5:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

9
Reply
Buddy

While this technique is in general nothing new (RedGiantTV have a tutorial similar from a while back) it was very well executed and the most awesome thing about this, which I really wish he revealed in the tutorial was how he faked the specular highlights! Now THAT was incredible :)

November 16, 2013 at 2:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Kraig

Well executed 2.5D. However, you failed to mention the Kid Stays in this Picture - the film that really refined and created this process via After Effects almost 10 years ago. That was the film that inspired my project, In Saturn's Rings (http://www.insaturnsrings.com). My film is a 40 minute 6k film for IMAX theaters created entirely in 2.5D from over 1,000,000, photos and importantly, I don't do any painting, cloning, warping that is done in this video nor add lens flares, moving highlights etc. I leave the photographs as is except for the layering.

I actually find the missing data to avoid any computer-generated imagery (the video posted here relies on quite a bit of computer generated background fills, image warp and distortion (e.g. tiger opening mouth).

Plus I have a bunch more techniques beyond this form of 2.5 for photoaninamation. You can see a number of clips here (https://vimeo.com/album/1503978)

This overall technique is "multiplane photoanimation" that is nearly as old as film itself. Disney refined it - google photoanimation to read Wikipedia and watch Disney himself explain (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdHTlUGN1zw). A film like mine could be make using a mutiplane Oxberry animation stand. This clip could not - relies on computer generated to add some of the motion but the basic process could be done without a computer.

November 16, 2013 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Slow clap.

November 18, 2013 at 4:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
Steve

As said above, this technique was hot when 'Kid Stays In The Picture Came Out'.
Was seriously overdone about 6 years ago - it's a dinosaur now!

November 16, 2013 at 5:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply
Fresno Bob

Ive never seen stills animated to that extent and i kept saying "no way" while watching.

November 16, 2013 at 10:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Cee

In his final render the balls are rotating so he clearly used 3d compositing and the shadow on his shirts from the paddle is morphing from rotation and the shadow from the ball is moving down the shirt. So there is alot more work that went in to achieve what he showed and he won't tell us that.

November 17, 2013 at 3:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

The NON tut makers are usually worse about explaining things but most do it out of simple forgetfulness and for the sake of time. I am guessing he did it on purpose.

November 17, 2013 at 5:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply
Buddy

Eh, there's nothing magical about how to do that other stuff though...just takes a lot more work isolating stuff really.

November 17, 2013 at 6:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Gabe

I don't think he used 3D compositing on the balls. I would guess that he added textures/shadows as separate layers and animated their movement on top of the balls, making sure they were masked by the shape of the ball. He added in many more subtle shadows as well, including the paddle shadow and ball streaking down his shirt and morphed them to match the movement of the objects. My guess anyway.

November 17, 2013 at 8:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

7
Reply
Jude

He made the balls a 3D element and light them with a spotlight in After Effects (as wells as turn on the Shadows feature).

November 17, 2013 at 8:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Inspired by this post i came back to PS and AE and in 5h at saturday i created this one.
i think right now it is too slow, but anyway i like that one.

https://vimeo.com/79626322

November 19, 2013 at 5:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Andrew Pawlikowski

So helpful! We used a similar style and technique in one our most recent projects as well by taking amazing stills from Cameroon and bringing them to life, y'all can see it here or on our site.

vimeo.com/m/78508468

November 22, 2013 at 2:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

6
Reply

I don't know if it's just me or if everybody else encountering issues with your website.
It seems like some of the text within your content are running off the screen.
Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is
happening to them too? This may be a problem with my web browser because
I've had this happen previously. Thanks

December 30, 2013 at 3:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

4
Reply

Can anyone tell me what the AE tool he used to gently morph his arms. It looked like some sort of 'bones' functionality.

February 5, 2014 at 9:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

1
Reply
Joe

I think you mean the puppet pen tool. Really handy. Make sure you pre-compose your figure.

March 11, 2014 at 8:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

1
Reply
Koen

Beautiful, stunning work brother!

July 6, 2014 at 9:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

31
Reply

hahahahahahahahahahaha

July 6, 2014 at 10:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

7
Reply
Juicy

If one was creating a 10 minute digital animation but only had 2 months to complete it. Would it be easier and quicker to use still image animation?

February 18, 2015 at 1:30PM

0
Reply

Dang MARCUS!! You beat me too it, however ya Andrews Tut will clarify it all. Since MARCUS didn't let you know which instructional exercise it arrives you go :) This is one of them at any rate to take the still enliven the camera to get the parallax impact and make profundity.http://spinbot.com/

September 8, 2015 at 7:56AM

0
Reply
alexsam
88

I like how the video he pulls up after he's done the rendering (or so he says is the final render) doesn't have a shadow of a ping pong ball on his shirt and it magically appears a second later when it cuts to the actual final version. I guess you could write that one up as an exporting glitch. haha.

March 10, 2016 at 5:00PM

1
Reply

Hi.
I'm starting to animate still telesnaps,
but I only have asdobe photoshop and photoshop after effects cs2
Does it still work the same way?

July 7, 2016 at 7:17PM, Edited July 7, 7:17PM

0
Reply

Nice Article with tutorials. Learn Animation at Arena Animation Dilsukhnagar.
Animation

July 19, 2017 at 5:19AM

0
Reply