Create Amazing Photo Animations in After Effects

After Effects 24/06/2021 4 min read

Animating your still images with a slow zoom or pan is a straightforward process that can be achieved in most editing software. However, what if you wanted to add animation within the photo? In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to do just that with this incredible After Effects photo animation technique.

Part 1: Learn How to Animate Still Photos in After Effects

If you regularly use still images in your video work, finding new and exciting ways to display them to the viewer can be challenging. Many editors will turn to motion graphics frames that engagingly house the images. With this simple method, you’ll be able to add parallax movement to your shots and subtle animations to your subjects.

Step 1: Create Background Layer

Using the Pen tool allows you to create some fantastic Parallax-style photo animations. However, you need to consider how it will work for your composition carefully. The Pen tool requires you to separate the foreground from the background, so images with clean lines and definition will be easier to animate.

  1. Place your image on the timeline, resize and position it to your required composition.
  2. Using Command+D or Control+D, duplicate the layer and make the top one invisible. We will use this later for your foreground layer.
  3. Use the Pen tool to create a mask around the foreground element. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
  4. Go to the Content-Aware Fill panel. You can find this under the Window menu.
  5. Increase the Alpha Expansion to 5 or 6.
  6. Place your playhead at the start of the timeline and press N on your keyboard. This will shrink the work area, so After Effects only needs to create a fill for one frame.
  7. In the Content-Aware Fill panel, click Generate Fill layer. 
  8. Right-click on the new Fill layer and choose Time > Freeze Frame.
  9. Drag that Fill layer to cover the duration of your photo.
  10. Select your Background layer and your Fill layer, right-click and select Precompose.

Step 2: Animate Layers

Now that we have a clean background layer for the composition, we need to mask and animate the foreground layer. This step can take a little time depending on how detailed your image is.

  1. Make your foreground layer visible, and using the Pen tool, draw a mask around your subject. Be as precise as you can.
  2. Place your playhead where you want to start the animation and create a keyframe alongside the Scale and Position values for both the foreground and the background.
  3. Move your playhead along the timeline to the endpoint of the animation and create 2 more keyframes for each layer.
  4. Return to the first set of keyframes and adjust the Scale and Position of each layer. 

Pro Tip: For the most effective photo animations, the layers should move independently and at different rates. Play around with the movement to see what effects you can create.

Note: If your subject is partially off-screen, it’s super important to make sure you don’t position or scale your image to show the edge of the photo.

Step 3: Add the Animation

The puppet tool can be challenging to use, as it can warp your image in unexpected ways. The critical thing to remember when using the Puppet tool is that every pin you create will change the movement of your image.

  1. Complete the Pen tool steps to create your parallax animation, and place your playhead at the start of the animation.
  2. Select the Foreground layer in the timeline and click on the Puppet tool.
  3. Create pins on your Foreground layer on every element you want to move, for example, the subject’s arms and legs.
  4. Next, create pins to secure the rest of your image. If you want to move the subject’s arms, for example, add pins at the shoulder and head to keep them still. 

Note: You can test your pin movement at any point by dragging them around the screen. Always Command+Z or Control+Z to undo any test movements.

  1. Once you are happy that you have enough pins to create movement, move the playhead to the end of the animation. Drag the pins around the screen to produce the motion and remember that subtle movements are more realistic. 

Part 2: 8 Popular Photo Animation Resources for After Effects

If you’re looking for more unique and fun ways to animate your still photos, we’ve got a list of 8 incredible templates you can download today.

1. Live Photo Animator

The Live Photo Animator template helps you animate your images with a smokey dust-like movement. Incredibly simple to use, this template is ideal for images with smoke, mist, or dust features such as nature and art-based imagery. 

Download Live Photo Animator Now

2. Live Photo Animation

This dynamic template gives you true depth in your parallax photos with its advanced masking techniques. The Live Photo Animation Tool kit can take the methods used in this tutorial to a whole new level.

Download Live Photo Animation Now

3. 3D Motion Photo Animation

The 3D Motion Photo Animation pack contains 3 tools to help you create stunning stills compositions. The 3D Photo tool allows you to add weather conditions such as rain and snow to your photos, while the Freeze Frame and Loop tools allow for easy repeating animations.

Download 3D Motion Photo Animation Now

4. 3D Photo Tool

The 3D Photo Tool creates an excellent warping effect at the sides of your images for an extreme 3D Parallax feel. This simple drag and drop template with an intelligent custom controller is ideal for adding a unique style to your slideshow presentations.

Download 3D Photo Tool Now

5. Easy 3D Face Photo Animator

Producing a similar effect to Facebook 3D Photos, the Easy 3D Face Photo Animator project can create eye-catching results. The template works best with headshots with a clear definition between the foreground and background.

Download Easy 3D Face Photo Animator Now

6. 3D Face Animator

The 3D Face Animator Toolkit is ideal for photographers and performers who want to add a video feel to their still shots. Using a series of masks, the face is divided into separate layers for a trendy 3D result.

Download 3D Face Animator Now

7. Photo Animation Particular

The Photo Animation Particular project adds an incredible confetti particle effect to your subject that drifts ways as if dissolving. This stunning particular effect is ideal for any photos where you want to highlight a feature in your composition.

Download Photo Animation Particular Now

8. 3D Photo Kit

The 3D Photo Kit gives you the parallax style image tools and combines them with beautiful particle elements such as dust and grain. The soft and subtle effect adds a touch of elegance to your photography, ideal for landscapes and nature shots.

Download 3D Photo Kit Now

Turning photos into video compositions has never been easier with this fantastic After Effects Photo Animation method. Now that you know how to create this 3D style, try adding additional video effects such as dust overlays, bokeh overlays, and smoke overlays. If you are looking for additional effects to create in After Effects, check out this handy tutorial on creating the 2.5D parallax effect on still photos.

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