Techniques on How to Animate a 2D Photo in After Effects
2d Animation Cover.jpg

Learn how to animate your own photos in After Effects. Free project file included.

There are many different ways to animate a 2D photo. Instead of animating a specific photo, we'll learn about the techniques used to animate a photo. Hopefully after that you will have a better idea of ​​which methods are best for your own photos.

Let's start with the animation! (If you'd like to join in, download the free project file!)

Download the free project files

Click the button below to download the free 2D photo animation project files package. Everything you need to try out the techniques can be found in the tutorial in the download.


By downloading, you agree not to resell or redistribute these free assets.

Mask photos

Once you've decided what to animate in your photo, you'll likely need to hide it. By hiding our subject, we can separate it from the background. You can hide your subject with the Pen tool and draw an outline around them.

The pen tool and RotoBezier.

If you do this, I recommend turning this on RotoBezier Function that smooths the tracing line between the individual mask points. This gives the mask a more natural look.

Photo maskingMasking in short segments.

When masking, zoom in as close as possible to your image and work in short segments. This speeds up the masking process and makes it easier to trace the outlines of the subject.

How to fill in backgrounds

Once you've hidden your subject, you'll need to fill in the area in the background where you removed it. (Otherwise a hole will remain in the background!)

Subject hiddenBackground with hidden subject.

You can use the for this Content aware fill in After Effects. Open Content Aware Fill, select your wallpaper, and just click Fill in a fill layer. This will automatically create a new layer to fill in the hole in the background.

Background filledBackground filled in with Content aware fill.

If the results of Content Aware Fill are not optimal, you can try using that too Clone Stamp Tool paint in the background. I also recommend using one Camera lens blur act on the background if necessary.

Create depth and parallax

To get some depth with our 2D photo animation, we just need to create the keyframe frame our shifts. Objects closer to the camera should scale more over time than objects further away. This creates a parallax that creates the illusion of depth on our 2D planes. For example: scale your subject 10% during the animation, but only enlarge the background 5%.

Example of a parallax animationExample of a parallax animation with scaled keyframes.

Using the Puppet Tool

You can also use the Puppet Tool to add subtle movement to your subject layer. Choose Puppet tool and add Pin points on your topic. You can then create keyframe animations about these points over time. This creates the appearance of super slow motion. Use the dolls tools sparingly – less is usually more!

Puppet toolUsing the Puppet Tool.

The easiest way to animate your 2D photos is to highlight them with footage elements. These can be things like dust, Rays of light, and fog. Many of these assets are also available for free!

Example of accented recordingAn example of using video to accentuate a photo. Image via Dean Drobot.

Rocketstock has two freebie packs that work great. The first is their free prism bokeh overlays. These are perfect for highlighting vacation, luxury or wedding photos.

The second free pack from Rocketstock are the Volumetric Light and Dust Overlays. These are perfect for landscapes, portraits, or dramatic photographs.

Finally, PremiumBeat also has a free pack of 4K fog overlays. All of these elements help add secondary movements that are very important to your photo animations.

Interested in the royalty-free tracks we made this video with? Listen again:

Cover picture above Diego Cervo.


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