Learn How to Create Animations with Photoshop (Lesson 3)

Putting Everything Together

Now that we’ve learned the concepts behind more complex animations, it’s time to put them into practice. In this next section, we’ll explore three advanced animations and how to create them.


In this tutorial, we will be using the template layer technique to animate the spinning hands of the clock. We will also use layer styles with the animated elements to add depth to the objects in our scene. This is what we’ll be creating:

Animation of the hands of a clock.

The scene starts with two new layers: One contains the shape of a minute hand (in red), and the other is our template object (in gray).

Two new layers: the minute hand and a template layer
Step 1: Two new layers: the minute hand and a template layer. (View large version)

Just as we learned earlier, we will convert these two layers into a smart object and animate the rotation.

Step 2: Layers combined as a smart object are animated as one.

To lock the animation, convert the layers into another smart object. This will allow us to transfrom (Control + T) the smart object so that it appears to be in perspective, as seen in the image below.

Step 3: Animation is transformed into perspective.

Next, we need to go back into the original smart object and hide the template layer. When we save and return to our working document, we should see our minute hand rotate without the template layer.

Step 4: Animation with template layer hidden.

Adding the Drop Shadow layer style with a “Spread” setting of 100% will simulate some depth.

Step 5: Drop Shadow simulates the edges of the clock hand.

Repeating these steps, we can create the hour hand. (I’ve readjusted the timing to fit in the animation of the hour hand.)

Step 6: Hour and minute hand animating.

Lastly, we can create the rest of the clock using traditional Photoshop techniques. The result is a clock that animates in perspective.

Animation of the hands of a clock.

In this tutorial, we’ve learned how to use template layers to create more complicated movements. We’ve also learned how to use transformations and layer styles to create the illusion of perspective in our animation.


In this tutorial, we will apply filters to animated smart objects in order to create a new effect. This is what we’ll be creating:

Animation of a revolving globe.

Below is the base image we’ll be using. Notice that it repeats itself. This is important because it will help us to create a looping animation in the next step.

Image of the repeating graphic that will be animated.
Step 1: Image of the repeating graphic that will be animated. (View large version)

I’ve created a new square document and added the graphic of the world map as a new layer. I’ve gone ahead and animated the Position property so that the world map scrolls across the scene. It’s been timed to loop when it starts over.

Step 2: Simple looping animation.

Next, convert this layer into a smart object.

Convert simple animation into a smart object
Step 3: Convert simple animation into a smart object. (View large version)

Before we do anything else, I want to show you what’s going on with the layer. If I go to “View” → “Show” → “Layers Edges,” we can see the bounding box of the layer as it animates. This will be important when we add filters. Also, notice that our animation loop seamlessly.

Step 4: Layer boundaries visible during animation.

At this point, our scene is still not ready for us to add a filter. But let’s take a moment to explore why — we’ll add the Spherize filter to see what happens. When the filter is added, we can see that it’s not being applied within the confines of our canvas; rather, it’s being applied directly to the whole layer. The result is a distorted map that moves through the canvas. Also, notice how this disrupts the looping that we saw in the previous step. This is not the effect we are after.

Step 5: Filter applied to the layer boundaries.

We now know that we have a little more work to do in order for the filter to be applied correctly. To make sure that the filter applies only to the boundaries of the canvas, we need to create a layer mask. First, go to “Select” → “All” to select the entire canvas. Next, click the “Add Layer Mask” icon in the Layers panel. We should now have a layer mask applied to our layer.

New layer mask added
Step 6: New layer mask added. (View large version)

Convert this layer to a new smart object. Our resulting smart object layer will now animate within the boundaries of the canvas. If we add the Spherize filter again, we can see that it’s being applied correctly when we play the animation. Go ahead and add the Spherize filter a second time to increase its effect.

Step 7: Filter applied to the boundaries of the canvas.

Now that our effect is working properly, we can create another layer mask in the shape of a circle to hide unwanted pixels.

Step 8: Layer Mask hides everything outside of the globe shape.

To finish, you can now add layer styles directly to the smart object animation for embellishments.

Animation of a revolving globe.

In this tutorial, we’ve learned how to use smart objects to contain animated layers, to which we then add effects, such as filters, layer masks and layer styles. Hopefully, this tutorial has shown you how easy it is to create complicated effects using animated layers in Photoshop.


In this tutorial, we’ll use multiple adjustment Layers and filters, with smart object animations, to create a truly unique flame effect. This is what our final animation will look like.

Flame animation using the organic technique.

To begin, we’ll need to create an extremely tall scene. In this case, I have a scene that’s approximately 500 × 10,000 pixels. On a new layer, I’ve drawn a very rough line using the Brush tool.

A tall white line with soft edges
Step 1: A tall white line with soft edges

Next, create a new scene sized to 500 × 500 pixels, with a black background. Bring the tall line that we just created into this new scene, and create a simple scrolling animation.

Step 2: Simple animation of scrolling line.

Add a new layer mask in the shape of an upside-down teardrop to the animated layer. Make sure that the mask has soft edges. The result will reveal a portion of the line as it animates through the mask.

Dotted line represents the shape of the layer mask
Step 3: Dotted line represents the shape of the layer mask. (View large version)

Play back the animation to see the flame take shape. Notice how the shape of our mask is causing the top of the animation to jump around while the base generally stays in the same spot.

Step 4: Simple animation with a layer mask.

Next, add the Levels Adjustment layer. In the Properties panel, move the two outside sliders inward until the edges of the flame are crisp. Playing back the animation will show us a smoother flame.

Step 5: Adjustment layer refines the shape.

At this point, we can further smooth out the flame. First, convert all layers to another smart object. Then, blur the layer, followed by a repeat of the Levels Adjustment layer.

Step 6: Blurring the smart object and then repeating the Levels Adjustment layer creates a more fluid looking movement.

There are several ways to introduce color. I want to show one way that has worked well for me. Create a new layer, and use the Brush tool to paint blue (on the base) and yellow (towards the top) highlights on the flame. Changing this layer’s blending mode to “Hard Mix” will give us some vibrant bands of color.

Step 7: Using blend modes to add color.

Because the transitions between colors are too harsh, we’ll need to soften them. To do this, select all layers again (Alt + Control + A) and convert to another smart object. We can now add the Motion Blur filter to blend the colors better.

Step 8: Adding Motion Blur blends the colors.

Almost done! Because this object is a smart object, we can treat it like a normal layer and use simple photo composition techniques to add it to another photo. The final image shows our flame dancing on a lighter.

Flame animation using the organic technique.

In this tutorial, we’ve learned how to make use of multiple adjustment layers and smart filters by layering smart objects within smart objects to create and refine an organic effect inside Photoshop.


By now, you should be familiar with all of the common layer types and how each of their properties can be animated. Also, we now know that Photoshop is well equipped to produce some amazing animations. We’ve explored how to use smart objects to extend the animation capabilities by acting as templates or enabling us to stack multiple animations. We’ve also seen how to enhance our animations with filters and layer styles. We’ve even learned how to create some new — and seemingly impossible effects (for Photoshop) — by leveraging the Levels Adjustment layer. Lastly, we’ve put everything together to create some polished animations.

The techniques presented in this article demonstrate how Photoshop can be a reliable tool for creating animations. There will always be applications out there that are dedicated to creating animation. However, owning — or even learning — other software isn’t always feasible. Instead, you can stay within a program you are comfortable with and still create effects that were once deemed impossible in Photoshop.

Reference: Smashing Magazine

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