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Create character animation In After Effects

To create character animation in After Effects, you’ll need to have a lot of patience, especially if you’re just starting.

Animating a character is not always an easy task. Here are a few essential tips on how to get your first character animation started.

Following these steps will bring you one step closer to creating beautiful motions with your new vector character.

Step 1: Find a reference.

Finding a good reference for your character animation would help you create character animation that looks realistic. Often, when people animate without a reference, they spend hours moving keyframes around, wondering how the pose should look.

Having a reference would solve this problem for you.

Typically, you can find a reference online. Browse Youtube or Google.

If you’re searching for a pose that can’t be easily found online, you can film yourself doing it. Then, import it into After Effects and place it somewhere on the screen. 

Step 2: Block your character. 

Blocking character in After Effects

Once you’re found the perfect reference, it is time to block your character.


What this means is essentially creating your animation using simple shapes.

If you spend more time blocking the character, you’ll spend less time animating the character after that. When you block your character, keep in mind the following things:

1. The poses
How does your blocked character look when they change position?

2. The timing
Is the timing right?

3. The keyframes
Use the graph edited to change the keyframes until you’re happy with the motion. 

Step 3: Prepare your character for animation. 

This is a crucial step. To ensure that you create character animation that is smooth, you’ll need to move a lot of keyframes. And if your composition is too messy, you’ll spend valuable time searching for your layers. You can avoid that by organizing your workflow before starting the animation.

My preparation typically includes:

1. Renaming the layers
2. Changing the color to layer groups ( for example, all the layers of the head are a different color)
3. Adding markers
4. Parenting the layers
5. Hiding the layers that I won’t be needing

Once you make sure your layers are organized and you see only the layers you’ll be animating, first, it is time to move forward to the next step. 

Step 4: Rig your character.

Rigging your characters means adding handles to the legs, arms, face, and body to move them around quickly.

The Top Rigging tools for After Effects are:

1. Duik (Free)
2. Rubberhose
3. Limber
4. Character tool

Each of these tools has different options, and the process is different. However, the outcome is the same – you create a lovely puppet and quickly move the handles to create your animations.

The rigging step is not always needed. For example, if you’re animating a character that doesn’t have legs or arms, you can simply animate the shapes of the composition.

Think of this like you’re creating your puppet. With one click, you can move all the layers connected to the arm, leg, body, etc. So you don’t have the move the forearm, arm, and hand separately.

Don’t forget always to test your rig before you move forward to the next step. That would ensure your joints are perfectly aligned, so you don’t have to change them later. 

Step 5: Animation

Now, this is the exciting part. When your character is rigged and your block animation is done, it is nice to start animating.


Put your block character on screen and start adding keyframes, based on the reference that you created. That would help you be in line with the initial ideal you had and create character animation that is smooth and realistic.

When you do your animating, make sure you follow the 12 Disney principles. You can find more information on the principles on my Insta carousels.

Step 6: Refining and polishing

Once your animation is created, take some time to polish the details.

Often, when you animate something for a long time, you stop noticing the details.

So, take some time off, go for a walk, watch a movie, do something fun.

Then look at your animation again. Is there something you’d change?

I always find something to change after taking a break.

Feel free to download our project files and practice your character animation skills.

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    Author avatar
    Kashu Team
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