Advanced Photo Animation Techniques

A Team NLE

How many times have you been involved in an edit where there are more photos than b-roll? I’ve been in that situation more times than I can count. The quick “pan and zoom effect” (aka the “Ken Burns effect”) seems to do the job. However, applying this technique to a handful of photos would quickly get boring and repetitive. For this reason, I’ve searched for new techniques I can use when I’m presented with a photo heavy project. These techniques include the Cinemagraph effect, 2.5D effect, and camera mapping effect. For these techniques, you can perform them in a range of applications such as After Effects, Motion, and Cinema 4D.

Cinemagraph Effect

A cinemagraph is a photo animation in which minor and repeated movement occurs. These are usually created by taking still photos and video recording them performing a certain activity (i.e blowing bubbles or dancing) so that it can be composed into a seamless loop of sequential frames. Below is an example of what a cinemagraph looks like. This term came to fruition back in 2011 when photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck were using the technique to animate fashion and newspaper photos.

The folks of Vox Lab explain how to create a cinemagraph in the tutorial below. They demonstrate on a video clip of a class in session.

Under the right conditions and with proper planning, the cinemagraph is definitely a technique that can come in handy when you want to add some unique motion to your photos.

The 2.5D Effect

This effect goes by many names, such as Kid Stays in Picture, Dimensional Stills, and Parallax effect. Whatever you may choose to call it, it involves extracting portions of your image which can later be animated in 3D space to give the illusion of motion. The one thing about this technique is the amount of work necessary to extract portions of your image. Some images are easier than others, but when you properly extract portions of your image, animating it will be easier depending on how far you plan to go with it. Below is an example of what it looks like when animated.

In the tutorial below, photographer Joe Fellows shows you how to create the 2.5D effect. His technique goes a bit further than the example above, but it definitely adds more life to the photo than a simple pan and zoom.

The folks of Cineflare offer a plugin called Pop Out that helps speed the process of creating this effect. You can check it out below.

Camera Mapping Effect

Camera mapping is similar to the 2.5D effect, but the difference is this technique uses projection. With camera mapping, you can project an image or video onto a screen and give the illusion of depth by using zooming and angles. In the breakdown below, you see how the creator is able to take an image that originated in 2D, and by using multiple techniques essential to camera mapping, they were able to create the illusion of depth.

In this tutorial below, mograph artist Casey Latiolais shows us how to add some life into a simple 2D image by camera mapping in Cinema 4D. These techniques allow the 2D image he is using to have a much more life-like appearance than before.

Overall, there are lots of techniques available for animating photos that can help invigorate your projects. You don’t have to settle for the simple Ken Burns technique for every photo, and if you put in the proper preparation, you can create some stunning animations. Feel free to try any of these techniques the next time you are presented with a barrage of photos.

Sound Effects

Basic Clone Effect in After Effects CC


Cloning, or duplicating an actor to give the illusion of a twin or doppelgänger, is a rather quick and easy effect to achieve on a basic level in multiple post production programs. You have seen this effect countless times in numerous films and television shows, and it was developed through the advancement of post production techniques and programs. In this blog entry, I will be explaining the basics of creating the cloning effect, and the “rules” that need to be followed, along with giving you a step-by-step tutorial on how to record and edit your footage together in order to create the effect in After Effects CC.



When you are thinking of creating a basic cloning effect, you have to think of how you will be shooting the scene. Since we are focusing on the basics, the first thing you need to establish is a dividing point in the scene between the clones. What do I mean by that exactly? Well, if you look closely at the video again, you will notice that at no point do the clones cross in front of one another, nor physically interact in any way.

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In fact, this effect was created with one continuous shot. First, I sat on one side of the couch fiddling around with my phone for about twenty seconds or so, then slid down to the other side of the couch, picked up a book and read for another twenty seconds.

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I made sure that I did not reach across or invade the space of where the other “me” would be, and avoided any type of overlap that may have occurred. In After Effects, I will cut this single take and overlap the footage. Then I will create a matte, which will create the ideal clone effect.

To clarify a few points… the reason I captured one continuous shot is because it is absolutely paramount that the two scenes line up perfectly. I mean pixel perfect! By hitting stop and record on your camera, you create a small variance in the camera’s location (aka you move the camera a little bit each time you touch it, even if you don’t think you are). The only way to avoid this is simply by not stopping the recording and capturing everything in one take.


Let’s take this step by step. Once we record our single take of multiple positions throughout the shot, we can then import the footage into After Effects CC and create a new comp.

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Scrub through the footage and find where the end of the first position occurs (for me this is where I set my phone down, and slide to the other side of the couch). Once you have located the spot in your footage, you can split your footage by hitting CMD+SHIFT+D, or by going to EDIT>SPLIT LAYER.

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You can now CLICK & DRAG your footage on top of one another so they overlap on the TIMELINE.

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Now we need to create a matte in order to reveal both sets of footage at the same time, and give the illusion of a clone. To create a matte, use the RECTANGLE TOOL (shortcut key Q) and click and drag a box around your footage, isolating your second acting position.

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Voila! You now understand the basics of creating a clone in post production and are ready for more advanced techniques (overlapping shots with clones, handing objects from one clone to another, etc.). The last bit of advice I have would be to feather the matte out a bit. To do that, simply click M twice on the layer in After Effects that has the matte, go to MASK FEATHER, and increase the number to about 30. Mission complete!


AE Animation Plugins & Scripts


One of the many things I love about After Effects is how large its ecosystem is. Out of all the compositing applications I’ve come across, no application has as many resources or add-ons than After Effects. This is especially true when it comes to the tools available for creating animations. Many long-time users of AE know of the motion parameters used to create animations that are simple and complex. However, when time isn’t always on your side and you need to create stunning animations quickly, look no further than these offering of animation tools.


From the talented folks of Ebberts and Zucker, these three animation assistants allow you to create animations involving kinetic typography, camera moves between 3D layers, and more.


LayerMonkey is a script that arranges and animates your composition’s layers in time and space. It also creates a parented camera and generates a master control layer that makes timing and global adjustments a piece of cake. To see what this script is capable of, take a look at the demo below:



TypeMonkey is a script meant to simplify the process of creating kinetic typography. According to the features description, it can create random kinetic type layouts based on parameters entered into the control panel. It also allows for keyframeless timelines to make changes to timing as simple as sliding a marker, and distributes words evenly over the length of the composition or work area. See what it can do in the demo below:



MotionMonkey is the other animation script that allows you to animate very complex designs and layers in a matter of seconds. It can create a wide range of animations of your layered designs based on parameters entered into the control panel. It works with most layers including text, stills, video, pre-comps, solids, shapes, .ai, .psd, nulls, and parented layers. Another fun thing about this script is how it interacts with VideoCoPilot’s Element 3D. In the demo and Element 3D tutorial below, you can witness the power and ease this script offers:

Overall, I believe these three scripts are must haves for increasing the speed which you are able to crank out complex animations in a short time frame.

Duik Tools


These tools are essential if you want to rig and animate characters in After Effects. Utilizing the concept of inverse kinematics, Duik Tools simplifies the process by rigging the character of your choice with controllers on various body parts. These tools include an inverse kinematics tool, bones and puppet tool, autorig, animation tools, and more. The best part about these sets of tools is that they are free, so you definitely want to have this as part of your arsenal for those character animations you may get down the line.



This plugin is the creation of AE guru and VFX artist Andrew Kramer. It allows you to control the After Effects camera and move between layers in 3D space with ease. Included as part of the functions of this plugin is the ability to wiggle, auto rotate, dolly, and roll the AE camera. This plugin originally started as a preset, but soon became a fully functional and much respected plugin. I’ve personally used this camera animation plugin on numerous occasions, and can say that it gets the job done. You can witness the power of this plugin by watching this tutorial below:

If you are looking for animation tools or plugins that allow you to be a fast animator in After Effects, look no further than this collection. These tools definitely help users create complex animations that need to be done as soon as possible. These options won’t disappoint.