How to Animate an Illustration

March 14, 2018

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Trevor Holmes


Illustrations are great. But you know what’s even better? Turning them into animations to make your videos (or your website) look extra snazzy.

With a few steps and the help of some tools like Adobe Illustrator and After Effects, your illustrations will be moving in no time. So buckle up, because you’re in for a 16-minute adventure of how to go from zero to 10 animating your own illustrations for your business!

From keyframing simple movements, to masking and using adjustment layers, we’ll cover it all. New to After Effects and motion graphics? Not to fear: We’ve compiled some key terms in the glossary below to help you along your way.

Although this video is a step-by-step tutorial to animate a mailbox, our underlying hope is that you’ll come away with a better understanding of some of the main features in After Effects to help you level up your animation skills.

Want to follow along? Download the Illustrator file, and check out the step-by-step video above!

Download mailbox art


Keyframes - Used to set parameters for motion, effects, audio, and other properties, usually changing those properties over time. A keyframe marks the point in time where you specify a value for a layer property, such as spatial position or opacity. Values between keyframes are interpolated. When you use keyframes to create a change over time, you typically use at least two — one for the state at the beginning of the change, and one for the new state at the end of the change.

Transform - Each clip in After Effects has a set of Transform properties associated with it, which allows you to manipulate a clip over time using keyframes.

  • Position - Moves your clip horizontally and vertically within the frame
  • Scale - Modifies the scale of your clip within the frame
  • Rotation - Modifies rotation of your clip within the frame
  • Opacity - Modifies your clip’s transparency within the frame
  • Anchor Point - The center around which all of the transformations take place
  • Keyframe assistants / keyframe interpolation - Add slight deceleration to soften or ease the speed both into and out of keyframes. Types of keyframe assistants include Easy Ease, Easy Ease In, and Easy Ease Out.

Easy Ease - Smooths both the keyframe’s incoming and outgoing interpolation

  • Easy Ease In - Smooths the keyframe’s incoming interpolation
  • Easy Ease Out - Smooths the keyframe’s outgoing interpolation
  • Keyframe Graph Editor - Keyframes in Graph Editor mode may have direction handles attached to one or both sides that you can manipulate. These direction handles are used to control the interpolation of your keyframes to make custom Ease effects.

Precomposing - By precomposing layers, you place them in a new composition that replaces the layers in the original composition. The new nested composition becomes the source for a single layer in the original composition. Then, the new composition appears in the Project panel and is available for rendering or use in any other composition.

Parenting layers - After a layer is made a parent to another layer, the other layer is called the child layer. When you assign a parent, the transform properties of the child layer become relative to the parent layer instead of the composition. For example, if a parent layer moves five pixels to the right of its starting position, then the child layer also moves five pixels to the right of its position.

Adjustment layers - Allow you to apply the same effect on multiple clips on the Timeline. Effects applied to an adjustment layer affect all layers below it in the layer stacking order. You can not only use combinations of effects on a single adjustment layer, but also on multiple adjustment layers to control more effects.

Mask - A path or outline that’s used to modify layer effects and properties. The most common use of masks is to alter a layer’s alpha channel. You can also use a mask to crop out a certain part of your layer or composition.

Track matte - Used to create variable transparency in another video clip. Track mattes can be still images, video clips, graphics, text, or generated shapes.

March 14, 2018

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Trevor Holmes


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