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Photoshop is one of, if not the best raster graphic and drawing software. Sure, many programs do some aspects better, but the versatility of photoshop is still unmatched for now. I do hope this changes in the future. Adobe could use some proper competition …

This is an overview of basic animation options of the program, not how to animate.

Among many aspects of Photoshop there is a somewhat unknown gem for many illustrators and it’s called timeline. You can open it under Window > Timeline.  As you can imagine the timeline window pops up and it gives you the ability to control your layers in time.

Photoshops timeline is not the most user-friendly way of animating due to a lack of basic functions. But for frame by frame animation it still has what it takes to get the job done. Plus there are some plugins to make our lives easier.

When the timeline first pops up, you have an option to Create Video Timeline or Create Frame Animation. We will be taking a look at the Video Timeline since it’s the more versatile option.
*If you want to use simple automatic tweening or just do a gif from photos or video – Frame Animation has that option. But I think if you plan on doing more of that, Photoshop really isn’t the best software for it.

Interface

Open Photoshop, create a New File and open the Timeline from the Window menu.
Click on Create Video Timeline to get started. By default you will always get 30 fps with 5 seconds of Work Area.

If you are familiar with any other editing software the basics are similar:
You can scrub through frames with a Playhead (time indicator) on top. With the size slider on the bottom you can zoom in and out. Above the layers you have a standard Play, Go to previous/next Frame, Go to first/last frame, Options for playback resolution and Loop Playback checkbox, Split at Playhead (Cut) and Set a Transition buttons.

On the top right side of the Timeline window Open up the Menu.

  • Loop Playback
  • Enable Timeline Shortcut Keys.
    Use Left and Right Arrow keys for moving by frame, Space for playback and Home/End for jumping to start or end.
  • Enable Auto Grouping of Clips
  • Set Timeline Frame Rate.
    Like mentioned it is 30 fps by default. I usually set it to 24 or 12, depending on the type of animation.

Creating a new layer extends it over the whole duration of your project (or it’s always 5 seconds, I’m not sure). You can shorten it by grabbing and dragging the edges or using the scissors icon to cut it. Once you have checked the Enable Auto Grouping of Clips and created multiple layers it enables you to drag and drop one layer on another track to create a video group. It just keeps your interface cleaner because a track for each frame would amount to a lot of f-ing tracks in traditional animation. It also makes it easier to change or adjust the frame length because layers in a Video Group stick together when you change the length of one.

Make sure you have your Playhead over the layer you are drawing on or you will get an error message.

If you click on the arrow next to the layer name, you extend the layer options. You can do simple tweens like position change with keyframes. Create an object on position 1, click the stopwatch next to Position, move a few frames forward and drag the object on position 2. Adjust the speed with moving keyframes further or closer to each other.

Playback

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Onion Skin

To enable Onion Skin go to the Timeline menu, check the Enable Onion Skins. In the same menu choose Onion Skin Options and adjust the settings accordingly to your needs.
Move with arrow keys to scrub through the frames. Press Space for Playback (but turn the onion skin off).

Plugin: Anime Dessin 2

Even though this is all we need to animate, you will soon notice how unintuitive the workflow is. That’s why I suggest the use of the Anim Dessin 2 plugin. It just adds a toolbar that automates some of the functions Photoshop should have by default. It doesn’t help you draw better, that’s on you. But it simplifies creating the file settings, control over onion skin without having to toggle it from the menu every single time, options of adding a frame or two long layers without having to cut or resize it and then drag it on the video group layer… every single time. All the menus browsing and cutting adds up over time and this helps a bit.

You can get info for download and installation steps here:
https://vimeo.com/showcase/2941805/video/193246288
Download link: https://github.com/sbaril/Photoshop-Animation

Video Layers

There is also an option of Video layer which is a variation of layer type with some unique functions. To create it go to the top menu Layer > Video Layers > New Blank Video Layer.
Video Layer gives you the ability to draw different frames on one layer. You draw one frame, right arrow to move on the next, draw the next frame and so on.
Extend the layer options where you will see an additional track named Altered Video. It shows you which frames are drawn. You can duplicate, delete, add a blank frame or change the frame rate of the layer from the Video Layers menu. But it’s a bit harder to edit and change anything once you have many frames drawn (you can’t Ctrl+J frames, you can’t drag them and you can’t Alt+drag them). But for some, especially more experienced animators this is the go-to option due to its simplicity of basic drawing workflow.

Export

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