Creating a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in Photoshop CS6 (PART 1)

This Tutorial is part 1 of a series. Please read my Introduction to Hand-Drawn and Organic Looks Tutorials before proceeding.  The second part of this tutorial can be found here: Rigging a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in After Effects CS6 (PART 2).


This tutorial explains how to apply the same idea I used for my tutorial Working With Image Sequences in Photoshop & After Effects CS6 to create a puppet with separate limbs that are made of looping image sequences that can be animated in After Effects.  That way, instead of having static graphics for your puppet’s body parts, you can have randomly changing image sequences that will make your puppet look more like a hand-drawn character.  But, because your character is made of looping images you can save time by animating the looping limbs in After Effects like motion graphics so you won’t have to redraw every frame to create the animation.  You can see examples of this in the videos I’ve posted below:


Apparently there have been several FAQs on the Photoshop forums from parents or grandparents, who want to know how to cut out their child’s head and paste it onto another image.  I made this animation using a baby picture of mine to show that it’s also possible to cut out your child’s head and animate it in After Effects.  However, I just used this baby picture of mine as a guide.  In the end I ended up drawing over it and adding looping color and charcoal textures to give it a more hand-drawn feel.

Here’s another animation of a puppet I made using the same technique.  This one is very simple.  It’s just looping sequences of hand-drawn shapes and one digital watercolor texture parented over the face.


[1]  Before we proceed, I recommend installing the Adobe Extension Manager 6.0.2 update.

[2]  In order to install custom extensions for Photoshop, you also need to download and install the The Adobe Exchange Panel.

[3]  Once at the Adobe Exchange website click the blue download button in the upper left corner of the screen.  On a Mac, the installer should automatically save to your downloads folder.  Now install the Adobe exchange panel.

[4]  Once installed, open up Photoshop and follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below.

a.) Set up your workspace to look like mine.  You can do this by making sure the panels outlined in RED have check marks next to them.  Some of them will already be in your workspace by default, so just select any of the panels you don’t see and drag them around your workspace until a blue line shows up along the edge where you want to dock the panel.  The most important panel for this tutorial is the timeline panel, which I’ve docked at the bottom of my Workspace.

b.) The panels outlined in GREEN should automatically be there as tabs in some of the other the panels, but if they’re not you can add them.  The most important tab is going to be the history, which we’ll actually use as part of our workflow later on.

c.) Finally, go to Window – Extensions – Adobe Exchange as outlined in YELLOW in the screenshot below.  You might notice that I have several other Extensions already installed.  Don’t worry about this for now and simply select Adobe Exchange.  This will open the Adobe Exchange panel that will allow you to download as many extensions as you’d like.

[5]  Once the Adobe Exchange panel is open, follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to download the AnimDessin Panel by Stephane Baril.

a.)  The Adobe Exchange panel opens next to the other open panels. You can also drag and dock the AnimDessin panel to right if you’d like.

b.)  Next click the tab labelled “Free.”

c.)  Finally scroll and find the AnimDessin Extension by Stephane Baril.  Double click it to go to the AnimDessin window.  Then click the  yellow button that says “Free” below the AnimDessin name and logo to download the AnimDessin panel.

[6]  On a Mac, the Adobe Extensions Manager should open automatically otherwise you may need to locate the .zxp file in your downloads folder to open it.  Afterwards, follow the directions in the Adobe Extension Manager to Install the panel.  When the installation’s complete, restart Photoshop.

[7]  Because this tutorial would normally require a lot of hand-drawing on a Wacom tablet, I’ve provided the following assets to help you get started.  Download them here:

Puppet Assets for Photoshop CS6

[8]  You’ll have to unzip the assets first, but once you get them open you should see two files, one called Puppet_Final.psd and one called Puppet_Tutorial.psd.  I included the final puppet character in case you mess something up in the tutorial version and want to see how things are put together.  But, for now we’re going to be working with the file called Puppet_Tutorial.  So, double click that file to open it in Photoshop.  Once Photoshop is open go to Window – Extensions – AnimDessin, to open Stephane Baril’s 2D Animation panel.

[9]  When I opened the AnimDessin panel, it was attached as a new docked panel next to my buttons.  But, I want it as part of my buttons, so I can close it and open it whenever I want.  In order to do this, click the top tab of the AnimDessin panel and drag it over to the strip of buttons next to the Brush Presets panel.

[10]  Once you’re able to toggle the AnimDessin panel on and off with the above button, we can get started using it.  In our case we’ll only be dealing with the following four panel steps:

“2 Create “Video Group Layers”

“3 New Animation Frame”

“4 Onion Skinning & Shortcut options”

“5 Keyframe Duration & In-Between.”

If you’d like detailed information on using Stephane Baril’s panel I’d highly recommend checking out:

Stephane Baril’s “Anim_Dessin” Vimeo tutorial 

However, I must admit that after watching the above tutorial I was originally slightly confused by step #2 on the panel.  So, after a few brief messages between Stephane and I, he decided to make another tutorial and patch to help clarify this step.  In the second video, he basically explains how to set up and use the Video Group Hack button by editing a short Action the first time you use the panel:

Patch “Anim_Dessin” panel 2.0.1 for Photoshop CS6

[11]  After you’ve thoroughly checked out the panel, you’ve probably noticed that the character in our Puppet_Tutorial.psd has no body.  I’m going to show you how to use the AnimDessin panel to make an 8 frame loop of the character’s body.  First click the timeline panel tab to make sure it’s selected and press space bar to preview the animation.  So far, I’ve drawn 8 frames of every limb and each frame is set to last for 3 frames.  However, there are some static images of the head inside the head folder as well as an animation of a blink.  Feel free to toggle visibility of all the layers and explore how they’re set up.  But, try not to move anything around otherwise you might get lost later on in the tutorial.

[12]  When you’re finished exploring, follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below, to set the Timeline Frame Rate.

a.) Click the “Set Timeline Frame Rate” button.

b.) In the window that opens, click the drop down menu that says “Frame Rate:”  and select 24.  The number 24 should show up in the next box followed by fps, which stands for frames per second.  This will make you’re timeline play your animation back at 24 frames per second.

c.)  If you’re frame rate was already set to 24, do nothing and just click ok.

[13]  First drag the playhead back to the beginning of the timeline.  Then follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to create a new layer:

a.) Click Upper_Arm_R in the layers panel.

b.) Press the “New Frame – 1f” button in the AnimDessin panel under step “3 New Animation Frame.”  This will create a new layer that lasts for 1 frame.

c.) Then Press the “+2f” button in step “5 Keyframe Duration & In-Between.”  This will add 2 frames to that 1 frame layer so it lasts for 3 frames.  That way our animation will play back on “threes,” an animation term, which means each drawing lasts three frames.  That way we only need 8 drawings to make up a second of animation.

[14]  Click the filmstrip icon to the right of the layer name in the Timeline panel and select “New Video Group from Clips” from the menu as seen in the screenshot below.

[15]  Selecting “New Video Group from Clips” will put that layer inside of a folder with a film slate icon.  This makes it so these layers will play back to back consecutively on the same track much like a non linear editor, allowing you to edit your animation with ease.  As seen in the screenshot below, double click the video group name in the layers panel, rename it to “Body” and press Return or click outside the box to save the name.

[16]  Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to paint the first body layer of our puppet:

a.) Press the B-key to activate the brush tool or click the brush icon on the “Tools” panel.

b.) Then select the square charcoal brush in the “Brush Presets” panel

c.) Select the first “Body” frame, which is the purple box timeline.  Don’t select the “Body” video group in the layers panel and try to paint with the brush, otherwise you’ll get an error message.  Now, use a Wacom tablet and a stylus to draw the first frame of the body cycle we’re going to create.

[17]  Make sure the Body Video group is selected and  repeat sections b.) and c.) of step 13 to create another layer that lasts three frames.  Move the playhead the new frames you created before painting the second body.  Then click the “Enable Onion Skins” button in step “4 Onion Skins & Shortcut options.”  This will make it so the previous frame will become visible allowing for easier tracing just like a traditional light table would.  Next repeat step 16 to create another body layer. See screenshot below:

[18]  Repeat step 17 until you’ve completed a sequence of 8-drawings where each drawing lasts 3 frames.  You can toggle the “Enable Onion Skins” button to improve visibility if you need to.  When your done you can close the AnimDessin panel and press spacebar or the play button to preview your animation.  See screenshot below:

[19]  Now it’s time to export these layers to files, so that we can deal with each image sequence separately when we set up this character in After Effects.  Normally I would suggest turning off all other layers, video groups and folders except for the layers you want to export by going to File – Scripts – Export Layers to files.  However, because there are so many layers in this project it could take 10 – 15 minutes to export 8 frames at a time because my understanding is that the Photoshop Script has to examine all of the metadata connected with every single layer in the layer’s panel even if it’s turned off.

Then go to File – Save As… and save another version of the project called Puppet_Tutorial_Exports.  The reason it’s a good idea to save another version of the project is because we’re going to be deleting all of the other layers each time we export instead of just toggling their visibility.  This will greatly speed up the Photoshop script and we can just use the history to bring back the rest of the layers that need deleting.  However, if you accidentally close Photoshop without saving or Photoshop crashes, we could be stuck with a partly cropped Photoshop file that’s useless if we need to save out the rest of the layers.  So, having a backup is necessary.

[20]  So, now I’m going to show you how I would Export just the 8-frames of the left foot sequence.  First click the white triangle next to the video group Foot_L in the layers panel to twirl it open so you can see all of the Foot_L layers.  Then select all of the layers above the video sequence Foot_L.  Right click them and select “Delete Layers.”  But, don’t worry this action will be stored in the history panel and you can bring it back by clicking the history tab and clicking through the levels of undo.  See screenshot below:

[21]  Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to set up your layers for export:

a.) Once the other layers are deleted, click the eyeball icon next to the Background Layer to switch it off.

b.) Press the C-key to activate the crop tool, or click the crop tool icon in the “Tools” panel.

c.) Grab the crop handles around the edge of the canvas to closely crop around the Foot_L layers.  Then press the check mark button in the Options panel located in the upper middle section of the workspace to accept the crop.  By the way, this button only appears when certain tools are selected.

d.) Afterwards, the Background Layer name will change to “Layer 0.”  This isn’t an issue just’ leave it turned off.

[22]  Now you’re ready to export these layers to files.  Go to File – Scripts – Export Layers to Files…  Then follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to set up your layers for export:

a.) First click Browse… to determine a location for exporting your files, click New Folder, label it and click Open.

b.) Then give your file name a prefix.  In this case I called it Foot_L.

c.) Make sure Visible Layers is selected.  This makes it so only the layers that are turned on in your Photoshop Panels window are exported.

d.) I prefer setting the file type to PNG-24 because the quality is excellent, the file size is relatively small and they support Alphas, meaning the transparency of the layers will be preserved just like they were in the Photoshop document.  PSDs and TIFF files also support Alpha’s and the quality is technically better than PNG-24, but TIFFs and PSDs are so much larger they tend to slow down performance in After Effects.  This is another reason why we aren’t just brining the Photoshop file into After Effects.

e.) Select transparency to preserve the transparency of the layers.

f.) Finally, make sure Trim Layers is turned off otherwise Photoshop will crop the unused spaced around each individual ball and they won’t play back properly in After Effects.  Trim Layers is useful if you just want to import a bunch of static graphics into After Effects, but not necessarily when you’re importing an entire sequence.

When your settings are correct, click the “Run” button to run the “Export Layers To Files” script.

[23]  Once you’ve run the script for one video group you have to Export the rest.  So, click the history tab in Photoshop and undo the last two steps like I’ve done in the screenshot below.  Keep in mind that if you made extra actions you may have to undo more steps, but the point is to get back to the point before you deleted anything.

[24]  Next you’re going to want to delete all the other layers except for the ones you want to export next.  In this case I’m going to delete everything except for Lower_Leg_L as you can see in the screenshot below:

[25]  At this point you can continue repeating the last four steps until all of the layers are exported.

[26]  But, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of exporting all of the layers you can download those exported assets from part two of my next tutorial: Rigging a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in After Effects CS6 (PART 2).

2 thoughts on “Creating a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in Photoshop CS6 (PART 1)

  1. Pingback: Rigging a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in After Effects CS6 (PART 2) « Animation, Filmmaking, Techniques & Tutorials

  2. Pingback: Introduction to Hand-Drawn and Organic Looks Tutorials « Animation, Filmmaking, Techniques & Tutorials

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