Rigging a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in After Effects CS6 (PART 2)
This Tutorial is part of a series. Please read my Introduction to Hand-Drawn and Organic Looks Tutorials before proceeding. The first part of this tutorial can be found here: Creating a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in Photoshop CS6 (PART 1).
This tutorial explains how to utilize the assets we exported at the end of my last tutorial Creating a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in Photoshop CS6 (PART 1). My goal is to teach you how to import these still images and image sequences into After Effects CS6 to rig the puppet we created in the previous Photoshop tutorial and get it ready for animation. However, if you didn’t finish exporting all of the layers to files yet, I’ve provided all of the exported assets from the previous tutorial below. This includes a finished After Effects Project File in case you get lost and want to check it out to see how the puppet is put together. Please download and unzip them before you continue:
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.
HOW TO RIG A PUPPET MADE OF IMAGE SEQUENCES IN AFTER EFFECTS CS6:
 First, launch After Effects and open the After Effects drop down menu in the upper left hand corner of the screen and select – Preferences – Import. We want to make sure that the still footage we’re going to import later ends up being the same length as the composition so we don’t have to stretch it in the Timeline. To do this, change your Import Preferences to match the screenshot below.
 Now set up your workspace to match mine. Go to Window -Workspace – Animation or change it in the Workspace drop down menu located in upper right hand corner of After Effects window. Then, make sure that all of the panels with check marks in the Window menu are selected and docked into your workspace in the same locations as shown in the screenshot below.
 Now, go to File – Import – Multiple Files. When the import Multiple Files window opens up, locate the unzipped assets folder you downloaded at the beginning of the tutorial and navigate to the “Image_Sequence_Exports” folder. Inside, click the “Body” folder and click the first image of the sequence inside. Match the settings to the screenshot below by checking “PNG Sequence” and “Force alphabetical order.” Then click Open. Because we selected Import – Multiple files, the import window will automatically pop up again. Continue to import the other sequences in the same way until you get to the “Head” folder.
 When you come to the “Head” folder, click and drag or hold down the Shift key to select the six solo PNG files shown in the screenshot below. Leave both check boxes at the bottom of the window empty and click open. Afterwards, you can continue to import the rest of the image sequences using the same settings we discussed in step 3. When you’re done importing, click Cancel to exit the Import Multiple Files window.
 Now that everything’s imported we need to interpret all of our footage. However, we’re going to interpret the “Blink” image sequence slightly different than the rest so we’ll do that one first. Right click on the “Blink” image sequence in the project panel and go to Interpret Footage – Main or press Option Command G on the Mac keyboard. Make sure the frame rate is set to 24 and that it’s only set to Loop: 1 Time. The reason for setting it to Loop: 1 Time is because that “Blink” image sequence is already an animated loop of a blink and we want to control when it blinks. That way we won’t have the eyes blinking over and over again creating a fluttering eyelid effect. To change this, match the settings to the screenshot below.
 Next, right click on the “Body” image sequence and go to Interpret Footage – Main or press Option Command G on the Mac keyboard. Make sure the frame rate is set to 24 and that it’s set to Loop: 1000 Times. Because “Body” is an image sequence that we want to cycled over and over, it makes sense to set Loop number so high. To change this, match the settings to the screenshot below.
 After you’ve interpreted the “Body” image sequence, right click on it again and go to Interpret Footage – Remember Interpretation or press Option Command C on the Mac keyboard to copy the “Body” footage interpretation. Now click and drag to select all of the image sequences except for “Blink”. Since only image sequences can loop it won’t matter if we select the still PNGs or not. Then right click on one of those image sequences and go to Interpret Footage – Apply Interpretation or press Option Command V as shown in the screenshot below. This will paste the “Body” interpretation onto all of the other sequences.
 Organize your project panel by going to File – New – New Folder and naming the folder “Head.” Put all of the still PNGs inside it as well as the “Blink,” “Head_Charcoal” and “Head_Color” sequences. Your Project panel should now be organized like the screenshot below.
 Go to Composition – New Composition or press Command N on the Mac keyboard. Then follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to set up your composition.
a.) Change the Composition Name to “Puppet”
b.) Set a custom width and height to match the Photoshop document we created in the previous tutorial. This is just so we can build the puppet. Later we’ll bring this puppet into a standard 1920 x 1080 composition, but while I’m doing the rigging I want to work in the original composition size. Originally, I chose a 2000 x 2000 pixel aspect ratio so that if I wanted to convert my puppet into a 3D layers, for example, I could zoom in on the graphics with a camera and not have to worry about it getting too pixilated.
c.) Change the frame rate to 24 frames per second.
d.) Set the duration to 30 seconds. I like to work with longer durations to start with. Then I change the beginning and end points of my work area once I’ve seen how long the animation is going to be.
 Now click the “Head” folder you made and drag it onto the timeline.
 Change the layer order to match the screen shot below. If you don’t see the “Mode” or “TrkMat” columns then right click on the top bar that says “Source Name” and “Parent” and go to Columns – Modes. If any other columns aren’t displaying like they are the in the screenshot below then right click again and make sure all of the same columns are visible. After that, change the “Head_Charcoal” blending mode to Overlay and the “Head_Color” blending mode to Multiply.
 Duplicate the “Head_Color” layer and move it above “Head_Charcoal.” Then change the “Head_Charcoal” TrkMat to Alpha Matte “Head_Color.”
 Change the layer names of the PNGs in the screenshot below by clicking each one individually and pressing return on the Mac keyboard.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to position the eyebrows and set up their anchor points.
a.) Select “Eyebrow_L.png” in the Puppet Timeline and then move it over the left eye in the composition window.
b.) Then press the Y key to activate the Pan Behind Tool. Use this tool to grab and move the layer’s anchor point, which is the crosshair in the center of the layer handles. Move the anchor point of the eyebrow to the right end. Moving the anchor point is useful because it’s the point around which the layer rotates. When we squint our eyebrows usually move with the forehead muscles above our nose. Therefore, it makes sense to put the anchor point above the nose.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to position the other eyebrow and set up the anchor point.
a.) Select “Eyebrow_R.png” in the Puppet Timeline and move it above the right eye.
b.) Then press the Y key and use the Pan Behind Tool to set the anchor point to the left end of the eyebrow.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to finishing positioning your head layers. The finished head should look like the screenshot below.
a.) Move the eyes into the sockets and change the anchor points so they’re in the center of each pupil.
b.) Move the “[Blink]” animation above the eyes. The eyelids are a bit hard to see in the screenshot because they’re the same color as the skin, but you’ll see them when you’re moving them around.
c.) Press space bar to preview the 8 frame animation and make sure that the eyelids cover the eye sockets when they blink. Now anytime you want the character to blink you can duplicate the “[Blink]” animation loop and move it around in the timeline.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to parent the other head layers to the Head_Back layer.
a.) Select all layers except for the Head_Back layer and click one of the the spiral Pick Whip buttons to the left of the drop down menus in the “Parent” column. Then drag the Pick Whip to the layer labelled “Head_Back.png.” This will make it so that “Head_Back.png” is the “Parent” and all of the other layers you selected will become “Children” of the “Head_Back.png” layer. That way when you change any of the transform settings in “Head_Back.png” all of the children are effected in the same way. This is basically like pre-comping all of the layers together without actually pre-comping. this is extremely useful for puppet animation in After Effects because you often want to have all of the puppet layers in one composition so you can see how they relate to one another when you’re animating.
b.) Another way you can parent layers without using the pick whip is to select all of them and choose the layer you want to parent it to from one of the drop down menus.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to add a frame randomizing expression to the Time_Remapping function for the three looping sequences in the Timeline. This will create a randomness to the playback of the frames so that the same loops won’t repeat over and over again. It will also give us control of sequence frame rates from within the expression.
a.) Make sure the playhead is set at the first frame of your work area.
b.) Right click the first “[Head_Color]” sequence in the Composition Timeline and go to Time – Enable Time Remapping or press Option Command T on the Mac. Then hold down the Option key and click the little stopwatch icon next to the graph on the left of the Time Remap function.
c.) This will bring up an Expression box in the timeline. Double-click the words “timeRemap” in the timeline to open the Expression editor box. If you want the loops to play back randomly on “twos” then copy and paste the following frame randomizing expression into the box:
fr = 12; // frame rate;
numFrames = 8;
seg = Math.floor(time*fr);
f = Math.floor(random(numFrames));
for (i = 0; i < seg; i++)
f = (f + Math.floor(random(1,numFrames)))%numFrames;
If you want the loops to play back randomly on “threes” then change the first part of the expression to:
fr = 8; // frame rate;
This is an aesthetic decision that depends on how fast you want the images to cycle. Press the RAM Preview button on the far right of the preview panel to play back the loops in real time. The decide which timing you prefer.
 Select all of the other image sequences and drag them onto the timeline below the head layers so that your workspace looks like the screenshot below.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to add the frame randomizing expression to the Time_Remapping function for the rest of looping sequences in the Timeline.
a.) Click the Time Remap function from one of the previous clips and go to Edit – Copy or press Command C on the Mac keyboard.
b.) Select all of the sequences we dragged onto the timeline and go to Edit – Paste or press Command V on the Mac Keyboard.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to turn the following sequences into Shy layers and hide them.
a.) Press the Lock switch on the following layers so we don’t accidentally move them when we’re animating.
b.) Since the [Head_Color] and [Head_Charcoal] sequences are essentially just looping textures for the face, we won’t need them taking up space in the timeline. We can hide them by turning on the Shy Layers switch as shown below.
c.) Now click the Hide Shy Layers Button to hide those layers. They won’t go anywhere and we can turn them back on at any time by toggling this button. But, since we won’t be animating these particular layers it’s more convenient for us to hide them.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to turn the following sequences into Shy layers and hide them.
a.) Select “Head_Back.png” in the timeline and move it along with the other parented head layers to the top of the composition. This will give us some room to start positioning the other body parts.
b.) Press the Y key to activate the pan behind tool and move the “Head_Back.png” anchor point down towards the neck where the head would naturally rotate around.
c.) Reorder the Hierarchy of the layers in the Timeline so they match the screenshot below. We want to make sure that the hands and arms are able to move in front of the face for example. This of course can be changed depending on which layers you want to have in front.
d.) Then color code the different sections. I usually set each individual set of limbs as a separate color, all of the head layers as one color and the body and neck as separate.
e.) Toggle the visibility of the indicated layers to off. We’ll turn them back on as we arrange them one by one.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to position the limbs and parent them together.
a.) Select each individual limb layer and position them the same way they were organized in the Photoshop document from my tutorial Creating a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in Photoshop CS6 (PART 1). If you haven’t done this tutorial it should be obvious that “Upper_Arm_L” will be connected to “Lower_Arm_L” and that will be connected to “Hand_L,” etc., etc.
b.) Move all of the anchor points to the places where it would be most logical for the limbs to rotate around. I’ve left all of the layers selected so you can see the color-coded anchor points as well as the position of the individual layers.
c.) Parent all of the layers shown below using either the pick whip or the drop down parent menu so that it matches the screenshot. You might notice that “Foot_R” has been left un-parented. And in fact, the body is parented to the Right leg and the chain of parenting goes down the right leg. I realize it might seem more intuitive to have the body be the final parent, but the reason I did this is because if the puppet has to jump or walk, it’s much easier to animate if the ultimate parent is connected to the ground. This way you don’t have to compensate to avoid skating, or the character looking like he isn’t connected to the ground. Therefore, the “Foot_R” layer will be the ultimate parent when we finally add in the body.
 Follow the corresponding directions in the screenshot below to finish rigging the character.
a.) Turn on the “Body” Layer and position it so it fits with the other limbs.
b.) Press the Y Key to activate the Pan Behind Tool and Change the “Body” layer’s anchor point so that it rotates around the “Upper_Leg_R” layer. That way the parenting hierarchy can travel down the leg to the tip of the “Foot_R” layer.
c.) Select the specified layers in the screenshot and parent them to the “Body” layer.
 Now that our puppet is finally set up and rigged you can start animating. Because I’ve already touched on the basics of After Effects animation in my tutorial Making Motion Graphics Animation Look More Analog in After Effects CS6, I’ll let you go crazy with the project files I’ve provided you with. But, before you start you should convert the Composition to 1920 x 1080 so you can render it to a standard size. To do this right click on the “Puppet” comp in the Project panel and go to Composition Settings. Change the settings to match the screenshot below. Then click and drag the puppet’s “Foot_R” layer to recenter the puppet into the new comp’s new aspect ratio.