After Effects, Photoshop & Premiere Pro tutorial: How to animate a multi-layered Photoshop artwork in After Effects

Take your first steps into After Effects with this beginner’s guide to motion graphics.

Creative Cloud has given designers and illustrators access to motion tools they’ve had denied to them before by the prohibitive cost of the Master Collection. With this in mind, we’ve began creating tutorials for tools such as After Effects and Premiere Pro specifically for experienced users of tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

In this tutorial, designer Johann Chan will show you how to animate a multi-layered illustration.

You’ll take a multi-layered Photoshop document, import it into After Effects and inject some life with motion tweening and opacity changes.

After that we add a soundtrack in Premiere, then export an animated editorial illustration. 

For this tutorial, we’re working with the end-result of Johann’s previous tutorial on creating a pattern illustration built from vector elements. You can do this with your own project if you like. If so, prepare a six-layer Photoshop file. Include separate components on each layer, and one background layer.

The file we’ve used is 1,024 x 2,324 pixels, as it's to sit within a tablet magazine that’s designed to be read in portrait format. 

Time to complete

3 hours

Software used

Adobe Photoshop CS3

After Effects CS3

Premiere CS3


Prepare your file in Photoshop.

Separate elements onto different layers. This Photoshop document has six layers: five with different elements on each and a background layer featuring an underlying texture.

Label your layers with obvious names.

Change the dimensions and colour mode of your illustration to match your output requirements if needed.

As this project is destined to be used portrait in a digital magazine, my file is in RGB and the resolution size is 1024 wide by 2324 tall (higher than the final output size of 768 x 1,024 to allow zooming if needed, but with the same aspect ratio). 


Open After Effects. Go to File > New Project, then Composition > New Composition. Type your Composition name and choose your composition settings. Here select Custom for your preset, and input a width of 768 and a height of 1024. 

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Go to File > Import. In the Import As pulldown menu, select Composition – Cropped Layers.

This will retain all the separate layers you saved in Photoshop.


Drag the layers from your Project window to your Timeline window. Roughly arrange the layers to the corresponding order you'd like the image to appear.

We want the final animation to finish on the Photoshop illustration you see here. To do this – we’ll make the animation backwards, and reverse it when we finish.

This will ensure the finishing point will be exactly the same as the imported Photoshop document here at 0 seconds.


Animate the position of these layers so they appear to be rising up.

In the Timeline panel, click on the triangle on the left of your layer name. Click on the triangle next to Transform to open the pulldown menu. Here you will see different properties such as Anchor Point, Position and Scale.

Set the current time indicator to 0s. Lock your background by clicking on the lock icon next to it in the Timeline panel. We have plans for this later.

On every other layer in the Timeline, click on the stopwatch icon next to the Position parameter to insert a keyframe. This will fix a position for your layers at the beginning of the Timeline.

Make a note of the XY position. Here the coordinates are 384, 1034. 

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Move your current time indicator to 10 seconds. Select the layers in the Timeline you'd like to animate (hold down Shift to select more than one layer).

Move the layers upwards using the up cursor key until the co-ordinates are 383,10.

This creates your second keyframe.


Now we will make the layers disappear at different times (well, actually appear when we reverse the playback at the end).

We are going to stagger this so layer-by-layer these disappear. At ten seconds we want the pink layer and the background to be the only layers visible.

Move your current time indicator back to 0 seconds. This time, click the stopwatch icon next to Opacity on each layer (except the background layer which is still locked).

This ensures each layer has 100 percent opacity at 0 seconds.


Insert your second keyframe for each layer to set the disappearance point.

For the Yellow layer: move your current time indicator to 6s, and set the opacity to 0%.

For the White layer: move your current time indicator to 5s, and set the opacity to 0%.

For the Blue layer: move your current time indicator to 8s, and set the opacity to 0%.

For the Textured faces layer: move your current time indicator to 3s, and set the opacity to 0%.

Tip: if you have trouble manually accurately moving the current time indicator, you can type on the Time Indicator at the top left of your timeline.

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You want the layers to appear to be moving at different speeds. To vary the layer movement and give the animation less of a uniform movement, make a few tweaks to each layer’s second Position keyframe. 

Move the Yellow layer's second keyframe  so it’s now at 11s (rather than 10s) and the textured faces’ second keyframe to 8s.


I have also added a couple of duplicates of the pink layer, which appear for a brief second to give the impression of multiple pink layers. 


Create an illusion of zooming out from the illustration.

Remember we will reverse this footage later so it’ll appear to be zooming in.

Select your background layer. Lock and turn the visibility of the other layers off, by clicking the eye and lock icons. 

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Place your current time indicator at 0s. Scale the background image to 100%, and click on the stopwatch icon to place a keyframe.

Move the Timeline indicator to 12s, and change the scale to 76%. Ensure the Constrain Proportions icon is pressed to ensure your animation scales proportionally.

Turn the visibility of all your layers back on. We will now render the animation.


Go to Composition > Add to Render Queue (Cmd/Ctrl + M). This opens the Render Queue panel.


Click on the blue text next to Render Settings to open its dialog. We can keep many of the defaults – but we can do a couple of things to keep the render time down.

Under Time Sampling, find Time Span and select Work Area Only.

Back up under Compositon, find Resolution and set this to Half as this is just a test render.

Click OK, then click on Output Module to select the destination for your file. Hit Render and wait for your file to render.

If you like what you see, re-render it with the Resolution set to Full. If not, tweak the composition itself and then repeat the test and full renders.

Next we’ll import this file into Premiere Pro.

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Open Premiere Pro to do some simple editing to reverse the order. Create a new project by going to File > New Project, specifying a frame size of 768 x 1024.


Import the footage and soundtrack.

Here I’m using music from an artist called Shekon: specifically the track Clockface to Concrete from

Place the movie on your main video track. Copy and paste your movie file and place the duplicated straight after the first one.

We will use the second video as the still, so right click on it on the timeline and select  Frame Hold.

Reverse the speed of the first clip by right clicking on the clip and selecting Speed/Duration. Tick the Reverse Speed box and hit OK.


On the second clip we want the animation to freeze on the last clip. Right click on it on the timeline and select Frame Hold.

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Tick On Hold on and select the outpoint. This will convert that second clip to a still frame.


Make an export of your film by going to File > Export.


Click Settings to go to the Export Movie window. In the General tab, select a Filetype of QuickTime.

In the Video tab, select H.264 for the Compressor. Hit ok, then export your movie – and you’re done.

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