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Animating a Photoshop Collage in After Effects with Alejandro Chavetta

By Charles Purdy

We recently invited graphic designer (and former creative director of Dwell magazine) Alejandro Chavetta to show us how he uses Adobe Photoshop CC to create his distinctive collages—and then how he animates those collages in Adobe After Effects CC. 

Meet Alejandro in his home in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood—in this video, he talks about his creative process and his approach to his work. 

We love Alejandro’s cheerfully spooky collages—both the ones he makes by hand and the ones he makes in Photoshop. He combines images from antique reference materials, textures from his personal collection, and other ephemera in his creations, which have been shown around the world. 

Alejandro cites Tadanori Yokoo, Gustav Klutsis, Urs Fischer, and Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil as a few of his influences (and no, he doesn’t mind the term “steampunk”). He has been creating collages since the 1990s, and he was inspired to start animating them when his Creative Cloud subscription put After Effects into his hands—and he decided to teach himself how to use it.  

His animations juxtapose organic form and machines—and in this project, he even tosses in a few Photoshop custom shapes (though you’d hardly recognize them). His aesthetic is his own, but the techniques shown here can easily be adapted to other styles. And if you’re still relatively new to After Effects, importing and animating a Photoshop collage like Alejandro’s can serve as a great introduction.

Before you dive in, you can check out these quick, under-three-minute highlights from the session:

1. In this clip from the recorded demo session, Alejandro talks about his favorite online image sources and shows how he gives life to scanned materials. 

2. Antique and scanned images can sometimes lack fine details. In this clip, Alejandro shares a quick trick that “restores” them: using Photoshop’s High Pass filter. 

3. Once you’ve finished your Photoshop file, you can import it into After Effects, where you can easily animate individual layers. In this clip, Alejandro shows you how. 

Now that we’ve whetted your appetite, go ahead and make a meal of the recorded hour-long session. (There’s a very brief audio glitch at the beginning of the recording.) In case you want to skip right to the After Effects portion of the demo, it starts just after the 34:00 mark.

(Ready for more? Check out these tutorials: “Import Files from Photoshop to After Effects” and “Keyframe Animation in After Effects.”)