Video and Motion • How-To How to Do Stop-Motion Animation in Adobe Photoshop

Take your first steps into the world of stop-motion animation.

Small objects—buttons, scraps of paper, plastic toys, food, or a pattern made of natural materials—are fun to use in stop-motion animation. Find an object, any object, that sparks an idea. Grab your sketchbook, a camera (your phone will do), and learn how to bring your concept to life in Adobe Photoshop.

Headshot of Kendall Plant

I’m Kendall Plant. I’m a creative director at Adobe. I like exploring new ways of expressing my creativity and helping others do the same.

Before You Start

Here is the sequence of images I shot for this project. Feel free to use them to practice these techniques—or follow along with your own.

Step 1: Do a Casting Call

Take a look around to see what small objects you’d like to set into motion. Inspired by an afternoon snack, I sketched an idea for a watermelon popsicle. I found it helpful to draw thumbnail sketches to storyboard the animation. I roughly planned to capture 10 frames. Then I assembled the popsicle using a real watermelon and black beads for the seeds.

Dish with black seeds, sketch pad with sketches of a watermelon in different states, cutting board with watermelon slices

Step 2: Create a Scene

Next, find an area with plenty of light to set up your scene. It was a beautiful day, so I headed outside; windows and lamps can be great light sources as well. I used construction paper for the background and set the watermelon on a glass pane from an old picture frame to keep the paper from getting wet. The glass also created interesting shadows under the watermelon and seeds.

A key to stop-motion animation is to keep your camera or phone as still as possible. I used a small tripod, but if you don’t have one, prop your device on something sturdy. I also set a three-second timer on my phone’s camera so I wouldn’t accidentally shake it while pressing the shutter. Take a few test shots of your scene to find the composition you like.

Left: Phone on tripod aimed at watermelon slice on glass & colored paper; Right: watermelon in viewfinder of phone camera

Step 3: Shoot, Prep, Reshoot

Once the scene was ready, it was time to stage the animation steps. Stop-motion animation is straightforward in theory: take a photo, move or make a change to your subject, repeat. This can be time-consuming, but don’t worry about making mistakes along the way. Small jitters or imperfections can add to the charm. Even though my scene was simple, I reshot it a couple of times to get it the way I wanted. (Plus, I got to snack on the outtakes.) For a smoother animation, make small, gradual adjustments to your subject. More dramatic movements between photos will give your animation a choppier look.

I used a measuring glass to cut sections of watermelon, taking a photo after each “bite.” To keep the popsicle stick in place as I worked, I secured it to the surface with some tape. I was also careful to hold the rind firmly in place while cutting pieces out of the watermelon.

Hands hold measuring glass to cut watermelon; Right: 11 thumbnail images of watermelon in different states of bites taken out

Step 4: Stack ’Em Up

After you’re done taking pictures, you can make some basic edits in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on your phone and then save the photos to your computer. In Photoshop, choose Load Files into Stack from the File menu, browse to locate the images, and then click OK. This part may take a little time as Photoshop loads the images and creates individual layers for each photo.

Files > Scripts > Load Files into Stack menu, Load Layers dialog; Right: Layers panel with watermelon images

Step 5: Set Things in Motion

From this point on, most of your work will happen on the Timeline, so open the Timeline and choose Create Frame Animation from the drop-down. If Photoshop adds the first frame by default, skip to the next step.

Window > Timeline menu; Photoshop animation Timeline panel shows Create Frame Animation selected

Step 6: Add and Reverse

The flyout menu at the top right of the Timeline has most of the options you’ll need to animate. Start by choosing Make Frames From Layers. Depending on how your files are named, your frames may be in reverse order. To correct this, choose Select All Frames from the menu and then Reverse Frames. Press the Spacebar on your keyboard to preview the animation.

Left: Timeline under image shows Makes Frames From Layers; Right: Timeline shows frames with watermelon and Reverse Frames

Step 7: Make It Double Time

To loop the animation, select all the frames again and click the + icon to duplicate them. With the duplicated frames still selected, choose Reverse Frames and then delete the duplicate frame in the middle of your animation.

Left: Select All Frames menu and Duplicate Frames icon selected on Timeline; Right: Reverse Frames menu selected

Step 8: See the Effects of Time

Experiment with the timing to see how different settings affect the animation. In the end, I adjusted the timing of certain frames to create pleasing pauses in the animation. I clicked the first frame, held Control (Windows) or Command (macOS), and then clicked the eleventh frame—which is where my animation started to loop—and changed the duration to 0.5 seconds.

Animation Timeline shows 11 frames, the first and last are set to .5 seconds, the others are set to 0 seconds

For a bit of visual variation, I wanted the first half of the animation to go slower than the second half. I held Shift as I clicked the second and the tenth frames, and then set the duration for these frames to 0.2 sec. I left frames 12 through 21 at 0 sec.

Animation Timeline shows 11 frames, the first and last are set to .5 seconds, the others are set to .2 seconds

I was excited to see the result. Check out the final animation below.

Step 9: Show It Off

If you want to share your animation on Instagram, you’ll have to save it as a video. To do this, select Render Video as the Export option, name the file, and choose a destination. I set the dimensions to 1080 x 1080—the optimal size for Instagram—and kept the default settings for the rest.

Tip: Videos don’t endlessly loop on Instagram, so if your animation is short like mine, you can repeat Step 7 to add frames to the video before exporting.

To save it as an animated GIF, select the Save for Web (Legacy) export option, choose GIF as the file type, adjust the image size, set Looping Options to Forever, and then click Save.

2 export options: File > Export > Render Video (H.264 format) & Save for Web (Legacy) GIF format, both sizes set to 1080 x 1080

You can animate just about anything in a stop-motion project. Be sure to tag @AdobeCreate when you share your work so that you can inspire others.

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

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