Video and Motion • How-To How to Animate with Paint in Adobe Photoshop

Bring loose, playful sketches to life through animation.

Russ Murphy brings his sketches to life through animation. See how he paints frame-by-frame using custom brushes and then adds motion with the Timeline in Adobe Photoshop.

Orange skull with a top hat against a black background

I’m RUFFMERCY, aka Russ Murphy, an animation director based in the United Kingdom. After starting out at MTV in the late 1990s as a promo producer, I become a freelance animator for broadcasting networks and agencies before jumping into the world of music videos. My loose, hand-drawn animation style is sometimes laid over live footage and often paired with hip-hop music.

Multi-color sketch of abstract character created with textured brushes with Adobe Photoshop mnemonic in lower left corner

Take a one-minute look at my technique; the steps are written out below.

Before You Start

Use this sample file if you’d like, or practice with your own.

Step 1: Open the Base Texture

To start the project, open a background texture video (there’s one in the practice files) directly in Photoshop. The document will open to show the Timeline with a video layer added by default. If the Timeline does not open for you right away, you can reveal it manually. Additionally, if you see a frame animation instead of a video timeline, click the icon in the lower left of the Timeline to convert it to a video Timeline.

Photoshop canvas shows mottled blue background and animation Timeline has a video layer with 14 frames set to 12 fps

Step 2: Trim It Down

The base video ran too long for my needs, so I used the Set End of Work Area slider above the video layer trim it to 2 seconds (or 14 frames). You can skip this step if the base video is the right length for you.

Settings on BASE VIDEO TEXTURE layer in Photoshop Timeline shows Replace Footage option selected

Step 3: Work in Layers

Add a new, blank video layer, and give it a name, so you can start drawing on it.

Photoshop animation timeline shows Face layer, Layer > Video Layers > New Blank Video Layer menu selection above canvas

Step 4: Start with a Sketch

For this composition, I used the Rough Carver brush from Kyle Webster’s MEGAPACK and then customized it in the Brush Settings panel. I set the brush size and color and drew a face on the starting frame. After I finished the face, I clicked the Go to Next Frame icon to advance the playhead one frame.

Feel free to use a textured brush of your choice. If you’d like to use the Rough Carver brush, select Get More Brushes from the flyout menu on the Brushes panel and log in with your Adobe ID. Scroll through the Brushes web page until you see the MEGAPACK and then click the Download button. Select Import Brushes from the Brushes panel and find the ABR file you just downloaded. When you import the brush, it will appear in its own category in the Brushes panel.

Face sketched with cyan color, Brush settings show Kyle’s Inkbox – Rough Carver brush is set to 40, Get More Brushes option

Step 5: Use a Guide

The Onion Skin feature guides you as you draw the remaining frames. Enable the feature from the flyout menu and then change the onion skin settings to define the options you want to use. With Onion Skin enabled, I could see a trace of the artwork I drew in the previous frame. I used this as a guide to draw another variation of the face on the current frame before advancing to the next frame. I repeated this process, drawing and advancing, until I had drawn on each frame in the video.

Blue face sketched on canvas, Onion Skin Options selected from Timeline flyout menu, Min Opacity is 10%

Step 6: Make a Pattern

To add some dimension, create another blank video layer and repeat the process of drawing frame by frame. I used a different brush size and color to form a pattern around the face.

Layers panel shows Pattern layer, canvas shows purple pattern painted around the face

Step 7: See It in Action

When you’re ready to preview the animation, just click the Play button. If you click the Settings icon and check Loop Playback, you can see how it looks when the animation repeats.

Murphy’s sketch shows on the canvas, Timeline has 3 layers-face, pattern, base texture-loop playback is selected

Step 8: Loop It

Once you’re ready to share your work, save it as an animated GIF. Choose to export the video from the File menu. Then, in the Save for Web dialog box, select a GIF preset, set Looping Options to Forever, and click Done. You can also export your project as a rendered video and then bring it into Adobe Premiere Pro or After Effects for further refinement.

File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy) shows from top menu, export options show GIF preset and Looping Options set to Forever

Animate More Sketches

Make doodling more fun by adding motion to your sketches with frame-by-frame animation in Photoshop. Share your animation with @AdobeCreate to help others bring their sketches to life.

The completed frame-by-frame animation of Russ Murphy’s sketch plays in a continuous loop

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

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