Moving Art: How to Animate Illustrations the Easy Way

Create GIFs from your own illustrations.

by The Creative Cloud Team

posted on 05-10-2018

Nick Stokes’ portfolio immediately catches your eye. The Portland-based designer’s brightly colored caricature designs thrust the viewer back in time, to the era of rainbow gradients and psychedelic logos. Nick started drawing at a young age watching early-morning cartoonists, and now, he works as an art director by day, and in his spare time, he perfects the same motifs that fascinated him as a child. He executes his design in Adobe Illustrator CC and then animates them in Adobe Photoshop CC.

“Everyday People” by Nick Stokes.

Traditional animation has always interested Nick, but the methods seemed arduous and complicated. Modern technology makes the skill much more accessible. “I geeked out when I found the GIF feature in Photoshop and saw how it made it so much easier to create simple animations,” Nick says.

The key to killer animated GIFs, Nick believes, is to approach each project with the care of a professional cell animator. But with the right tools, he is able to project his vision. “It’s amazing what you can do digitally with just a tablet and Photoshop,” he says. “It’s getting easier and easier to make really eye-catching visuals in less time.”

To prove that animating images is something any level of designer can learn, Nick gave us a step-by-step footprint through the animation process. Expand your knowledge of design apps and your creative skills with this simple how-to, and follow along by downloading Nick’s files here.


Open up the layers tab in the Window dropdown menu. There you will see all the assets for the animation. Click the “riders” folder to view all the different rider layers. Make sure only “rider 1” is selected (there is an eye in the box to its left when selected).


Select Timeline from the Window dropdown menu.


In the bottom-left corner of the timeline bar, click the box with three little squares labeled “convert to frame animation.” You should see rider 1 in the new frame. If not, make sure rider 1 is selected in the layers toolbar.


Underneath the rider 1 frame in the timeline bar, click the dropdown menu that says “5 sec.” Select “other…” from the options and enter .07. This will be the amount of time the frame appears in the animation.


Click the “Duplicate selected frames” button in the timeline toolbar (the second button from the right). Deselect rider 1 from the layer menu and select rider 2. Now the first frame should be rider 1 and the second thumbnail should be rider 2.


Continue to duplicate layers for frames 3-15, selecting the corresponding rider for each frame. In the end, you should have 15 frames in your timeline with a different rider in each.


After you have created the 15 thumbnails, choose “Select looping options” from the bottom-left corner of the timeline toolbar (second-in from the left) and change “once” to “forever.” This will create a looped video that starts over again after it ends.

Press the play button on the timeline toolbar (fifth-in from the right) to see the looping animation.


But wait, we’re not done. We need to get the riders’ back legs and different wheel colors into the animation as well.

Let’s start with the legs. In the layers tab, you should see another folder labeled “rider legs.” Click the box to the left of the layer to activate it. In that folder, you will find the legs for riders 1-15. Make sure rider 1 is selected in that menu. You should see an orange leg appear behind the biker.


Repeat this process matching each rider with their corresponding legs layer — frame 2 with leg 2, frame 3 with leg 3, frame 4 with leg 4, etc.


Now, let’s do the wheels. Each rider has their own wheel color based on their unique color scheme.

Activate the “bike wheels” folder by clicking the box to the left of the folder name. Then, click on the bike wheels folder to see all 15 wheels.


Now we will sync up the wheels to their corresponding frames, just like we did with the riders and their legs — wheel 1 with frame 1, wheel 2 with frame 2, wheel 3 with frame 3, etc.


Once all the wheels are synced to their frames, press the play button on the timeline bar to see the fruits of your labor.

With Adobe Creative Cloud, it’s easy to create illustrations that move as much as you do, and for those of you who made it this far, we’ve included a special treat. Now that you know how to animate your existing designs, learn how to quickly animate a selfie on the go using Adobe Capture and Adobe Draw.

And because we like you so much, here’s a tutorial download for safe keeping — it’s the least we can do for our loyal friends. Keep the gifs coming.

Topics: Creativity, Illustration

Products: Photoshop, Illustrator, Creative Cloud