Creating animations in After Effects may seem like a daunting task, but with a little help from the shape modifiers, it’s a lot easier than you may think.

If you are anything like me, creating motion graphics, lower thirds, and other simple tasks in After Effects is a breeze. But creating shapes and animating something from scratch? Just the thought of trying to design something like that can bring my anxiety levels to incredible heights. Thankfully, John Rodriguez over at Shutterstock Presents has a great tutorial on how to manipulate shape layers to get animations done without pulling your hair out. Let’s get into it!


Setting Up Your Shape Layer

Simple Steps for Animating Flat 2D Images in After Effects — Setting Up Your Shape Layer

For this tutorial, we are going to be creating a nice smoke animation that will be spilling out of a neat little robotic house. This example is going to help you get the hang of using shape manipulators so you can incorporate it into your own projects.

To start it off, you are going to want to create a rectangular shape layer. Go into the rectangle path drop down menu within the shape layer, and deselect the scaling clickbox next to the X and Y axis. Now, change the X axis to 150 and the Y value to 30. Now, duplicate this one specific shape layer after closing down your drop down menus. Remember to only duplicate this one shape, not the entire shape layer that it is nested within.

Now, go to your duplicated rectangle and open up its scale settings. Change the X scale to 45 and the Y position to -29. Now, both of your rectangles within your shape layer are ready for manipulation.


Adding Shape Modifiers

Simple Steps for Animating Flat 2D Images in After Effects — Adding Shape Modifiers

Now, time to get to the fun stuff. Right next to the Contents part of your shape layer, there’s going to be a drop down menu for Shape Modifiers after you click the Add button. Select Repeater, and place it under both of your rectangles. Remember, place it underneath the rectangles, since it will affect anything above it, but not below.

Open up the Repeater settings, and change the number of Copies to 60. Go to the transform properties of the repeater, and change the X value to 112 after unclicking the link check box. Now, change the Position keyframes by changing the X position to 0, and Y to -59. Close down the drop down menu, and change the Offset parameters to -5. Now it’s starting to take shape!

Make it Wiggle

Simple Steps for Animating Flat 2D Images in After Effects — Make it Wiggle

Onto giving it motion. For this, we will be using the Wiggle Transform modifier. Place it under your Repeater modifier, and change the Wiggles/Second to .5. Inside the transform properties of the modifier, change the X position value to -29. Now it’s got that smoke stack motion we’ve been looking for.

All we’ve got left is to merge all of the layers with a Merge Paths modifier, which should be placed underneath the entire layer. You can round out the corners of your rectangles with a little Round Corners modifier.

Simple Steps for Animating Flat 2D Images in After Effects — Round Corners Modifier

Finally, to make the smoke look like it’s rising, go back to Repeater one and hop in the Offset settings. Tap the stopwatch icon to toggle keyframes, and drag your -5 keyframe to the end of the composition. At the beginning of it, create a new keyframe for -15. Voila! You’ve got yourself a cool little rising smoke animation.

Simple Steps for Animating Flat 2D Images in After Effects — Smoke Animation

Now remember, this project is just to get you acclimated with the shape modifiers in Shape Layers. Take these, and try them out on your next project to bring yourself one step closer to becoming an AE pro!


Want more tips on video production? Check these out.