Animation: Create a GIF for Your Profile Picture

Beginner level Adobe Illustrator Adobe Illustrator Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop


First of all, we need to create the sketch, which we'll use for our animated character, and we need to decide which elements we're going to animate to have an idea of the complexity of the animation. We can do the sketch in a piece of paper and then scan it, or we can do it directly with a graphics tablet.


In my case, I've decided to animate only the eyes and the mouth. Therefore, we need to decide a series of gestures we're going to use. As for me, I've chosen:

blinking + blinking + eyes moving to the side + blinking + smile

Setting Up the Document in Illustrator

Step 1

Once we've finished the sketch, so we have it in our computer, open Illustrator to create a new document. I'll use Illustrator, but we can do it directly in Photoshop. These are the settings for the document:

600x600 pixels, 26 artboards and RGB color

After clicking on Create, we'll have this:


Step 2

Next, create one layer per artboard, one more layer for the sketch and one more for the background. In total, we'll have 28 layers.


Step 1

Let's create the circle where we'll enclose our character. It will also act as our background. So, go to the toolbar, grab the Ellipse tool (L) and click on the first artboard. Choose a size of 480x480 pixels.


We have the circle, but we need to center it to the artboard, so select it and go to the Align panel.


Make sure that, in "Align To", you choose the Align To Artboard option. Now, click on Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center. This is how it should look like:


We're going to need this circle in all the frames, so select it and copy it (Ctrl / Cmd + C). Then, select the other artboards and paste the circle in the same place by pressing Ctrl / Cmd + F.

Step 2

Let's add the sketch to this artboard, on the Sketch layer. Don't forget to choose Template so that we can see the sketch while we're drawing on top of it.


Your artboards should look like this:


Step 3

Let's create a brush before we start to draw. To do so, drop down the Brushes menu and either choose an existing brush or click on New Brush.


Regardless of what you do, these are the settings that I recommend using:

Angle 0º, Roundness 100%, Size 5 pt, select Pressure, Variation 5 pt.

Step 4

We've created our brush, so now select the first layer and begin tracing over the sketch.


As you can see, I didn't want a perfect copy of the sketch. You can do that too, it's OK as long as you like the result.

Now, we're going to begin drawing on the remaining layers, so the process will be like this:

Select the content of a layer (its strokes), copy it, select the next layer and the next artboard, press Ctrl / Cmd + F and modify the drawing (only the part that's going to be animated).

Step 5

Once we've copied the content of layer 1 on layer 2, we'll have to modify the eye in the next three layers, using the Direct Selection tool (A).


Now, copy the third frame and paste it next to the fourth. Copy the second frame and paste it next to the fifth so that the character has her eyes open again after blinking.

Do it again until we have our first 13 frames, since the character is going to blink twice before looking to the side.


Step 6

The next three steps are going to be similar to the previous one, but this time we'll draw the eyes looking to the side. We'll only need 3 drawings: the eyes in a normal position, the eyes slightly turned to the right and the eyes looking at us. In gray you'll see the position of the eyes from the previous frame:


Step 7

Once the character is looking at us, we'll make her blink again using 3 more frames, the same ones as the previous blinking, but with the eyes looking at us. Then, we'll need to make her open the eyes again, so we'd have a total of 22 frames. Only the smile is left now.


Step 8

For the smile we'll only need 2 new frames, where we'll raise a bit the mouth using the Selection tool (V). Add a little line on the right using the brush to reinforce the smile.


Step 9

On to the last 3 frames. Two of them are going to be the same as the first and second ones of the previous step (in reverse order) and the frame 14, which was the one we used as a transition for the eyes movement.

Exporting Images

To export all the frames, go to File → Export → Export As…


Choose the PNG format and check Use Artboards and All.


Setting Up the Document in Photoshop

It's time to open Photoshop to create the animation with the frames we've already created. Go to File → New…

We'll be using the same settings that we've previously used in Illustrator, but this time we won't need any artboards.


Creating the Animation

Step 1

Now that we have created the document, select all the images that we've previously exported and drag them to Photoshop. You'll need to press Enter to add them one by one. Once you have the 26 images on the Layers panel, delete the empty layer called "Background".

Step 2

First, we need to open the Timeline panel, so go to Window → Timeline. In the bottom part of the screen you'll see this new panel with the Create Frame Animation button. Press it.


Open the menu located to the right of the panel and choose Make Frames From Layers.


You'll see that a frame will be created per layer, 26 in total. If you now press Play, this is the animation that will be played:


It plays too fast, so the movement doesn't feel natural. We'll fix that by changing the duration of the frames. You'll find the duration of the frames below each one of them. By default, it's set to 0 seconds. I suggest that you leave all frames set to 0 seconds excepting the following, which you should set to 1 second:

Frames 1, 7, 13, 15, 21, and 25

Frame 23 is the smile one, so we could set it to 2 seconds, since it's the highlight of the animation.


Step 1

Return to your Illustrator file, grab the Artboard tool (Shift + O) and drag any artboard while holding the Alt key to copy it.


If you want to copy the content too, you must switch this option on.


Create a layer called "Color" and add the content that we've just copied.

Step 2

Before adding any colors, let's delete the moving elements in our animation, which are the eyes and the mouth.


Step 3

Select the Color layer and create a square of any color using the Rectangle tool (M).


Select the square and go to Object → Arrange → Send to Back to place it behind the drawing. If the circle is not visible after doing this, that means it's in a different layer. Copy it and paste it on the Color layer.

Now, select the content of the artboard (circle, drawing and colored square) and go to Object → Expand Appearance. Select only the circle and go to Object → Expand. When prompted, just press OK. Now, the lines are no longer strokes, but shapes, so you can now use the Pathfinder to work with them.


Step 4

Let's "clip" this colored square within the lines of the drawing. This way, coloring everything will be much easier.

Select everything again and press the Merge button on the Pathfinder panel.


Now, our drawing has different shapes, forming many pieces that we can select with the Direct Selection Tool and color however we want. These are the colors that I'm going to use:

Yellow: #ffe085, Red: #c7604e, Blue: #2b8383, Pink: #ffe6da and Light blue: #b0c7c1


It should look like this:


Step 5

For the shadows, we'll use the Pen tool (P) to add some black shapes with a 10% opacity:


This should be the result: 


It's important that you place the Shadow layer on top of the Yellow Background layer, but below the Hair and the Skin layers:


Step 6

To export the drawing, go to File → Export → Export As…

Select the PNG format, check Use Artboards and set the Range to 27.

Adding the Color Layer

Step 1

Return to the Photoshop file and drag the exported image to the canvas. Place the layer below everything else, so that the transparent layers of the drawings are in the foreground.

Step 2

This is totally optional and up to you. As for me, I like to change the color of the lines to achieve a better harmony. Instead of leaving them in black, I'll change them to dark blue following a very easy process.

Select the layer on top of everything else and go to Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Selective Color (you can find this option at the bottom of the Layers panel too). Use the following settings:


Step 3

We have the animation, the colored drawing and we changed the color of the lines. Let's give the final touches and export the animation.

If you play the animation, it's possible that only the first layer appears colored and not the rest. That means the Color layer is visible only in the first frame, whereas it's hidden in the rest. To make it visible in all the frames, go to the Timeline and select the first frame where it's not visible, hold Shift and select the last frame (this way, you'll select all the frames that are in-between). Then, in the Layers panel, click to the left of the Color Layer. An eye icon will appear, which means the layer is visible in every selected frame.


Let's play the animation to see the result. Don't forget to set the looping option to Forever, instead of Once.

Exporting the GIF


This is the last step. Just go to File → Export → Save for Web (Legacy).

Choose the settings that you see in the reference image and press Save… It's done!


What do you think of this tutorial?


Bring avatars to life! In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to animate a character face to use it as our profile picture. We’ll do it using the traditional process in animation: frame by frame. Sounds great, right? Let’s start!

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Beginner level 1h 5m 862 views