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How to Do Character Rigging in After Effects

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Read Time: 4 min

Join motion designer Tim Lucke as he walks through his character animation process in Adobe After Effects. He’ll use expression controls, track mattes, and character rigging to bring an animated intro to life!

In this lesson, Tim will show you how to do character rigging in After Effects so that you can control the animation of different parts of your character, independently. To learn more, you can watch the whole free After Effects course Master Motion Design - Dynamic Character Animation in After Effects.

Before We Start

What is Character Rigging in After Effects?

Imagine joints and parts of a person that would move. Adding independent control to those parts with the view of animating them, is rigging. This could be arms and legs, eyes and facial features, and so on! You can rig both 2D and 3D characters, here's how Adobe defines that:

  • '2D animation rigging. With 2D animation rigging you simply draw the character or object in 2D and then apply the desired bone structure to it. This will be simpler than a 3D model and restricted in movement.' - Adobe

  • '3D animation rigging. A more common practice is 3D animation rigging. Here the full model can be rigged and posed within your scene, with the ability to create a much wider range of movement, whether animating a character or object.' - Adobe

How to Do Character Rigging in After Effects

Lock Layer

lock layerlock layerlock layer

Tube Layer is so big that we might accidentally keep selecting it, so to lock that, click the padlock icon and that's going to stop that from happening.

Parenting Layers

parenting layersparenting layersparenting layers

Now we just have our kid, we want to parent the layers together to make the character work as one piece. They're all separate right now, so if I moved the body only that would move, no other parts. We want the body to be the layer that everything else is attached to, so if we do the main animation for the body, everything else will follow.

To parent one layer to another you just grab the pick whip and drag it to that layer. In the screenshot above I'm grabbing the lines from the shirt and parenting that to the Body layer.

Make sure the play head is where you want the parenting to occur. I've got it right at the beginning so everything's all lined up, but once things start moving around it can get a little complicated.

Then you can just keep parenting the rest of your layers in the same way.

more parentingmore parentingmore parenting

Here, I'm parenting the two hands to the Body, you can hit command (or control) to select multiple layers at one time. 

hair to headhair to headhair to head

Think logically about what should be parented to each layer. We've been parenting to the body, but of course Hair should be parented to Head because they're going to move together, and same with the eyes.

left hand overleft hand overleft hand over

The only exception here is Left Hand Over, that's a special layer so I want to parent that to left hand, which means whatever Left Hand is doing, Left Hand Over will mimic exactly.

Then I'll set all the keyframes for Left Hand and turn off Left Hand just before Left Hand Over goes over the tube shape. It's a little trick to have the layer both in front and behind at the same time without getting overly complex. You can see a little more on this in our next lesson, when we look at how to add track mattes in After Effects.

After Effects Templates From Envato Elements 

Envato Elements has thousands of After Effects templates to choose from, and you can download and use as many as you like with a monthly subscription. There's also access to music tracks, SFX, stock video, graphic templates and lots more.

Pictogram Character Kit

Pictogram Character KitPictogram Character KitPictogram Character Kit

This character animation template for After Effects has 60 characters to choose from with 135 accessories. You can create loopable animations, combine modules, use the fully rigged character, or create high resolution still images.

Free Templates

free itemsfree itemsfree items

You might also want to check out Envato Elements' monthly free files, which often include free After Effects templates, and other assets that you might find useful to use with your video project.

More After Effects Resources and Templates

About This Page

This page was written by Marie Gardiner from the transcript of a course by Tim Lucke. Marie is a writer, author, and photographer. It was edited by Gonzalo Angulo. Gonzalo is an editor, writer and illustrator.

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