5 Great 2D Character Rigging Tutorials For After Effects

After Effects 10/05/2019 4 min read

Does your animation lack “character”? Or does it lack character animation?

Character animation is one of the trickiest techniques in After Effects. It’s become a very popular technique for all sorts of animations, especially things like explainer videos and shorts. But creating great character animation starts with great character rigging, and this is something that takes a little work.

There are some tools out there to make this easier. We’ve covered a few in our blog, like the RubberHose plug-in and the bq_HeadRig script. But the process can be much more complex and you can get a lot more out of your character rigs with a little work.

Today, we are going to highlight some great character rigging tutorials that will help you build great characters for your animation needs.

1. Making Your First Cartoon (Adobe Character Animator and After Effects Tutorial) – Adobe

Character animation is so popular now that Adobe is building their own character animation tool called Character Animator. It’s bundled with After Effects CC 2015, and it’s designed to make character rigging and animation easier.

The team behind the tool has created a 30-minute tutorial outlining how the Character Animator tool works and how you can use it for your animations.

First off, this tutorial isn’t strictly a character rigging tutorial. In fact, the premise behind Character Animator is that you don’t have to rig your characters within it. Rigs are automatically generated just by creating your layers and properly naming them.

With Character Animator, a user can create a 2D “puppet” in Photoshop or Illustrator, then name the layers and the app will do the rest.

The tutorial does an excellent job of showing how this process works along with some of the basics of how animation works within the tool, using things like face tracking to quickly animate mouth and eye movements.

2. Tutorial 01 – Character Rigging – Matt Wilson

In Matt Wilson’s first tutorial, he tackles the process of rigging a 2D character in After Effects using the free Duik plug-in . The 200,000 views prove that he’s done a pretty good job at it.

In this 40 minute tutorial, Wilson shows off a fun and quirky character that’s free to download, and he explains in detail the process for rigging and animating his character that you can follow along with.

Wilson walks step by step through the process of each layer in the character build, using the puppet tool to identify pivot points, and how to use the Duik plug-in to rig everything together.

Duik is a great free tool for rigging, but it can confuse new users, and Matt Wilson does an excellent job of demystifying the whole process.

3. Lesson 2/4 | How To Rig a 2D Character Puppet in Adobe After Effects | Animation Tutorial – Daniel Gies

Daniel Gies is a master of 2D character animation in After Effects. In fact, we’ve highlighted some of his beautiful work in our industry spotlight of his studio e.d. Films.

In this relatively brief tutorial, Gies outlines his process for creating a rig based on Adobe’s puppet tool and null objects. No plug-ins are used here. Just some old fashioned null objects and precise pinpointing.

If you want a straight-ahead way to build your own character rigs, this is a great place to start.

Daniel Gies has several other tutorials on his YouTube channel that deal with other aspects of rigging and character animation, all worth taking a look at.

4. How To Make a Cartoon | For Beginners – After Effects Tutorial –  Ross Plaskow

If you are looking for a tutorial that is for total beginners, this tutorial by Ross Plaskow is a great place to start. For one thing, Plaskow is highly entertaining in his approach (but be aware of some salty language).

While this tutorial does get into the process of rigging in After Effects, Ross actually goes all the way back to the basics of how to design and layout the initial character in Photoshop (including the all-important mouth movements). This is a step that many other tutorials skip or glaze over.

Plaskow uses a very simple method of rigging with anchor points and parenting, but it’s effective and easy to understand. It’s a great way to get started with rigging and character animation for beginners.

As a bonus, Plaskow lists a whole bunch of important keyboard shortcuts in the YouTube video’s description panel.

5. Chapter 1: Character Design and Setup – Ryan Boyle

In this short but sweet tutorial from Ryan Boyle, we see Boyle’s technique for creating and rigging a 2D character. Although some designers may not be as familiar with Illustrator, Boyle shows how he designs his characters in vector form so they can be scaled to any size.
Once his character is designed and layered in Illustrator, he also uses the very simple approach of adjusting anchor points and layer parenting to rig his simple, yet effective characters for animation.

Each of these tutorials uses a slightly different approach for rigging 2D characters for animation in After Effects, and each has its own merits. Try following each tutorial to see which method works best for you, and you’ll be a character animator in no time.

Let us know your preferred character rigging method in the comments below. And if you have a tutorial that has helped you learn to be a better 2D character rigger, link to it so we can all learn some new tricks.