Image courtesy: Freepik

Stop Motion Animation in After Effects [in 5 Mins]

Published on 12 May 2024


Stop motion animation in After Effects is an interesting treat both in terms of watching and its ease of implementation.

Animated explainer videos are omnipresent in the internet. And the graphic designers and CG artists are always in the look out of new styles and treatment to pop up videos up for consumption.

The style of stop motion surely adds variety to your creatives. So, you need to adopt the techniques to do stop motion in After Effects if you’re interested in it.

But before we start discussing the tricks and techniques involved in making a stop motion animation, let’s see how does it look like. I have just made a video in this style so that it becomes easier as our point of reference.

You have seen the video and let’s now do the breakdowns. I have used some retro backgrounds and graphic elements collected from Freepik.

  • The background textures and their stop motion animation in After Effects
  • Graphic elements and their animations
  • Stop motion of the text
  • Transitions between the scenes – although its not entirely related to the stop motion effect, but we’ll see how to make it sync with the stop animation

Now, these are the breakdowns at the macro level. We’ll get to technical nitty-gritty of how do you get the stop motion animation effects inside you After Effects compositions.

1. Stop Motion Animation in After Effects – Animate Background

Let’s concentrate the first 5 seconds of the video. You can get this this jittery effect in a particular way. Let’s for the moment focus only on the background.

As I said, I imported a few retro images from freepik. I have also added a paper texture using Multiply as the blending mode to give a feel of hand made paper collection. See the image below. Used a new viewer to show two layers side by side.

Together, these two have made the background. Now we have to animate background.

1.1 Key frame Position & Rotation properties with different values throughout the duration

See the above screenshot. I have changed the values of position and rotation properties of both the layers. The change is not rigorous, but somewhat to-and-fro from its still position. Also note that I have added all these key frames 10 frames apart from each other. It changed both position and rotation values of the layers through the duration of the composition.

This key frame animation is a beginner’s treat whenever someone gets into Adobe After Effects, the very fast step of animation. But what does it have to do with Stop Motion Animation in After Effects?

Let’s see that in the next section.

1.2 Select the Toggle Hold Keyframes & Convert them to produce Stop motion animation in After Effects

Now, you’re at the heart of the stop motion animation. When you make simple keyframe animation the property changes from keyframe to the other smoothly. It basically transitions from one key frame to the other.

The idea of converting (selecting them all by dragging from one corner to the other) them into ‘Toggle Hold Keyframe’ is it holds the value of one keyframe till the play head reaches the next and so on.

This creates the jittery motion throughout the duration and this is the fundamental of the stop motion animation.

What it does is it holds a particular value of any parameter, like position and rotation, for some moment instead of smoothly transitioning from one keyframe to the next and this results in the strobe kind of motion. Let’s also convert the keyframes of the image layer and see what has come out.

This has create the stop motion animation in After Effects. The animating background has kind of different stop motion effects in the image and the paper texture.

I have done it on purpose to create an illusion of a displacing paper over time. If you them to be in exact sync, all you have to do is make both the layers have exactly the same values of position and rotation keyframes through the duration.

You better do one thing in that case. Create a precomp first and then apply the Toggle Hold Keyframe of that precomp. Let’s see how does that come out. Let’s try it with these two again, so the different will be evident.

What happened in this case is, I have put both the image and paper texture layer in a composition, made them a precomp moving all of their attributes and then applying the keyframes on the Position and Rotation properties of the precomp.

Finally, I changed the keyframes to Toggle Hold Keyframe, selecting all of them. This time you can clearly see that the paper texture and the image layer underneath are animating in sync.

2. Animate Text – Stop Motion Animation in After Effects

The same principal applies here in case of text layers. You keyframe the position and rotation properties of the text layer and then selecting all the keyframes apply Toggle Hold Keyframe (right click).

Now, instead of Diamond shaped icon of the Keyframe, we see two different types of keyframes here. It’s good to have an idea of those different types of icons for the Keyframes.

2.1 Keyframe Interpolation for Stop Motion Animation with respect to the last instance of Text Animation

After Effects has different interpolation methods for keyframe animation.

Now, that may sound a bit technical. But in plain language, it refers to how the transition occurs from one keyframe to another with respect to their values. It could abrupt or gradual or a combination of both.

You ask why is this even necessary! It’s necessary because there are different types of animation and not all of them are same. Take instance of the Stop motion animation.

It’s jittery and you can hardly find real life instance. Even a machine part, cam or a cam follower has a kind of sine wave oscillation and they are called simple harmonic motion. So you get the idea why different kind of keyframe interpolations are there. Now, let’s dive a little deeper what are the interpolation methods available in After Effects and what are their functions.

By default, After Effects keyframe has one color, that mean one type of interpolation effective on a keyframe, unless you specify otherwise.

When two types of interpolation work on a keyframe, it gets one half with a darker grey in comparison with the other. But it has a certain interpretation.

It means that the keyframe adjacent to the darker side is not overridden by the Hold interpolation applied on the preceding keyframe. Icons with two different darker grey shades indicate that one interpolation method is for the incoming property value, while the other method implies the outgoing property value.

If you’re interested in a detailed documentation, I’ll ask to go this Adobe page for a more detailed and elaborate explanation. But for our purpose of Stop motion Animation in After Effects, with reference to the above GIF animation in the previous section of Animating Text, I would like to talk a few things on two different icon types.

Hold (Linear in)

We have seen the Hold (Linear in) keyframe icons in quite a few places (refer to the above image and GIF). It tells us that the Hold interpolation of the preceding keyframe doesn’t have any bearing upon the current keyframe and values from one keyframe (the preceding) to another (the current) changed in a uniform rate.

That’s the mechanism of Linear interpolation particularly effective in creating a stop motion animation in After Effects. The jittery and strobe effect come into being using the linear interpolation.


The square shaped keyframes indicate that they have are not affected by the Hold interpolations of the keyframes on either sides. This resulted in the Hold or stop effect of the animation. The monetary halt of the text layer is created by this Hold type of interpolation.

So, in reality we get two different types of movement. One is a jittery motion of the text layer and the other being sudden halts of the layer.

Understanding keyframe interpolation for stop motion animation in After Effects is important to master the technique.

3. Summing up the process of Stop Motion Animation in After Effects with the first video

I won’t walk any further with respect to the first video as the mechanisms I have mentioned holds for all the scenes, throughout each sequence.

Be it the background textures, the text layers and other graphic elements, you get to walk along the following steps. It’s somewhat tedious a process. And I leave the rest of the work for you to make out. I’ll discuss a different technique in the following segment that’s different to what we have followed till now.

  • Create layers in separate compositions with animation keyframes. Don’t use the Toggle Hold Keyframe at the very first stage. Get the Keyframes of the Transform properties ready with whatever adjustments you want in the Position, Rotation or even in the Scale properties.
  • Select all Keyframes, Right Click and then select Toggle Hold Keyframe. You can even use Keyframe Interpolation, just in case you want a different look of the animation. This Toggle Hold Keyframe and the Keyframe interpolation are at the heart of the Stop Motion Animation in After Effects.
  • You have to repeat this on one composition after another. Use the same technique to create transitions between an outgoing and incoming composition.

Let’s now see what other techniques we can use for making Stop Motion Animation in After Effects.

4. Stop Motion Animation in After Effects using Expressions

Things done in After Effects always get dimensions when you add expressions to your work. It’s no exception for creating stop motion animation in After Effects either. Let’s do a simple scene set up with Stars. I have scaled up the shape layers in 50% of

increment from their relative values, i.e. 50 to 100, 100 to 150 and so on. The idea is to generate wiggle and then add an abrupt update to the wiggle motion. Before adding the expressions, we have to do a little bit of tweaking. Let’s move on.

4.1 Add Wiggle Path to the Shape Layer – Start with the largest one

I have turned off the all the stars except the largest one to work on it first. We’ll generate wiggle motion for the star and halt the motion periodically to create abrupt or stop motion effect.

Add > Wiggle Paths; Under the Content > Wiggle Path 1, I have cranked down the Detail to 0 from 10 and Wiggle/ Second to 0 from 3.

Now, we have to add a few expressions at the Random Seed. Add these two lines of After Effects expressions for stop motion animation effects.

4.2 Use posterizeTime () & Time expressions to create Stop motion Animation in After Effects

Alt Click on Random Seed and add the following lines of codes.


Now, what do these code do. The property Random Seed adds random values to the Wiggle Path. Time*50 amplifies the effect.

But the real hero is the posterizeTime() with an argument 5. What it does is it updates the random wiggle value once every 5 frame. Since the composition frame rate is 25, effectively the Frame rate of the Composition becomes ‘5 FPS’.

This helps create a strobe or stop motion like effect in After Effects. Let’s see how does the render come out!

We’ll now copy this ‘Wiggle Path’ values along with the expressions and paste them over all other shape layers. Let’s now see how do all the layer look like.

It’s okay, but there is no randomness in the wiggling motion of the shape layers, since the ‘Random Seed’ of all the layers are carrying identical values and yielding similar wiggle. Let’s now add some randomness to their motion.

4.3 Use ‘Index’ in the After Effects Expressions for Stop Motion Animation with Random values

Make the following changes to our previous piece of code. Just replace them with the following.

time*50 + (index*150)

What I have done here is I have added index expression with time. And then copied the ‘Wiggle Path’ again to paste it over rest of the shape layers.

‘Index’ affects the layer stack (number or index) and generates separate or random value for each layer. It’ll create a random value for wiggling for each of the layers. Let’s see the animation.

Even in this 3-second animation, the randomness is quite evident. They are all wiggling in random manner and the posterizeTime() expression has yielded the stop motion effect in this animation.

5. Stop Motion Animation in After Effects with footage

There is another way, you can go for creating stop motion animation in After Effects when you’re using footage.

I have got this footage from Pexels. Let’s see how we can attain this footage. Hope you have see the video.

  • Import the footage into an After Effects composition with the same frame rate as that of the footage. This clip has the 30 FPS.
  • Right Click on the Layer > Effects > Time > Posterize Time > Change the value (I assigned it to 4 to get the effect as shown in the 2nd part of the video).

It’s really an effective tool for applying over the clips and generate the stop motion animation. What it does is it bring the posterizeTime() Expression in a graphical user interface for those who want to avoid getting into the nitty-gritty of coding.

It’s surely a treat for quickly applying stop motion animation effects over the footage, but for more control over vector animation you have to use expressions.


Stop motion animation in After Effects is one of most popular methods of creating stop motion among the CG artists and motion designers. It’s simple and fast to produce.

Besides, it throws a different style for your story telling. With or without the expressions, Stop motion animation in After Effects is an effect that can be easy to replicate and follow for both the producers and viewers.

There is a script that is used in Adobe Premiere Pro that create stop motion animation. I’ll update this blog post writing on that script in the coming days. So, keep a watch just in case you’re interested.

Also, please share this post and make comment if you do have any take on the topic. It’ll encourage me write more such useful content.

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