How to Create a Fun Animation in Photoshop Using Puppet Warp

Have you ever wanted to manipulate the movements of an entire subject in a natural, puppet-like way in Photoshop? Here we will show you not only how you can achieve this, but also how you can turn it into a fun animation.

One of Photoshop’s newer warp tools is the puppet warp tool. Although most warp tools work very similarly, the Puppet Warp Tool has a fun aspect that really helps create natural body movement.

What is Photoshop Puppet Warping?


Image of a man jumping in the air with a Photoshop puppet chain mesh on him.

The name gives us a hint as to what the Puppet Warp Tool can do, but for a little more detail, let’s discuss what Puppet Warp is.

Imagine a puppet on a string, where the strings connect to the puppet’s limbs. These connections allow the puppet’s body to move somewhat naturally like a human’s; the Puppet Warp tool works to manipulate an image in the same way.

Like many warp tools, Photoshop’s Puppet Warp Tool applies a mesh to the subject that allows you to push and pull the subject in your desired motions. In addition to the triangular mesh, Puppet Warp allows you to place pins on any part of the mesh to create joints. These joints help Photoshop create a natural deformation similar to real body movements.

To get started, find an appropriate image to use. The effect works best on a human or animal body that is clearly isolated from the background. Once you have chosen your image, open it in Photoshop. Duplicate the layer in the Layers panel by right-clicking the image and clicking Duplicate layer.

USE VIDEO OF THE DAY

First, you need to select the topic. Although you can manually select it using a variety of methods, if your chosen image has an obvious subject against a neutral background, you can use Content-Aware Fill to automatically select the subject.

With your duplicate layer selected, make sure the Rectangular marquee tool, or another selection tool, is selected. In the menu, click To select > Topic. Your subject will now have ants running around its edge, separating it from the background.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About the Subject Selection Tool in Photoshop

With your subject selected, right click on the image and click Content Aware Fill. This will bring up a new window displaying two comparison windows.

In the pop-up, you’ll notice that your original image on the left will now have a sample green screen around your subject’s neutral background. The preview window on the right will show you the results of the content-aware fill.

If your preview screen is still showing a slight outline of where your subject previously sat, you can add 10px in the Feather box at the top, from 7 to 10px, and click To expand. This will remove the outline and make the image look more natural where the subject was removed. Click on Apply Where Okay once satisfied with the result.


remove outline after

The running ants from your selection will still be visible, although your subject is now gone. Don’t deselect because you will continue to use the selection shape for the next step.


In the Layers panel, drag the duplicate layer above your recent isolated subject layer. Then, with the duplicate layer selected, click on the Add a layer mask button at the bottom of the layers panel.

This does the opposite of content-aware fill and creates a mask to remove the background from your subject. This will now give you a layer with an isolated subject and a layer with only a visible background, plus your original image as its own layer which will be useful to you later.

Related: How to Mask a Subject in Photoshop Using the Subject Selection Tool

On the hidden layer, right-click the layer and click Convert to smart object. Then go to the main menu and click on Edit > puppet chain. You will notice that this applies a triangular mesh to your isolated subject, allowing you to distort it.

You can choose to keep the mesh visible, but it’s easier to add the pins and see how the image handles if you turn off the visibility of the mesh. In the mesh toolbar at the top there is a toggle button for Show mesh. It makes no difference to how the image distorts if the mesh is visible or not, but it can help you see detail in your subject if you turn it off.

Now, with the Puppet Warp Tool activated, you will notice that the cursor is displayed as a pin. Using the pin, click each limb joint in your subject, keeping in mind the natural movements of the body – each limb only needs one pin.


Screenshot of the Photoshop dashboard showing the Puppet Warp tool in use.

Once you have placed the pins, you can then drag the body parts around like a puppet. Be aware of any additional deformation; this is one reason why it’s best to turn mesh off, so you can see any unwanted warping before it’s too late.

We suggest moving each limb, so that nothing is in the same place or position as the original image. Be aware of natural body movements – although Puppet Warp is very intuitive, it can sometimes warp abnormally.


Screenshot of the Photoshop dashboard showing the Puppet Warp tool gone wrong.  The arm is misplaced behind the other arm in an impossible way.

If you drag a limb across an existing part of the selection, it can move it forward even though it would be physically impossible for the body to move that way. If this happens, simply right-click on the affected area and click To advance Where Send backward to fix.


Photoshop screenshot showing side effects of puppet warping.

Once you have warped your subject to the desired position, you can simply click any other button on the tool panel and a pop-up will ask if you want to apply the warp. Click on Apply. You can now see your last deformed puppet.

How to Animate Your Puppet in Photoshop

Once you’ve created your puppet chain, you can use it to create animation that you can turn into a GIF. It might just be for fun rather than serious animation, but your warping skills can allow you to create smooth motion for longer animation.

Related: How to Use Photoshop and After Effects to Create Motion Graphics

On your layers panel, highlight the hidden background layer and the layer with your isolated subject, and merge these layers by right-clicking either of the two highlighted layers and clicking Merge Layers. You should end up with your original image on the bottom layer and your new distorted image on the top layer.


Click on Window > Chronology to display Photoshop’s animation timeline. This will bring one of your layers into the timeline as a frame. Click it Convert to image animation in the lower left corner of the timeline panel, then click the timeline menu button on the right side and click Create frames from layers. This will bring your other layers into the timeline panel.


Screenshot of Photoshop Animation Timeline with frames

With all of your layers in the animation timeline, click the arrow under each frame to set the timing. For fast animation, we suggest 0.2 for each frame. Click on Player in the timeline to see what your animations look like.

Once you are satisfied with the results, you can save it. Go to To file > Export > Save for Web (Legacy)​​​​​​. Most of the settings should match your needs. Be sure to save your file in GIF format, as other formats don’t support moving images.

Make Fun Animations in Photoshop

Now that you’ve learned how to use Photoshop Puppet Warp, you can manipulate many images for fun or realistic uses. Turning your puppets into animation can be fun, or just an extra editing skill in your back pocket.

Go ahead and test them out on other poses, animals, or non-living subjects to see how far you can push the Puppet Warp tool.


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