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2.5D Animation tutorial

In this tutorial, we’ll be showing you how to create a 2.5D animation from a photo using Photoshop and After Effects! The 2.5D parallax technique is a great way to add depth to a photo, creating the illusion of 3D space. It can add visual appeal to images and also help bring archival or historical photos to life!


1 – The first step with any 2.5D animation is to analyze a photo and start thinking about how you can separate it into mid-ground, foreground, and background. Here, the subject is pretty obvious, a woman meditating on top of the cliff. Take the Magnetic Lasso tool and separate the subject from the rest of the mid-ground and background.

2 – Now that you have the selection, right click it, and select Layer via Copy. Right click on this layer and go up to select pixels. Now click on the background and while still having the pixel selected, navigate your top menu to Select > Modify > Expand, and expand it by 10 pixels.

3 – From the top menu, go to Edit > Fill, and make sure Content-Aware is selected. Choose your opacity and press OK. And just like magic, the background has filled in the space left over by the subject.

4 – Name this layer and duplicate the background. Now you’ll have another layer to start selecting the mid-ground layer. Go back up to the Magnetic Lasso, and start separating the mid-ground from the background, just like with the subject. Repeat the steps done in 1, 2, and 3 for this second layer. Make sure to take your time and fine tune the selection.

5 – Once you have completed separating the foreground, mid-ground, and background, save the project.


6 – Now you’re ready to continue the process in After Effects. Import the Photoshop file, making sure you have “create composition” selected and “retain layer sizes”. This will bring in all of our layers at the editable Layer Styles should be the option selected as well

7 – Create these layers into 3D objects. To do this, select the cube icon. Bring up your subject and mid-ground. Usually, you would have the mid-ground and foreground separated. In this case, since the subject is on top of the mid-ground, you want to make sure they are linked. Next, create keyframes to move the subject on the Z-axis forward or backward. Since the mid-ground is linked, the two will move together in this case.

8 – Next, adjust the background by scaling it up so that the background is a little more zoomed in. As she starts pulling out, it will also reveal more of the background. We’re going to create a cool optical effect known as a dolly zoom. To do this, flip these two keyframes, so the background will be moving forward while the subject is moving back.

9 – Make this even more interesting and give everything a little bit more depth by adding a camera, by navigating our top menu to Layer > New > Camera. The 50mm option is okay. Make sure this new camera layer is at the top of your composition. Now this camera will allow you to travel through the shot.

10 – At this stage, the basic 2.5D effect should be achieved. You can further improve the shot by adding effects and more 3D eye-candy, such as light flares, particles, etc. Check out Videvo for some royalty-free resources.

Here is the final 2.5D animation. These are just the basics, but with a few adjustments you can make it look really cinematic, and it is an effect that can be used to improve almost any still image used in your productions. We hope you enjoyed this tutorial and find it helpful. Stay tuned for more tutorials coming soon!

Original Photo