How to apply a hand-crafted look to your animations in After Effects
In the times when computers are taking over, many people find comfort in things that have a human touch to them. Hand-crafted products are rising in popularity.
The same trend can be translated into animations.
I personally often prefer the imperfect look in animations, over something very clean and polished.
The ultimate achievement is here traditional frame-by-frame animation. But, let’s just say as a Motion Designer we don’t always have the time or budget to hand draw every animation that we can accomplish in a couple of clicks in After Effects. (Even though I really enjoy doing exactly that!)
What we need to do is to extract the characteristics of hand-drawn animation and apply them to our static images or animated motion graphics.
The characteristics of hand-drawn animation
Let’s take a look at this animation:
Looking at this, what makes you convinced this is hand-drawn animation?
It’s the following things:
- Shaky imperfect lines (also often referred to as boiling)
- Lower framerate (12, 8 or even 6 fps)
On traditional mediums we sometimes have additionally:
- Textures (of the drawing canvas and of the specific utensils)
Those effects we can replicate in After Effects. Let’s see how!
💡 If you don’t have time to build from scratch, you can also just use my “Handcrafted Look” — presets. ⭐Get them here!
How to achieve a hand-drawn look in After Effects
Here is what we’re going to do:
We’re going to turn the clean animation (top) into the one that looks more handmade (bottom).
You can use a predefined composition or video / animation of yours or create something from scratch to test it out or grab some illustrations — For example something free from DrawKit (gumroad.com)!
To get started with something, you can simply create a composition in After Effects 1080x1080 (or whatever size you like) and insert a couple of lines and shapes into it or the illustration above.
The effect we are creating can be selectively applied to every layer, or you can “pre-compose” your whole scene and apply it to the entire thing.
Step 1 — Create general line wobbliness with “Turbulent Displace”
Select a layer to which you want to apply the effect and go to “Effects & Presets” on the right side of After Effects. If you don’t see it, you can also go to
Window > Effects & Presets and enable it there.
Enter Turbulent Displace and apply it
Now it should look like this:
The first effect will determine the overall wobbliness of the line. As good starting values set:
Amount to 10
Size to 20
Step 2 — Make lines wobble by animating “Evolution”
Now we want to make the lines move and we can do this by animating the Evolution property. We will apply a simple expression for that.
ALT+CLICK on the little stopwatch next to Evolution.
In the little textbox that opens, enter the following code snippet:
posterizeTime(8); // sets 8 frames per second
time*1000; // changes evolution value over time
This expression makes Evolution change with time, and the posterize creates a lower framerate for this change (8fps). Based on preference you can set this to 6, 12, or 24fps. The 1000 is just an arbitrary, high value so the Evolution change between frames creates enough random motion.
This will already create a nice line wobble. And it might be already what you want.
In the next step we will create more detail in the line itself to make it look like a pencil. But most of the steps are the same.
Step 3 — Duplicate the first Turbulent Displace effect
In the duplicated turbulent displace we want to decrease
Size to 4
Amount to 30
Complexity to 4
And then we end up with something like this.
Because we duplicated the last effect the expression is still applied and it will animate evolution automatically. So you can try playing it and tweak it to your liking.
Bonus TIP — Color Boiling
This might be enough of the look you are looking for. What I additionally like adding is a bit of “color boiling”. As if it was painted with real paints that created some inconsistent hues and saturation.
In the example at the top of this article, the effect is much more subtle. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1 — Add Turbulent Noise effect
First, add the “Turbulent Noise” Effect.
Let’s tweak the parameters a bit and set:
Fractal Type to Terrain
Contrast to 24
Brightness to -1
Complexity to 6
And then the most important thing let’s set:
Blending Mode to Hue
Opacity to 15%
We also want to add the change over time again. Animate the Evolution like described above. ALT+Click (OPTION+Click) on the stopwatch next to evolution and insert this into the code box:
posterizeTime(8); // All the following things will be done 8 times per second
time*1000; // time multiplied by 1000 will be the new evolution value
Step 2 — Duplicate turbulent noise effect
Now duplicate the above effect by selecting it and then CTRL+D / CMD+D.
The main thing that changes in this duplicated effect is the Blending Mode at the end, change it to Saturation.
But to have a slightly different effect here we should also change some other parameters.
Fractal Type to Turbulent Sharp
Contrast to 53
Brightness to 1
Transform > Scale to around 300
Blending Mode to Saturation
Opacity to 50%
This is what worked for me, but you can experiment and try different things.
And now you should have a pretty good color boil.
⌛Save some time
I used to build and rebuild this effect over and over and it would take me 15–30min every time to tinker with the settings, or look up another tutorial!
Now I have built some presets to automate my workflow and save me from the hassle.
And you can have them, too!
Handcrafted Look in After Effects Presets — Boiling Lines & Color (gumroad.com)
The cool things you can do with it!
You can use it to bring life to your static illustrations.
You can even use it on cartoony 3D animations to make them look like they are hand-drawn.
That’s all folks!
👏👏 Thanks and give some claps if you enjoyed this story! 👏👏