How to Animate a Simple 2D Character Head Rotation in Adobe After Effects

How to Animated a Simple 2D Character Head Rotation in Adobe After Effects

This is a quick overview on how to do really basic head rotations. It’s not a whole head turn this is just a head rotation.

In the video you will see a little girl’s head bobbing around and rotating quite a bit, not tons she breaks at about ¾. There’s some decent movement happening in there, you can see her ears are moving, her entire face is distorting a little bit, her eyes are moving realistically, the back of her hair is, the only thing that’s not working great are the bangs. We treated the bangs more manually which was a real pain, we would do it more like a cloth now.

Let’s see how this little character works, essentially it’s a bit of a trick because she’s not actually a flat face. We’ve actually pulled her features off and we have a little null object that is called face center and we are rotating and moving that all around. When her head is moving it’s actually that all her little parts are spaced out in such a way that it gives the illusion that she has a round head. We had to be very careful on how we picked our camera and the lense angle so that the features looked good. We would pick the camera out first and then space out the features until they looked the way we wanted them to.

Another thing we did for when the head rotates is created a distortion on the head base. This is the shape of her head and we’ve built in a distortion with the distortion mesh. The distortion mesh is a really basic grid, and we made it so it gave the illusion that the head could rotate left and right. We made that a composition and dropped that composition into the timeline under her head.

The face animation where it’s shifting in perspective is linked to the rotation of the face center. So here we have


This is done to make the intensity of it much less. If it was a 1-to-1 relationship the animation would have moved too much. If we take off the divide by -25 and see what it does, we see that the head animation executes so quickly that is actually just flips right from one side of the face to the other, which is not what we want so we decided by -25. This is a value we came up with by experimenting, until we found what what wanted.

Essentially that is how the head works. The other thing we have here are her eyes. In the video you can see she has a blink happening. What we built for the blink is a little control slider. There’s a slider for her blinking, which opens her eyes and closes them. As she opens and closes her eyes her eyebrows go up and down, we found it looked better when she blinked and her brows moved a little bit. We can blink them wherever we want and because they’re parented to this 3-dimensional treatment, we don’t have to grab new eyes or reposition the eyes, they take care of themselves.

The way a blink works, very similar to the way we did the head distortion. Let’s go into the eye composition. Essentially the way the eyes work is that it is a nested composition and it is an animated eye later that we’ve painted. They’re on a number of holds on the opacity so we can turn them on and off depending on how we need them. This is one timeline, we have a full close and full open. When you go back to the who composition, if we look at the code on the eye we have enabled timeRemap and it is directly linked and equal to the value of the slider.


There are some distortions and other things happening to her mouth as well, as her face rotates down her mouth actually squashes. There’s a mesh warp, again attached to the head rotation (Face Center). As the X rotation increases the mouth changes ever so slightly. The distance between the shadow under her lip and her mouth change ever so slightly.

Again it’s limited because we can break it eventually.