How to create a repeating circle animation in Photoshop

by hannah 2,803 views2

In this tutorial you will learn how to create an animation of an item that turns in a circle. I have chosen to create an animation of circling birds but you could use any item for this that you like. If you want to follow this tutorial using the same graphics that I have used, you can find the photos that I have used on Unsplash here: Background Bird

Before I started this tutorial I turned the photo of a bird into a silhouette with a transparent background.

Step 1.
Open up the background and your item that you want to animate. I have a photo of a building, looking upwards into the sky as my background and a black silhouette of a bird in flight.

2 starting images

Step 2.
Click and drag the bird onto the background so they are both in one document.

click and drag
Step 3.
With both the background and the bird now in one document select the layer with the bird and re-position it on the background so it is in the correct place and size for the animation.
both items in 1 document

To re-size use Apple T / Ctrl T. Press Shift whilst re-sizing to keep the object in proportion.
As we want to create the animation in a circle you will want to imagine positioning the bird on the edge of the circle.

reduce size
Step 4.
Duplicate the bird layer in the layers palette. To do this make sure the original bird layer is selected and Apple J / Ctrl J.
position first element

Step 5.
With the new layer selected rotate it by 180 degrees. You can do this with the transform controls Apple T / Ctrl T and either use the mouse to turn the object or use the angle input in the tool bar at the top of the screen.
duplicate layer
transform 180

Step 6.
With the same layer selected use the move tool to drag the new layer into position.

move tool
By pressing shift as you drag the new layer it will stay in line. Newer versions of Photoshop will highlight the alignment as you move the layer. This layer should be directly opposite the original on the imaginary circle that you wish to create.
re position second bird

Step 7.
Select both layers in the layers palette and duplicate both layers. To do this select the first layer and press ctrl whilst selecting the 2nd layer and then click and drag on either layer to the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
select 2 layers
The new layers will appear above the originals.
duplicate both layers

Step 8.
With the new layers selected use the Transform tools and rotate the layers 90 degrees.
rotate 90 degrees
Step 9.
Now select all 4 layers and duplicate again.
select layers
You should now have 8 layers with the top 4 layers selected.
duplicate layers
Step 10.
As I want to have an animation that rotates through each 30 degree angle I am going to rotate the last 4 layers created by 30 degrees. You should now see something similar to the below graphic.
transform & rotate all 4 by 30 degrees
Step 11.
Duplicating the last 4 layers again and using the transform tools to rotate by another 30 degrees will give you all the stages of the animation.
duplicate layers again
You should now have something similar to the below with 12 layers / items on top of your background layer.
tranform another 30 degrees
Step 12.
To make things a lot simpler to animate I re-organise my layers at this stage.
name layers based on degree of rotation
To see which layer is which, toggle the visibility icon on each layer and rename them by double clicking on the layer name in the layers palette. I’ve re-named them based on the angle as shown above.
re-name layers based on position
Step 13.
With all the layers renamed. Click and drag the layers into numerical order within the layers palette. This is all to help speed up the process when it comes to creating the animation.
re-name layers

re-order layers
Step 14:
As a last step before animation you need to make sure your elements for animation are in the correct position. I wanted the whole lot a bit smaller in comparison to the background image. To do this select all the layers of birds in the layers palette and use the transform tools whilst pressing shift to keep everything in proportion.

re-position before animation

Step 15.
When you are completely happy with the size and position of your graphics. Open up the timeline Window. Go to > Window > Timeline.

Window timeline
This will open up a Timeline window at the bottom of the screen that looks similar to below.

Step 16.
There are 2 different methods of creating animations, for this I’ve chosen to create a frame animation. In the new version of Photoshop, I selected this from the drop down in the centre of the palette. In older versions it may be on the timeline method by default and you can change to frame animation by clicking on an icon within the palette that looks like 3 squares together.
photoshop timeline

Step 17.
Your first frame will show all the layers you have switched on.
frame 1

For the 1st frame you will just want the background and the first bird labelled ‘0’, so you can turn off the visibility of the other layers.

turn off other layers

Your canvas will reflect these changes and look similar to the below.

1 layer only

Step 18.
To set the speed of the frames, click on the time shown on the 1st frame – I’ve changed mine to 0.5 seconds.

0.5 second per frame

Step 19.
Duplicate the frame. Drag your first frame to the ‘New frame icon’.
duplicate frame

Step 20.
With the 2nd frame selected, change the visibility of your layers so the 1st bird ‘0’ is no longer showing and the next bird in the circle ’30’ is.
frame 2
turn layer visability on and off
Step 21.
Keep duplicating the layers and choosing which layers need to be shown on each. It is important this is done in order as if you go back and edit a frame, the change is then carried forward across the later frames.
frame 3
full timeline
Step 22.
If you want the animation to play continuously rather than a set number of times. Select ‘Once’ at the bottom left of the timeline and choose ‘Forever’.
loop forever
Step 23.
You can see how this will look within Photoshop on the canvas by pressing play on the timeline.
Below is my animation at a speed of 0.5 for each frame.
0.5 second speed
Step 24.
To make changes to the speed you can select all frames by selecting the first frame and then the last frame by pressing shift and then changing the speed on the drop down on one of the frames and this will change across them all. I’ve sped up the animation by choosing a time of 0.25.
select all frames to change speed
Below is the animation set at 0.25
0.2 second speed

My final animation:
I decided that I wanted the animation to be smoother, to do this I added in more frames with more bird rotations.
The final animation had 24 frames, all at 0.25 seconds with birds rotated to every 15 degrees.
extra frames

I duplicated all the bird layers, made them smaller as a group and changed their position and rotation to create the 2 bird animation below:

2 birds looping

Comments (2)

  1. Thank’s, Hannah.

    I’ve been looking for circling object animation lately and then found it here. Very helpful tutorial, especially now i know how to set the object angle to get more interesting and alive motions.

    Have a good day.


  2. Thanks for your comment Acun, glad you found it helpful

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