Cutout animation

I’ve been a bit frustrated with the stiff and mechanical look of cutout characters’ arms and legs. Since each limb is divided into 3 layers–upper arm, forearm, hand; upper leg, lower leg, foot–you have to work hard to make patches to cover the joints. And the limbs are consistent in length which adds to the stiff look.

In looking at other examples of cutout animation I’ve been studying–frame by frame–the animation work of a studio named Mukpuddy. You can find their channel here:

I noticed, that for the most part, each arm and leg, including hands and feet, are done as one single layer. The various positions are separate drawings similar to how the positions of the mouth are done. The switches between positions/drawings is very fast and a slight bit of rotation, stretch, or skewing is added to enhance the motion.

Walk cycles are done with separate drawings for each position. Once completed, you simply cycle through the drawings. I copied one such cycle which consisted of 12 drawings which were exposed for 2 frames each.

A good program for watching a video frame by frame is TheKMPlayer. The shortcut key is F to go forward and SHIFT+F to go back. It’s quite an education watching cutout animation frame by frame to see how others do it.

Interesting post Zeb.

1) I’m in the process of learning to build fully rigged characters and animate them with the IK tool. So far, I share all of your reservations.
2) Don’t forget you can “buy-in” fully rigged characters now, as I learned from a recent post in the show your work area.
3) As you’re probably aware, a useful alternative to the “halt frame” approach to animation analysis is to do a conversion to .mov and import the result into animate (relevant permissions permitting).

Useful stuff.


Thanks for the reply and comments, Bob! Yes, I can buy already rigged characters although I have observed the free ones that are available via the tutorial sample materials. So I’ve studied those. And yes, you can just import a whole video sequence to study over and duplicate the animation.

I haven’t much experimented with IK yet. I need to get into that.

Hello there!

Here is a channel I go often for inspiration.

Not Toon Boom made, but all cut-out animation nontheless!


Thanks, Giles! I’ve been following their work for some time now. They use Anime Studio and do a great job. I think they also do a lot of point to point animation–similar to morphing.

Yes, they are using Anime Studio.

They use point animation allot, which is, as you said, similar to morphing in TBA but also different, a feature I wish TBA had.

Thanks for the input, Lilly! In regards to my first post in this thread, I came across a very interesting image posted by a friend of mine Michael Foster on his blog. It shows one of his character libraries. The legs and arms are drawn as single elements.

Here’s the link to his blog:

I spoke a bit with Michael about how he does his characters and here are some of the things he shared with me.

1. Both eyes are a single layer including the whites, pupils and eyelids. He does a set with just the whites with the pupils in various positions: center, left, right, top, bottom, and four more inbetween positions. Then he does the same but with various positions of the eyelids from above and below, and of course, blinks. This, to me, is a great simplifier of the eyes which I had been doing with 3 layers per eye, keyframing, cutout masks, etc.

2. For walks he does 6 positions for each entire leg and foot. He exposes each for two frames to get a 12 frame cycle. To make it smoother, he slightly rotates or skews inbetweens. He also adds a slight squash for the planting of the foot. For a slower walk cycle he exposes each for three frames and does the inbetweens to smooth it out as needed. I had tried an 12 position cycle on twos but I noticed that if the camera or background moved, it caused a jerky look. It was because of the stobing that occurs when the walk cycle is animated on twos but the camera or background moves on ones. So that’s something to watch out for.

3. Hands are separate from the arms and not connected. As the arm moves, the hands are moved with keyframes.

4. Both eyebrows are on one layer like the eyes.

Of course, for some things or styles of animation you may have to break down the parts further and so on. But in general, I thought his ideas were terrific and time saving. His work, the end product, speaks for itself.

Hey Zeb

Very interesting post about Michael’s methodology. I note that he appears to be working in Flash. I’m thinking that to use the general approach in Animate, it would be best to plan the “breakdown” as illustrated, create layers for the parts and do a full-rigging for the character. Or have I missed something?


I don’t think you’ve missed anything, Bob. Did you look at his blog? He also has a screenshot of his timeline in the post just before the one with the image I included. He does use Flash, which I’m not so familiar with. It seems like none of the layers is linked to the other–although he uses symbols and all. Personally, I’d link the arms to the body but leave the legs and feet separate connected only by the master peg.

I think you’ll find that if you want to make your cutout animation more smooth, and less cutout-y, then you will really want to focus on adding a lot of overshoot, ease, and follow-through to the animation. I noticed a lot of this in the Vampire Chicken clip.

I could see it being a lot of fun to animate this stuff with the new Deform tools that will be available in Harmony 9. There should hopefully be a video of this up on the Harmony website next week. These tools may not make it to Animate or Animate Pro, but Harmony is available in a Stand-Alone version that is comparable to Animate Pro.

That would make it really easy to add for example a curve-style deformer, to squash, stretch, and bend drawing layers to give them a more fluid feel.


Cool! Awesome design!


I’ve seen studios that have used a setup like this for the eyes and legs. It’s definitely a time-saver to swap drawings instead of animating the positions all the time. Although sometimes this means that more on-the-fly drawings may have to be created, for those positions that you don’t see in your regular walk cycle. So if your character is getting very angry and gesticulating madly, you’ll need to create new drawings for eyes, arms, and legs, but if your drawings are simple enough, then this is not going to take too much time to do.

It’s a combination of a preference of animation style as well as time saving.