It’s easy to be distracted by flashy digital effects, but sometimes keeping it simple can be just as effective. Keeping in mind how people used to do compositing before computers arrived on the scene, it is possible to use After Effects and Photoshop to create contemporary animation in a traditional way.

Here, animator Vida Vega shows you how she uses blending modes and digital painting to composite and tint a piece of hand-drawn animation in a subtle way that lets the original artwork take centre stage. She also reveals some great ways to speed up your workflow and alleviate much of the monotony of creating mattes of individual frames.

On page six of this tutorial, we've provided the finished animation.

Step 1 The animation I want to put together shows a dog swimming and ripples on the water’s inky surface. I hand-drew around 32 black-and-white frames for each of the three layers – the dog above water, the ripples and the underwater portion of the dog – and then scanned them in. To see how they’ll look when comped, I’ve quickly assembled them together in Photoshop using a Multiply blending mode, as shown above.


Step 2 Before animating them in After Effects, I needed to create mattes of the top layers to layer over the lower drawings. To speed up the process, I opened the first image in the sequence in Photoshop and started recording a new Action.