When the layers in a Photoshop or Illustrator file are structured and named in a specific way, tags are auto-assigned to the layers for the character features they represent (chest, head, eyes, mouth, and so on) and the behavior is automatically rigged when a puppet is created from the artwork. The external inputs, such as face tracking, audio analysis, mouse clicks, and keypresses, in Character Animator can then control the puppet, giving added expression to two-dimensional artwork.

The following sections describe the necessary structure and naming of elements in a Photoshop or Illustrator file for automatic rigging to work. If you prefer, you can use the Puppet panel to assemble a puppet from individual layers and identify how layers are controlled using the Behavior tools within Character Animator. You can start by auto-rigging in Photoshop or Illustrator and then make more changes and refine movements in Character Animator, or use both the methods as appropriate for your workflows.

This section covers the basic layer structure and naming guidelines, but setup instructions for use with a specific behavior are described in the behavior-specific subsections described in Control puppets using behaviors.

Body features

Behaviors (for example, face tracking and breathing) can control specific features of a character's body if the feature’s layers in Photoshop or Illustrator use the following group (folder)/layer structure/naming or use the tags with the following names:

  • Head
    • Frontal, Left Profile, Left Quarter, Right Quarter, Right Profile (used by the Head Turner behavior)
      • Left Eyebrow
      • Left Eye
        • Left Blink
        • Left Eyelid Top and Left Eyelid Bottom
        • Left Pupil
        • Left Eyeball
      • Right Eyebrow
      • Right Eye
        • Right Blink
        • Right Eyelid Top and Right Eyelid Bottom
        • Right Pupil
        • Right Eyeball
      • Nose
      • Jaw (when used with Nutcracker Jaw behavior, do not specify Mouth shapes/visemes)
      • Mouth
        • (audio-analyzed): 
          • Ah
          • D
          • Ee
          • F
          • L
          • M
          • Oh
          • R
          • S
          • Uh
          • W-Oo
        • (video-analyzed): 
          • Neutral
          • Smile
          • Surprised
  • Breathe (used by the Breathe behavior)
  • Neck
  • Left Elbow
  • Left Wrist
  • Right Elbow
  • Right Wrist
  • Waist
  • Hip
  • Left Knee
  • Left Ankle
  • Left Heel
  • Left Toe
  • Right Knee
  • Right Ankle
  • Right Heel
  • Right Toe


  • In this example, the character name can be the parent group name and the Head and Breathe can be the layers. 
  • If Eyelid artwork is included, be sure to provide non-blank/empty Eye (Left Eye, Right Eye) artwork. Eyelid movement is based on the initial distance between the eyelid and eye.
  • If Pupil artwork is included, make sure that it warps independently of the eyeball it is on by prefixing the layer name with a “+” (see Warping control for more information). The Pupil moves based on your eye gaze direction.
  • If Blink artwork is included, it replaces the Eye artwork completely when your eye closes.
  • If no Blink and no Eyelid artwork are included, the puppet’s eyes scales vertically with your tracked eyelids.

Photoshop example
Photoshop example

Illustrator example
Illustrator example

In Photoshop, “Head” and “Mouth” are groups. All others can be groups or layers.

In Illustrator, “Head” and “Mouth” must be layers or sublayers (for example, “Head” and “Mouth” contains several nested layers/ sublayers). All others can be layers, sublayers, groups, or paths.

Additional layers/sublayers and groups can exist in a file.


  • For Illustrator artwork, you can use a more accurate representation of it by selecting the Puppet in the Project panel, then deselecting the Render As Vector option in the Properties panel. 
  • Some layer settings and capabilities — opacity, gradients, blending mode, clipping paths, and so on — are not supported when the Render As Vector option is checked.
  • Hidden (muted) artwork layers appears in a puppet as muted layers by default. However, if these layers are not used, they can cause unexpected results in puppet movement. You have to remove them from either the artwork file or puppet in the Puppet panel.
  • Unnamed layers, sublayers, groups, and paths in Illustrator artwork are assigned names based on their parent container.

Subgroups and groups

Puppet groups, subgroups, and layers
Puppet groups, subgroups, and layers

A. Puppet Groups B. Subgroup C. Layers 

When a PSD or AI artwork file is imported, it creates a puppet in the Project panel. The structure in the artwork file determines the initial structure of the puppet. Groups in a Photoshop document and layers, sublayers, and groups in an Illustrator document all create groups, which are puppets themselves just instanced in another puppet. The contents of these groups are usually groups, individual pieces with their sibling groups and are part of the warpable mesh inside their parent puppet. However, you can allow a group to warp independently so its warping is not affected by its parent puppet. You can also specify a custom point for a group to attach to its parent.


In an Illustrator document, a layer or group that contains only unnamed sublayers, groups, and paths are coalesced into a single group. Adjacent unnamed groups and paths also get combined into a single unnamed group. To ensure that a group is created, give it a name.

Warping control

By default, a group's layers and subgroups are treated as if they were a single deformable surface (“rubber sheet”). If you want one of these subgroups to move and warp independent of the group it's in but still be attached — the subgroup still moves when the group moves, but any warping that occurs in the group or subgroup is independent — you can specify that in either the artwork file or in the Properties panel.

Warp layer and its contents

To make a group and its contents warp independently from its group and subgroup, do either of the following:
  • In the artwork file, add a “+” prefix to the group's or layer’s name. Layers with this prefix become groups automatically (since group layers in the puppet don’t have the “Warp Independently" option to warp independently).
  • In Character Animator, open the puppet in the Puppet panel, select the group, then select the “Warp Independently” option in the Properties panel. For group layers, you can group them first (via Puppet > Group As Puppet), then select the Warp Independently option for it.

You can identify groups that are set to Warp Independently with a crown icon.

Layer with the warp independently property disabled

Layer with the warp independently property enabled

You can restrict single points in the warpable mesh with Fixed handles created using the Pin tool, or nonbendable segments with sticks using the Stick tool. The Stick tool (available in the Puppet panel) allows you to create rigid segments in the warpable mesh of a puppet’s rubber sheet.

The area around the segment cannot bend, but the segment can stretch or shrink. For example, you can create sticks (segments) for a character’s upper arm and lower arm, leaving a gap at the elbow so it can bend there.

Group attachment point

By default, a group attaches to the Origin in its group; this origin does not have to overlap the subgroup. Transformations of the subgroup are relative to this location. If no Origin-named handle exists, the center of the group's bounding box is used as the origin. 

Attach To attribute


Handles are locations on a puppet for specifying where a subgroup attaches to its group or for behavior-specific use (specifying the distance traveled for eye blinking, restricting movement of the group around it, applying dynamics to move a set of points, etc.).

For more information on restricting movement, see Handle Fixer: Restrict movement in a bendable skin.

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