This is a science project that's hard to resist. An animated layer mask gives your viewers x-ray vision to see beneath the surface to this man's skull.
Start in Photoshop
This animation looks complicated, but it's really very simple to make. We started in Photoshop with two images—a portrait that we doctored up a little, and a creepy photo of an illuminated skull. We scaled and transformed the two images slightly so the features line up. Now the file is ready for you to animate.
In the steps that follow you'll add a layer mask to the skull, cut a hole in the layer mask, and move the layer mask independently of the artwork to create an animated journey beneath the skin. Both Photoshop and ImageReady offer layer masking. We'll start working in Photoshop, then jump to ImageReady to complete this project.
Make a Circular Selection
Start in Photoshop by making a circular selection that you'll use as you create a layer mask. Hide the Skull layer temporarily by clicking in the Visibility field of the Skull layer A. Select the Elliptical Marquee tool in Photoshop's toolbox, and add a slight feather by typing 1 in the Feather field in the Options bar. Drag out a selection, holding the Shift key to constrain the selection to a circle. Make the selection a little bigger than the man's right eye B.
Add a Layer Mask
Click in the Visibility field of the Skull layer again to make that layer visible A. Click on the Skull layer to select it. With the circular selection active, click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette B.
Photoshop adds a layer mask to the Skull layer. The layer mask is filled with white inside the area you selected and with black everywhere else. The white pixels reveal the skull image. The black pixels mask it so that you can see through to the layer below.
The layer mask is represented by the grayscale thumbnail on the right side of the Skull layer.
Unlink the Layer Mask
Click the link symbol between the layer mask thumbnail and the image thumbnail A. The link symbol disappears B, indicating that the layer and its layer mask are now unlinked. This makes it possible to move the layer mask independently of the skull image so that you can animate the layer mask without disturbing the image.
Jump to ImageReady
Click the Edit in ImageReady button at the bottom of the Photoshop toolbox to launch ImageReady and open this file in ImageReady with all the changes you made to it in Photoshop. You're moving to ImageReady because Photoshop doesn't have animation features.
Create Animation Frame 2
Choose Window>Animation to open the Animation palette with Frame 1 of the animation automatically displayed. Click the Duplicate Animation Frame icon at the bottom of the Animation palette A to create Frame 2 B. Frame 2 is now a copy of Frame 1. Next, you'll make a change to Frame 2 to begin constructing the animation.
Select the Layer Mask Thumbnail
In the Layers palette, click on the Skull layer's layer mask thumbnail A so that you're working on the layer mask, rather than on the skull image. You can tell the layer mask is selected because it's surrounded by a thin border and the field just to the left of the Skull layer contains a mask symbol B (as opposed to the paintbrush symbol you'll see there when the image thumbnail is selected).
Move the Layer Mask on Frame 2
Select the Move tool in the toolbox. With Frame 2 still selected, click and drag the layer mask, so that the nose of the skull appears in the white circular area of the mask. This suggests the illusion that you're seeing through the image of the man to the nose area of his skull. You're actually just rearranging the mask, with its revealing white area and nonrevealing black area, on the Skull layer, making parts of the Skull layer visible and invisible.
Create Frame 3
With Frame 2 selected, click the Duplicate Animation Frame icon A in the Animation palette to create Frame 3 B. On Frame 3, with the layer mask still selected, use the Move tool to click and drag in the image until you see the left eye area of the skull.
Create Frame 4
With Frame 3 selected, click the Duplicate Animation Frame icon at the bottom of the Animation palette again to create Frame 4. Check that the layer mask thumbnail is still selected on the Skull layer in the Layers palette. With the Move tool, click and drag in the image, moving the layer mask until the circle reveals the teeth in the skull.
Now you'll have ImageReady create some additional intermediate frames for you, adding gradual changes between the frames you just made yourself. Select Frame 2 in the Animation palette. Click the Tween button at the bottom of the Animation palette to open the Tween dialog box. Choose the following settings there and click OK:
Preview the Animation
Click the Play/Stop button at the bottom of the Animation palette A to watch the animation play in the document window. The circle moves around the image revealing the skull along its path. Notice that there is a small jump when the animation loops back from the last frame to the first frame. You'll fix that next.
Tween Frame 10
Select Frame 10 and click the Tween button in the Animation palette again. In the Tween dialog box change Tween With to First Frame. Leave the other settings as they were and click OK.
Set the Timing
Click Frame 1 and hold the Shift key as you click on the last frame to select all frames. Click the Time Delay menu under any frame and choose 0.1 seconds. Now Command/Ctrl-click to select just frames 1, 4, 7, and 10—the frames you made yourself. Click the Time Delay menu under any of the selected frames and set it to 2.0 seconds to pause the animation on some key spots. Leave looping set to its default of forever so that the animation continually plays.
Optimize the Animation
At this point you would usually optimize the animation, but we've done that for you. We set format to GIF because this will be saved as a GIF animation. We chose a significant number of GIF colors (128) and added dither to smooth the colors and lossy compression to keep file size down.
Preview and Save
Click the Preview in Browser button in the toolbox. The animation starts playing when the page loads in a browser. If you're satisfied, choose File>Save Optimized As in ImageReady. Leave Format/Save as Type set to Images Only and click Save. ImageReady saves a single GIF file containing all the frames of the animation. You can bring this file into a site-building program like GoLive to add it to an HTML page in your site. Finally, choose File>Save to resave the PSD source file to use for any changes in the future.
In this tutorial: