CelAction 2D Tutorial 2 – BUILD MODE – Building Actors

Actors are the characters, objects and backgrounds that are used in your animation. They can be complicated with hundreds of moveable elements in a hierarchy, or a single flat image that will simply decorate your scene. The visual aspect of an actor is not created in CelAction, but in a third party program such as Photoshop or Illustrator.


There are two main modes in CelAction – Build mode and Animate mode. In Build mode, you create and rig your characters. Animate mode, like it sounds, is where you keyframe your characters and make them interact. Since you cant do that until you have a character, we will look at Build mode first. Building Actors refers to the process of taking a group of raw images, and converting it into a rigged character that can be animated in your cartoons.


You do not create artwork assets in CelAction – you create them beforehand in other programs.

Create your actor assets in either Photoshop or Illustrator. (CelAction currently only supports PSD or AI file types). In this instance, we are using Photoshop.

Your PSD File bottom layer must be named ‘Align Box’. It must not contain any smart objects, and must be in RGB mode.

Name your layers in photoshop as you want them to appear in Cel action. Since you can have upwards of 200 elements/ layers, it can also be helpful to group them – groups such as ‘Legs’ for all the leg parts, and also ‘Mouths’ if you have multiple mouth shapes, for lip sync etc. Be sure to name your layers appropriately.

Every layer will be imported into CelAction, so guide layers, hidden layers, draft and sketch layers should all be deleted before importing. Mask Layers can remain visible, as they will be hidden later in CelAction. For ease of use, its handy to give these bright colours which stand out from your character.

The order of your layers in Photoshop is also the same as your default Display order when you import into Photoshop. Likewise the location.


1: Press the Manniquin button at the top of the screen to enter Build (Assemble) mode.

2: Click on the New Actor button and name your new actor in the pop up window.

3: In the ‘Pool of Elements’ tab, click ‘Load’, then find your PSD file. A list of your layers will appear as elements.

4: To generate your hierarchy, click to select your child element, then Alt + Click on its desired parent. For example, click ‘foot’ then Alt -Click on ‘Shin’. Click on ‘Shin’, then Alt-Click on ‘Thigh’. Thus the leg is correctly hierarched.

To make new elements, such as dummies, movers, roots etc, press Alt + D. These are useful for making things like face movers, where all of the face elements can be moved at once from one object. It is often useful to create a secondary Root dummy called ‘Root 2’ which can be used for movement. This should be placed at the base of your actor, so it will align with roads and surfaces.

(If you hierarchy something in the wrong place, you can simply Alt Click it to the right position. You can also keep Alt Clicking to reorder things in a hierarchy – ie to get ‘eye1’, ‘eye2’, ‘eye3’)

5: If you have multiple shapes for the same thing, eg different mouths, you only need to add one to the hierarchy. The rest are dealt with in the shapes manager which we will come to in the next tutorial – so just leave those assets in the elements pool for now.

-Once Hierarchy is completed, any remaining or unused elements can be cleared from the pool by clicking Pool > Remove all in the task bar.

-In your build window, you can hide objects by pressing ‘V‘. However, you must right click to make them visible again.

-Press F2 to rename elements of your actor.

– There is no rotate tool in Build mode (x) But you can rotate with Ctrl + E or Ctrl + R.


-If you were to update the original PSD file with new assets, say with new mouth shapes or different clothing, you can simply reload the file into the pool of elements, and add whichever elements you need into the hierarchy. Then you can clear the pool of the remaining duplicates.

Note that When you do this, the Display order of the actor is ignored, and the new elements go right on top, so they will need to be manually adjusted again with ‘D

-You can also use the Tools > Replace Actor Wizard in Animate Mode to update an actor if you made any changes to it in Build Mode.


In build mode, press ‘A’ to use the anchor tool. Press ‘F‘ to switch to wireframe mode, where a large blue cross will indicate the pivot point of the currently selected element. With Anchor mode active, you can click anywhere, and the pivot point will be moved to there. In many cases, you can simply eyeball it, but sometimes you might need more precision for certain types of joints.

Pivot finders are useful for finding the centre of circular joints (often use for elbows, knees etc). Pivot finders are visible only in wireframe mode (F). They are circular shapes created in Photoshop at the location of the joint. The pivot point for these shapes can be used as reference in build mode – be careful never to accidentally move them.

To set the pivot point of a limb to match that of the pivot finder, put said limb as a child to the pivot finder. Select the limb, and press ‘Shift + A‘ to set its Pivot point to be the same as it’s parent.


A limber is basically an invisible bezier line that can be applied to an element, in order to bend and warp it. This gives different animation possibilities compared to just rotating and moving pivots. This is useful for things like tentacles and tails, and can be used to simulate bending textures when combined with masking.

To set up a simple limber, you need your element to be aligned either horizontally or vertically.

1: Select your element. For this example, we want to limber an arm. In the taskbar, click Element > Create > Limber > Auto.

2: This will create two control points at either end of the arm. Make note of their location in the hierarchy. These control points can be moved, stretched etc in order to manipulate the arm.

3: If you were to have other things attached to this arm, eg a hand, or an extra joint, you must be clever in how you manage your hierarchy. Simply attaching the hand to the arm will mean that the control points can be moved independently of the hand, so the hand wont actually move along with the arm correctly.

Instead, you want to parent the hand to the arm, and then parent the adjacent arm control point to the hand. This way, you will never have to animate by dragging the control points – just drag the hand and the arm will respond and bend appropriately.


Paths are kinda similar to Limbers, in that they are shapes crafted from bezier curves and control points. They animate differently, but are useful for a variety of things such as bat wings, webbed feet, sails etc.

1: In the taskbar, click Element > Create > Path > Add.

2: Name the path and click ok. It will be added as a child of the currently selected object but can be moved later.

3: Check the fill and stroke boxes and choose the settings you want. Increase the number of control points as necessary, and click OK.

Just like with the Limber, you can parent control points to other objects, and the path shape will bend and flex as those objects are moved.


Dummies, path control points, Pivot Finders, masks etc can all leave your hierarchy looking very cluttered. So you can either hide, highlight or remove items from the Hierarchy window if you do not need to click them.

In the Actor elements window, click the ‘Modify’ button. In the properties area, click Set > Listing. From here you can either change the text colour or make it hidden in the hierarchy.

By right clicking an object you can also choose ‘Make Undetectable’. It will still remain visible in both the screen and hierarchy, but it cannot be directly clicked. (Shift + Click will still work.) This is useful for masks and pivot finders, which might still be active in the scene, but you dont want to keep acidentally clicking on them.


5 thoughts on “CelAction 2D Tutorial 2 – BUILD MODE – Building Actors

  1. Hi, I’ve been having a problem with my photoshop images being extremely pixelated once I load them into Celaction. I’ve no idea why. They look great in photoshop, but when I load them into Calaction they look terrible… The photoshop file was set up as standard photoshop size. Any ideas? Thanks

    • Hmm… unfortunately I don’t have celaction currently installed, so I cant have a nosey around in the options to see what might be the problem.

      How pixelated are we talking? CelAction does have a low quality option to improve performance whilst animating, which I think is somewhere along the toolbar at the top. Cant remember exactly just at the moment! Sorry! Find that nd see if its whats making your images look pixelly.

      Also, just to be sure, try pulling some of your assets into the animation window and rendering out a single frame (with the little film cel icon at the top) to see if it comes out decent quality.

      Unfortunately, Unitl I get it installed once more I cant be any more help. Apologies!

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