Maximizing Your Use Of Cell Swapping

Learn to maximize the use of cell swapping and create elaborate cut-out characters.

One of the most useful functions when doing cut-out animation and cut-out character designs is cell swapping. It is most commonly used when creating mouths for your character to allow lip-syncing. But with a little more work and thought, we can maximize the use of cell swapping and create much more elaborate cut-out characters.

How to use Cell Swapping

Of course, before starting any swapping, you must draw all the cells for each element. Some elements might need just one, but others like the mouth, will need many cells.

How to use cell swapping

Use it to Swap Body Parts

Plan ahead! Your character will probably repeat certain movements when you animate it. Blinking, pointing, arm and hand movements that will be secondary animation so that the character doesn’t look too static while talking. Therefore the first elements that should have a variety of cells are eyes, eyebrows and hands. The bigger the number of cells available for each element, the more elaborate your animation becomes.

Swap body parts

What if the Character is Holding an Object?

If your character is holding an object you will need to match the moving object with the animation, To do this you could always create a new layer for the accessory your character will hold and try to match the moving object with the movie animation. However, this method can be difficult and time-consuming and chances are the animation will jitter and look unnatural. A great way to get around this problem is to create a cell where the hand of the character is actually holding the accessory.

In this example, we swap one hand for a hand that is holding an object, in this case a love letter. From this point we can rotate the hand and the letter will always follow.

Cell swapping to hold an object

If both hands need to hold the object, one hand should be swapped for an empty cell while the other hand will have everything in one cell. In our example, both hands are holding the fishing rod.

All that is needed is to align the arm with the hand at the bottom of the fishing rod and work our animation from there. This technique is a little more complex, but efficient.

Animation Tips & Tricks

Are We Playing Dress-Up?

We are! Imagine the cut-out character is just like a dress-up doll. Not only can you swap body parts like hands or mouths to create animation, but you can also create a puppet that becomes an efficient tool by including all sorts of clothing. Just start swapping clothes when you think your character needs a new look! Here are a few helpful examples:

  1. Skirts, Dresses, Pants and Shirts
    Full wardrobes can be created for your character. In this example, we only need to swap the dress to create a whole new look for our puppet. This could easily be done with pants, shirts, skirts or even shoes!
    Animation Tips & Tricks
  2. Hats, Glasses and other Accessories
    By creating an accessory layer, you can add items to your character without too much work. We recommend that you put all similar items on a element. This way, you can put on more than one accessory at a time, and also, it will prevent you from having the move the pivot point everytime you change the cell.
    Animation Tips & Tricks
  3. Hairstyles
    Why not give a whole new "hairdo" to your character? You can easily create new heads by only changing the style of haircut.

    Animation Tips & Tricks


Here are some important things you should remember:

  • Cell Swapping is great tool to create elaborate cut-out animation
  • Use it for repetitive animation like blinking, lip-syncing or arm and hand movements
  • If a character needs to hold accessories, make sure to use cell swapping to facilitate your work
  • Create elaborate puppets by using cell swapping to clothing, hairstyles and other accessories