Easy & Realistic Water Reflection Animation in Photoshop

Some of the most beautiful digital art is animated. And if we want to continue down the line, some of the most beautiful animations include that slowly rippling water effect that you can find rarely – and always remember when you do. The problem is that there aren’t any settings or filters within Photoshop that create realistic water ripples. You can come close, but the moment it’s going to be animated, things start going …. strange.

I’ll never be able to explain why I insist on trying out things in Photoshop. I experiment over and over for months on end if necessary until I can end up with precisely the effect I was after. I think it must be the challenge – Adobe Photoshop isn’t the easiest thing in the world to learn, but once you get the basics down it’s so addictive. There’s always some new way to push and stretch your design skills within the program.

So, in this Photoshop tutorial, I’ll be sharing how to create some very easy – and beautifully realistic – water reflections and animate them. You don’t have to know a lot about Photoshop to use this guide, I’ll explain things pretty clearly.

What do you need?

1. A photograph or graphic you want to animate
2. Photoshop 7 or higher (the illustrations use Photoshop CS2)
3. A third-party program called Sqirlz Reflection, which you can download for free here from c|net.

And with that, let’s dive right in – this won’t take long at all.

Part One: Preparing the Image in Photoshop

Before we can animate the image, we need to have something to actually animate. I suppose there could be something that you’d want to animate the entire image … but it won’t look as nice as what we’re going to do. So, open your image in Photoshop.

1. First, we need to decide what to “keep”. Most of the images you’ll be inspired to animate are going to be nature-oriented, simply because of the water aspect. It’s really tempting when working with nature photos – especially landscapes – to keep the entire image and reflect it … but it doesn’t always look as pleasing as it could be with a bit of creative cropping. Illustration One shows the graphic I’m using (a beautiful piece from fabian79 at sxc.hu) and how it’s been cropped down.

Use your own judgement about how much of the graphic you’re using you want to keep … but remember that Photoshop can compress a filesize only so much. The resulting file will already be large because of the animation – you don’t want it to be so large that you never get to show it off.

2. Now that we’ve got the amount of image we want to use, we’re ready to prepare the canvas for Squirlz Reflection. What we need to end up with is a canvas that is two times the height of our image. How we do that most easily is hit “Image” and choose “Canvas Size”.

In the canvas size dialogue, Photoshop allows you to choose what unit you’re sizing by – pixels, inches, percent, etc. Click the drop-down box and choose “percent”. Also make certain that the “Relative” box is NOT ticked and that the canvas extension color is set to white. Then, look down at the diagram with arrows in it. Click the very top middle arrow. What this does is tells Photoshop that we want the canvas stretched straight down, not to the side at all. Finally, put “200%” in the “Height” setting, and click OK.

3. You’re all set – save your modified image as a .jpg at 100% quality to somewhere easy-to-remember, like your desktop or “My Pictures” folder. You can even close Photoshop if you’d like – we won’t be needing it again in this guide.

Part Two: Creating the Animation in Squirlz Reflection

If you’ve done animations in Photoshop and ImageReady before, you’re going to be so pleased with this program. Not only are you going to avoid spending hours trying to create the perfect ripples that flow right after each other (which isn’t possible on your own, I’ve tried), but it’s going to take you a matter of seconds to make them.

First, you’ll need to install Squirlz Reflection if you haven’t already. Then, open it up.

1. Open the .jpg you just saved. To open easily, just click the green folder in the toolbar.

2. There’s a toolbar running down the left-hand side of Squirlz Reflection. The very first button in that toolbar is a red oval – this is the selection tool. What you need to select is the white space beneath your main image – the spot you want the reflection to show up in.

Now, before you go, let me warn you – this selection tool is nothing like Photoshop’s selection tool. When you first click it, you might think of the marquee tool … you’ll soon see it’s not. A selection line will follow your mouse. When you reach a corner, click once with your left mouse button and move the the next corner, etc. until you’ve selected the white space. (FYI: What this means is that you can make uneven or oddly shaped selections for reflection if you feel like it later on – maybe a reflection in a mirror?) To set your selection, right-click once.

3. It’s time for magic! We’re going to create our frames and animate the water all in one quick step – now. Click “Animate” and choose “Make GIF File”. A dialogue pops up asking how many frames you want to use – you can use as many as you like, up to 100 frames (keeping in mind that the more frames you use, the larger your filesize will be!). I left mine at 15 and clicked OK. Now, you’re asked where and what to save your file as. Do that, click OK, and preview – you’ve got a gorgeous animation!

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