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  • Writer's pictureMichael

CelAction2D Tutorial 1: BASICS

Welcome to my tutorial series on CelAction 2d, an industry standard animation package designed for 2d puppet/skeleton based animation. These tutorials are produced primarily for my own use, based on notes taken from an intense training course. As such, they lack pictures and might not be 100% clear at all times. Since I don’t have a copy of the software at present, it limits my ability to add screenshots or refine these notes beyond what I can remember! So hopefully they will help you out but apologies in advance if anything isn’t 100% clear.


There are two primary modes in Celaction 2D – Build mode and Animate mode. Build mode is where you set up and create your actors (the assets for your animation) and Animate mode is where you will actually animate your actors and render out your final animation clips. Many of the features of Animate mode are discussed below, and Build mode will be discussed in the next tutorial.


‘J’ OR Middle Mouse drag : Pan scene

Space Bar – Switch between Camera and Scene view.

< and > or Mouse Wheel – Zoom in scene view.

Ctrl + Shift + L Mouse Drag – Draw a marquee and zoom into the selection.

N – Magnify to selected point in scene view.

F12 – Undo last pan or Zoom

Z – Move tool. Toggle changes mouse cursor to move cursor, used to move currently selected element X – Rotate tool. Toggle changes mouse pointer to rotate cursor, used to rotate currently selected object. H – Freehand tool – toggle a tool which can both move and rotate objects. NB Holding Ctrl will temporarily revert any of the above tools back to the select tool.

Alt + J – Pressing this will revert an actor to it’s default rigged pose. Alt + Shift + J – Pressing this will revert the selecte object and its children to their default rigged pose.

Alt + V – flip an element vertically. Alt + H – flip an element horizontally.

Alt + T – affect an elements opacity.

Ctrl +Arrow Keys – Nudge currently selected element Ctrl + T or Y – scale selected object vertically Ctrl + K or L – Scale selected object horizontally. Ctrl + Q or W – scale selected object uniformly larger or smaller. NB Pressing Shift along with the above will move them in larger increments.

ESC – Undo last action Shift + Backspace – Undo last Action. Ctrl + Z Does not work. NB – C2D defaults to 50 undo states, 1 redo state.

Shift + F5 – Toggle Onion Skin Mode.


Actors is the term given to all the assets that will be on screen for your animation, whether they are characters, backgrounds, props or even invisible guides and paths. Note that you will have to build your actors in Build mode before you can add them. See tutorial 2 for more info n how to do this.

LOADING ACTORS Click the Paper chain button at the top left (looks like little man). In the window that appears, click load. Choose the appropriate file, then click ‘Add and Exit from the bottom, or Add and Continue to load more files.

The chosen actor file will be loaded onto the scene.

RE-LINKING ACTOR TEXTURES If an actor comes into the scene as a flat red image, then it’s shapes (textures) are missing. To fix this: 1: Change to Build/Assemble mode by clicking the little multicoloured puppet icon at the top of the screen. 2: Go to Actors> Shapes> File> Set and choose the image file that is linked to your actor. 3: Return to animate mode and your shapes should have loaded.

RENAME/DELETE/HIDE ACTOR Open the Level Manager from Level > Manager.  Alternatively, click Alt + L Choose the Level you want from the list and click ‘Remove’. You can also toggle a level as visible or invisible.


Double Clicking on any window will undock it, and you can rearrange your layout or put it on a separate screen.

Change Viewport layout: Window > Layout > Set

HIERARCHY WINDOW Shows the parenting hierarchy of the currently selected Actor. Clicking on an item in the hierarchy will select it in the scene view. See the Hierarchies section later in this tutorial for more info.


– This is where you will animate your assets. There are two types of view. Switch between them with the Space Bar. – Camera view shows exactly what will be rendered on screen. – Scene view allows you to pan and zoom around your scene.

DOPE SHEET – More like a traditional animation dope sheet rather than a video-editing timeline, this vertical table of columns contains all keyframe data.

– Every Actor has its own separate column in the Dope Sheet.  Camera and Backgrounds also get their own columns.

– Press the little eye above each Column to toggle the visibility of actors. Note that this only affects the scene window – Invisible layers will still render out visible.

–  Actors Default to Yellow columns, Cameras to Green. Individual cells can be recoloured for reference if required.

– Anytime an actor is adjusted in any way, it is automatically saved to the dope sheet at the current frame. There is no need to create keyframes or set the program to record.

– Actor columns default to just show if there is data held in a particular frame. The actor columns can be expanded to show individual values for things such as scale, position, rotation etc. The three buttons above the frame number column can switch between these different sheet modes – Actor only, One element visible, or all elements visible.

RANGER – The ranger appears when you select several frames in the Dope Sheet. A blue box appears around them with several coloured tabs. – The N tabs stand for ‘Nudge’ and can be used to drag your frames up or down your Timesheet – i.e move them later or earlier in the timeline. – You can also press Shift + Pg UP or Shift + Pg Down – The S tab on the bottom left is used to stretch or squash your keyframes – ie make a group of keyframes take up more or less time. They cannot be squashed smaller than ‘ones’ however.

– To copy single frames of animation, highlight the frame.  In the taskbar click Automate > Pose Animation Clipboard > Copy Now click the destination frame and click Automate > Pose Animation Clipboard > Paste.

– To copy multiple frames, select them, then in the taskbar click Automate > Animation Clipboard > Copy. Next, click the frame where you would like the pasted frames to start and choose Automate > Animation Clipboard > Paste.


Press Ctrl + F to insert blank frames to the Dope Sheet. You can choose to insert either copies of the previous frames, or completely blank frames.

Up or Down Arrow to move up and down frames. Shift + Alt +Arrow to move up and down quickly between keyframes only Shift + Delete will erase the contents of a frame.

‘Home’ Select all frames above current selected. ‘END’ – Select all frames below current. Ctrl + A + (Number Keys) – Change the colour of frames in the dope sheet. (Useful for marking out keyframes etc.)

Shift + N can be used to add notes to frames. Hover over the frame in the grey column to see these notes. Frames with notes attached will show a small yellow page icon. CTRL + P or rightclicking in first frame in Dope Sheet – access Camera properties.


PARENTING – You cannot select more than one element of an actor in the scene view.

-To manipulate several objects at once, you create a dummy Mover object, and parent those elements to it. To move the elements together, move the dummy. – Dummy objects will not render, and are greyed out in the Hierarchy. They can be manipulated like any other object.

ATTACHMENTS As elements are put into Hierarchies, they become attached to each other – moving the thigh will move the shin, which will move the foot, and so on.  At times you may want to unattach elements, or even reverse their attachment. For example, if you want a character to crouch, moving their hips lower will by default cause their feet to move below the ground. It can then be useful to unattach the legs first to keep the feet in place, then reposition and reattach them after.

Press U to toggle an elements attachment in the Hierarchy. Press Alt + R to reverse the attachment order of the selected elements. So a leg which would normally be rotated around the hip, can now be rotated around the ankle. Shift + Alt + R can undo this reversal.

Ocasionally, reversing attachments can affect pivots. If an element is pivoting around the wrong place, right click the frame and choose ‘Reset Pivots’

DISPLAY ORDERS – The display order is pretty much equivalent to layers in photoshop – those at the back are hidden behind those at the front. Display order is based on the actor’s hierarchy in Build mode.

– Press ‘D’ to open the frame Display Order window – This can be used to change the order of all layers in a scene. ‘Alt + D’ does the same thing, but opens in a different window. – Press ‘Shift + D’ to open the Pose Display Order window – this is used to change the order of the layers in the currently selected actor.

– Beware that Pose Order changes  (With ‘D’) can cancel out Frame Order changes (with Shift +D).

– If there is a green line in the Grey column of the Dope sheet, it means that the display order has been altered for that frame.

– Changing the Pose Display order is simple – In the window, simply click the Up and down buttons to position your elements relative to the others. Usually, the Send to back and Send to front Icons will suffice.

Changing the Frame display order is slightly different. When you open the Hierarchy window, it shows everything in the frame. For example, if you have a man driving a car, and you want his arm to hang out a window (i.e. you want the man behind the car door, but his arm visible in front): Select the element or family you want to move (the arm), then Right Click the element you want it to be in front of (in this case the door). That will add these elements to its hierarchy and turn them Red. This will create a green line, indicating a Display order link in the Grey column of the Dope Sheet.

This change will only affect the current frame, so to have it affect multiple frames, select all the frames you want to affect, Press D again and press the Copy From Frame’ button, after typing in the frame number you just adjusted.

Right Clicking the column and choosing Display Order > Remove links will set everything to its default position.


ANIMATION PLAYBACK. – You can playback a real time preview of what you have animated by clicking the button with a little triangle ‘Play’ symbol at the top of the scene. There are two such buttons, one marked with a C and one with an S. The C button will preview what is seen through the camera – ie what should appear in the final render. The S play button will play back on the scene view as it is, allowing you to zoom out and see everything at once.

– If you are having performance trouble, press F to enter wireframe mode, which should process quicker.

– If the program stops responding during playback, hitting Shift + F8 a few times will end the preview and you should regain control.

– In the top toolbar, The button between The C and S buttons, which looks like a downward arrow, can be used to adjust playback options, such as looping, or only to play back certain frames.  To do so, click the button and choose ‘Setup Playback’.

RENDERING – You can render your animation by pressing the Clapperboard button at the top of the screen. – Alternatively, you can render a single frame by clicking the Film cell button beside it.

Since rendering takes a long time, I personally prefer doing it in single frames. If your computer malfunctions, each completed rendered frame will be saved, whereas a video might get corrupted. Secondly, if you notice any mistakes in your finished animation, it is easier to single out and re-render individual frames rather than the whole video.

AUDIO CelAction does not export sound data when rendering, but you can load in sound files to sync with whilst you animate. To do so: 1: Click the Sound button on the Dope sheet. This opens the sound manager. 2; Click ‘Add sample’ to load a sound file. Click done to add this file to the Dope sheet.

The sound file will be visible in a column at the very left of the Dope sheet. To hear your sound, either enter preview mode, or select the frames you want to listen to, then press F4.


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