Animation Principles


12 Principles of Animation

Disney‘s 12 Fundamental Principles of Animation is a set of principles of animation introduced by the Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their 1981 book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. The main purpose of the principles was to produce an illusion of characters adhering to the basic laws of physics.

The principles are:
1. Squash and Stretch
2. Anticipation
3. Staging
4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose-To-Pose Action
5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
6. Ease In and Out (or Slow In and Out)
7. Arcs
8. Secondary Action
9. Timing
10. Exaggeration
11. Solid Drawing
12. Appeal and Personality

1. Squash and Stretch- The most important principle is “squash and stretch”, the purpose of which is to give a sense of weight and flexibility to objects. It can be applied to simple objects, like a bouncing ball, or more complex constructions, like the musculature of a human face. For example if a rubber ball bounces and hits the ground it will tend to flatten when it hits. This is the squash principle. As it starts to bounce up it will stretch in the direction it is going.
An important note about squash and stretch, is that no matter how an object deforms, it should still appear to retain its volume. The most obvious usage in character animation is muscles. When a muscle is contracted it will squash and when extended, it stretches. Rigid objects can still squash and stretch in a way. Think of the Pixar’s lamp. The lamp itself is a rigid metal object. But before it jumps it anticipates the action by crouching down and bending. That bending is basically squash and stretch.

2. Anticipation- Anticipation is used to prepare the audience for an action, and to make the action appear more realistic. A dancer jumping off the floor has to bend his knees first; a golfer making a swing has to swing the club back first.

3. Staging- Staging is presenting an action or item so that it is easily understood. An action is staged so that it is understood; a personality is staged so that it is recognizable; an expression so that it can be seen; a mood so that it will affect the audience.
In general, it is important that action is presented one item at a time. If too much is going on the audience will be unsure what to look at and the action will be “upstaged”.
This can be done by various means, such as the placement of a character in the frame, the use of light and shadow, and the angle and position of the camera. The essence of this principle is keeping focus on what is relevant, and avoiding unnecessary detail.

4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose-To-Pose Action- There are 2 basic methods to creating animation. “Straight ahead action” means drawing out or sets up a scene frame by frame from beginning to end, while “pose to pose” involves starting with drawing or setting up key poses, and then filling in the intervals later.
“Straight ahead action” creates a more fluid, dynamic illusion of movement, and is better for producing realistic action sequences. On the other hand, it is hard to maintain proportions, and to create exact, convincing poses along the way. “Pose to pose” works better for dramatic or emotional scenes, where composition and relation to the surroundings are of greater importance. however, “pose to pose” is used for computer animation, because of the advantages it brings in composition.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action- Follow through and overlapping action is a general heading for two closely related techniques which help to render movement more realistically, and help to give the impression that characters follow the laws of physics. For example, in throwing a ball, you put your hand back, that’s anticipation,
it’s the preparation for the throwing action itself. Then you throw the arm comes forward for the main action. Follow Through is then the arm continuing past the normal stopping point, overshooting it and then coming back. The arm has continued or “followed through” on the action it was doing before returning back to rest.
Overlapping Action is an action that occurs because of another action. For example if a dog is running and suddenly comes to a stop, its ears will probably still keep moving for a bit. Another example, if an alien is walking and it has an antenna on it, the antenna will probably sway as a result of the main body motion. This is overlapping action. It is caused because of the main motion and overlaps on top of the main motion.
The “moving hold” animates between similar key frames, even characters sitting still can display some sort of movement, such as the torso moving in and out with breathing.

6. Ease In and Out (or Slow In and Out)- The movement of the human body, and most other objects, needs time to accelerate and slow down. For this reason, animation looks more realistic if it has more drawings near the beginning and end of an action, emphasizing the extreme poses, and fewer in the middle. For example, a bouncing ball tends to have a lot of ease in and out when at the top of its bounce. As it goes up, gravity affects it and slows down (Ease In), then it starts its downward motion more and more rapidly (Ease Out), until it hits the ground.
Note that this doesn’t mean slow movement. This really means keep the in between frames close to each extreme.

7. Arcs- In the real world almost all action moves in an arc. When creating animation one should try to have motion follow curved paths rather than linear ones. It is very seldom that a character or part of a character moves in a straight line. Even gross body movements when you walk somewhere tend not be perfectly straight. When a hand/arm reaches out to reach something, it tends to move in an arc.
Simple example – Kicking a ball

8. Secondary Action- Adding secondary actions to the main action gives a scene more life, and can help to support the main action. A person walking can simultaneously swing his arms or keep them in his pockets, he can speak or whistle, or he can express emotions through facial expressions. The important thing about secondary actions is that they emphasize, rather than take attention away from, the main action. If the latter is the case, those actions are better left out. In the case of facial expressions, during a dramatic movement these will often go unnoticed. In these cases it is better to include them at the beginning and the end of the movement, rather than during.

9. Timing- Timing is the essence of animation. The speed at which something moves gives a sense of what the object is, the weight of an object, and why it is moving. Timing is critical for establishing a character’s mood, emotion, and reaction. It can also be a device to communicate aspects of a character’s personality. Something like an eye blink can be fast or slow. If it’s fast, a character will seem alert and awake. If it’s slow the character may seem tired and lethargic.

10. Exaggeration- Exaggeration is used to accent an action. It should be used in a careful and balanced manner, not arbitrarily. Figure out what the desired goal of an action or sequence is and what sections need to be exaggerated. The result will be that the animation will seem more realistic and entertaining.

11. Solid Drawing- The principle of solid drawing means taking into account forms in three-dimensional space, giving them volume and weight. The animator needs to be a skilled draughtsman and has to understand the basics of three-dimensional shapes, anatomy, weight, balance, light and shadow, etc.[34] For the classical animator, this involved taking art classes and doing sketches from life. Modern-day computer animators draw less because of the facilities computers give them, yet their work benefits greatly from a basic understanding of animation principles, and their additions to basic computer animation.

12. Appeal and Personality- Appeal means anything that a person likes to see. This can be quality of charm, design,
simplicity, communication or magnetism. A character who is appealing is not necessarily sympathetic – villains or monsters can also be appealing – the important thing is that the viewer feels the character is real and interesting. There are several tricks for making a character connect better with the audience; for likable characters a symmetrical or particularly baby-like face tends to be effective. For example, in Disney’s animated classic “Peter Pan”, Captain Hook is an evil character, but most people would agree that his character and design has appeal. The same goes for Hopper in “A Bug’s Life”. Even though he’s mean and nasty, his design and characterization/personality still has a lot of appeal.
Personality isn’t actually a true principle of animation, but refers to the correct application of the other principles. Personality determines the success of an animation. The idea is that the animated creature really becomes alive and enters the true character of the role. One character would not perform an action the same way in two different emotional states. No two characters would act the same. It is also important to make the personality of a character distinct, but at the same time be familiar to the audience.
Personality has a lot to do with what is going on in the mind of the character, as well as the traits and mannerisms of the character. It is helpful to have some background in acting, and certainly taking an acting or improve class as an animator is a good idea.


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Graphics Designer and Passionographer who loves challenging and experimental work and is not afraid to share the knowledge about it.

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