12 Principles of Animation

Animation is a complex form of art.  Depending on the style (Realistic, Cartoony, Simplified, etc.), and depending on the medium (3D, 2D, Stop Motion, etc.), there are many techniques, rules and guidelines that an animator must follow.  However, regardless of the style or medium, there are 12 basic principles of animation that always hold true.  These 12 principles were established by Disney’s infamous “Old Men” in the 1930’s, and are still universally regarded as the standards for quality animation today.  Let’s take a look…

1. Squash and Stretch
This principle gives an object flexibility.  Squash and stretch happens everywhere in real life, but the most obvious example is a bouncing ball.

squash n stretch














2. Anticipation
You may have heard the phrase “for every action, there is a reaction.” This is true.  Similarly, in animation it’s important to remember “for every action, there is a PRE-action.” Think of this principle as the “wind up”. Before jumping up, you must first go down.















3. Staging
Staging refers to the character’s placement within the scene, as well as the camera angle. Take a look at how good staging can add more visual interest to a shot.
















4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
There are two ways to animate: Straight ahead or Pose to Pose.  In Pose to Pose animation, the animator sets “key” poses of the character.  These poses are called “extremes”.  After all of the extreme poses have been set, the animator goes back and fills in all of the “in between” poses.
In Straight Ahead animation, the animator starts with the character’s initial pose, and animates straight ahead, one frame at a time.
















5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
Follow through is basically the opposite of anticipation.  Think about throwing a javelin.  Your arm doesn’t stop once the javelin is released, it follows through.










Overlapping Action simply means breaking up movements so everything doesn’t move all at once.  Notice how the squirrel’s tail drags behind his body and overlaps his body movement.












6. Ease In and Ease Out
When a character’s motion starts and stops abruptly, the result is very robotic and unrealistic. Every movement needs time for acceleration and deceleration.  Think of a pendulum.















7. Arcs
This principle is all about creating fluid motion.  Unless your animating a robot, you want your motion paths to be smooth curvy arcs.















8. Secondary Action
Secondary action refers to creating actions that emphasize or support the main action of the animation; it can breathe more life into an animation and create a more convincing performance.





















9. Timing and Spacing
Timing refers to the number of frames it takes for a character to go from pose A to Pose B.
Spacing refers to everything that happens in between Pose A and Pose B.





















10. Exaggeration
Exaggeration is used to push movements further to add more appeal to an action. Exaggeration can be used to create extremely cartoony movements, or incorporated with a little more restrain to more realistic actions. Either way, most animators would agree that exaggeration is one of the most fun principles to address.
















11. Solid Drawing
The principle of solid drawing means taking into account forms in three-dimensional space, giving them volume and weight. It means ensuring the character’s pose is balanced, and has a clear silhouette.
































12. Appeal
Where the live action actor has charisma, the animated character has appeal. A common place to address a character’s appeal is within the posing. In order to make poses more appealing, avoiding “twinning” (symmetry) and add a touch of personality and emotion wherever possible.
















Now you know the basic 12 Principles of animation!  To see them in action, watch this cool little video.

BlaykeFeaturedBlayke Kaufman
is a Designer at Blue Pony

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