The 12 basic Animation Principles where created and described in the reference book for animators : “The illusion of life”. This book was co-written by 2 top 2D Disney animators named Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

These principles accurately transcribe certain aspects of the laws of physics related to movement. They also describe how to amplify and exaggerate them to give more life and personality to the characters and objects that we will animate.

Of course, they can be applied to all animation techniques (Stop-Motion, cut-out animation, Pixilation, etc …). As well as all styles (2D animation, 3D, visual effects, photo-realistic animation or cartoony, etc …).

1 / Squash and Stretch

The first animation principle is based on the “Squash and Stretch” of an object or character to give it some flexibility and more weight.

A bouncing ball for example, can have more weight, if, when it hits the ground, literally crushes on it. Then it stretches after it bounced, and finally recover its initial form when it is in the air.

A bouncing ball example

So, accentuating the flexibility of the object will give it more life and amplify the cartoony effect of the animation.

For the human characters, the face can be animated in Squash and Stretch, to give it more life and sometimes to create a comic effect. Sometimes we can apply this effect to the whole character. Especially if he is a little plump, the principle remains the same as for a simple bouncing ball.

The most important thing in this principle isto always remember to keep the volume of whatever we animate. An object or a character should never look taller or bigger under the effect of this principle!

2 / Anticipation

Anticipation is what prepares the action before the action itself.

For example, when a ball thrower prepares to throw in a Baseball game. He will balance all his weight backwards in order to concentrate his energy. Then he restores it during the action. So to say the throw of the ball in which he releases the energy accumulated during anticipation by swinging his body forward.

In principle, any action is preceded first by an action in the opposite direction (anticipation), even for a slightly movement. So, an object will always need an accumulation of energy that will be released during the action phase. Otherwise it could not move (inertia).

Remember that before jumping, you must first bend your knees. That before slapping, you must take momentum with your hand; etc …

In animation this phase of the movement is often exaggerated to strengthen the action and give it more life.

Pluto anticipation
Pluto throwing a ball with a huge Anticipation

3/ Staging

The principle of staging is similar to the staging in the theater and cinema.

We will make sure to highlight the most important elements of the scene by playing on the elements that compose it.

We will adjust the pose of the characters, the composition of the image, the light, the layout of the elements of the decor… So, as a result, it gives a harmonious reading of the image to the viewer who must capture the essence of this who is supposed to be the “subject” of the shot in a few secs.

We will also double check that the silhouette of the character is clear and limpid and gives no ambiguity of understanding. To do this, a test consisting of putting the character completely filled with black to see only its silhouette, help to see if it is easy to read or not-.

Also be careful that not any decor element touches the edge of another element of the scene, provoking “visual tangents”.

So many things tho think when it come time to capture the essence of what must be seen and understood as quickly as possible by the eye of the viewer.

The clearer and limpid the result, the more you will catch the attention of your audience.

Ligne Tangeant
Long-line tangeant that makes diffcult to read clearly the picture

4/ Straight Ahead action and Pose to pose

“Straight Ahead Action” is a way of animating, frame by frame, from the beginning to the end, without any interruption. We will always rely on the previous drawing to produce the following drawing.

This process can be very useful, as for example when animating organic elements such as “fluids”. Because even if the animation does not respect the basic volumes, we obtain a more chaotic and therefore more realistic result at final.

But in the case in wich you have to animate characters or objects that must keep their volume, it will be more complicated. Chances are that the last image is likely to be totally different from the 1st!

It is also very difficult to keep control over the Timing and Spacing of the animation. That being said, this approach is very intuitive and can save a lot of time!

On the other hand, the “Pose to Pose” animation approach remains the best option when it comes to have total control over the animation.

Creating Extremes first, then adding Breakdowns, and finally finishing with Intervals, will allow the animator to keep volumes and play more easily on other variables such as Timing and spacing.

This technique is the most used today in the animation industry.

5/ Follow Through and Overlapping Action

“Follow Through” is the principle that describe a soft object (fabric, hair, fur, etc.) that when carried by the movement of another one, continues to move even when the main object has stopped.

For example, if a long-haired girl is running and suddenly stops. Even if her body remains in place at the end of the action, her hair will be thrown forward and will continue to swing. It is called (oscillation) until they stop moving (inertia).

“Overlapping Action” is the tendency of different parts of the human body to move at a different speed an a different timing from each other.

For example, the arms of a character will be animated on a different timing from his head as well as his legs if he is walking.

6/ Slow In and Slow Out

Anything that starts moving needs a moment to accelerate and decelerate.

We will always add more images at the beginning and end of an action to reproduce the natural acceleration and deceleration of the movement in a realistic way.

The traditional animator will usually represent the Slow in and Slow out on his Timing Chart with a certain line density that visually represents the speed at which the action is supposed to happen.

In CGI, a graphical editor (motion editor) makes it possible to adjust a bezier curve representing the movement in space, time, as well as the speed of the animated element.

7/ Arc

This principle is based on the fact that each action is based on an arched trajectory, giving it a more natural fluidity of movement for more realism.

For example, all the joints of the human body only allow the rotation of each component.

If you swing your arms back and forth as you walk, your hand will follow a natural arc movement.

The same goes for a character who jumps forward, for a pitched ball, or the motion path of the feet for a walking character. All follow a naturall arced trajectory.

8/ Secondary Action

Secondary actions are intended to accentuate the emphasis on the main action by accompanying it and giving it more impact.

This helps you to add more life to a scene. For example, the body language of a character who will use his hands while talking – or sometimes his whole body – will become more expressive.

The same goes for the facial expressions that accentuate the emotion from the character and what he is supposed to vehicle to the viewer.

9/ Timing

In animation, Timing results in the number of images that will be given to the action in order to give it a particular emotion.

For example, a character who walks with a quick Timing will look hurry and lively, or maybe looking upset.

In contrast, a character who moves with a slow Timing may seem nonchalant, relaxed or in depression.

We can play with the Timing of an animation to accentuate the impact of a falling object or a character trait of a character.

10/ Exaggeration

Exaggeration is used to accentuate certain phases of an action in order to increase its comic or dramatic effect.

If we refer to reality, objects and characters sometimes move in a linear and boring way. With exaggeration, we add life and vivacity to a movement.

For example, an obese character who walks in an imposing way will have his belly moving up and down at each step. This helps to add a caricature effect that fits perfectly with animation.

11/ Solid Drawing

Solid Drawing refers to the main skill that must be mastered by any good self-respecting animator!

Traditional artists and animators should be expected to be able to draw correctly to reproduce the perspective, the anatomy, the shadows and the light… All of this in order to respect the volume, the weight and the balance of their animations in a realistic way.

The apparition of computer graphics greatly facilitated 2D animation, but as a result, nowadays animators tend to have less developed drawing skills.

However, even for 3D animators, it can be very useful to know how to draw because it will greatly help them to improve their posing and the quality of their animations in general!

Animation Nuggets Draw More

12/ Appeal

Appeal is the attraction projeted by an animated character according to the charisma emaning from him.

He doesn’t have to necessarily be cute, nor even nice. It is enough if he has a silhouette and a face easy to read that makes it attractive at first glance.

Spectators will find it easier to identify with him and will appreciate him even more if they like his design!

Appeal animation principle


I am a professional 2D and 3D animator who worked for years on Animated TV Series and Video Games. (see complete profil description on the sidebar of the Blog). Have fun!

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