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12 Basic Principles of Animation

The 12 basic principles of animation were developed by the Walt Disney Studios, amongst them Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, during the 1930s. These principles came as a result of reflection about their practice and through Disney desire to use animation to express character and personality.

1. Squash and Stretch

This action gives an illusion of weight and volume to a character as it moves. Also squash and stretch is useful in animating dialogue and doing facial expressions. How extreme the use of squash and stretch, depends on what is required in the animating scene. Usually, it is broader in a compact style of picture and subtler in a feature. It is used in all the forms of character animation from a bouncing ball to the body weight of a character walking. It is the most important element you will be required to master and will often be used.

Squash and Stretch

2. Anticipation

The movement prepares the audience for the major action the character is about to perform, such as starting to run, jump or change its expression. A dancer does not only leap off the floor. A backwards motion occurs before the forward action is executed. The backward motion is the anticipation. Almost all the real action has major or minor anticipation such as a golfers’ backswing. Feature animation is often less broad than short animation unless a scene requires it to develop the personality of a character.


3. Staging

A pose or action should communicate to the audience the attitude, reaction or idea of the character as it relates to the story and flow of the storyline. The effective use of long, medium, or close up shots, as well as camera angles also helps in telling a story. There is a limited amount of time, so each sequence, scene and frame of film must relate to the whole story. Don’t confuse the audience with too many actions at once. Use one action stated to get the idea across, unless you are animating a scene that is to depict confusion and clutter. Staging directs the audience attention to the story or idea being told. Care must be taken in the background design, so it isn’t covering the animation or competing with it due to excess detail behind the animation. Animation and Background should work together as a pictorial unit in the scene.


4. Straight Ahead and Pose To Pose Animation

The Straight ahead animation starts at the first drawing and works on one by one drawing to the end of a scene. You can lose size, volume, and proportions with the method, but it does have freshness and spontaneity. Fast, wild action scenes are done in this way. Pose to Pose is more planned out and charted with key drawings done at intervals throughout the scene. Size, volumes, and proportions are controlled better in that way, as is the action. The lead animator will turn charting and keys over to an assistant. An assistant can be better used with this method so that the animator(Animator Work) does not have to draw every drawing in a scene. The animator can do more scenes and concentrate on the planning of the animation. Many scenes use the bit of both methods of animation.

Straight Ahead and Pose To Pose Animation

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

When the body of the character stops all the other parts continue to catch up to the central mass of the character, such as long hair, arms, clothing, coat tails or a dress, floppy ears or a long tail. Nothing stops all at once. This is follow through. Overlapping action is when the character changes the direction while his clothes or hair continues forward. A character is going in a new direction, to be followed, a number of frames later, by his clothes in the new direction. Drag in animation, Example: When Snow White starts to dance, her dress does not begin to move immediately but catches up a few frames later. Long hair and animal tail will also be handled in the same way. Timing becomes critical to the effectiveness of drag and overlapping action.

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

6. Slow-Out and Slow-In

As action starts, we have the more drawings near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near to the next pose. Fewer pictures make the action faster, and more picture makes the action slower. Slow ins and slow outs soften the action, making it more life-like. For a gag action, we may omit some slow-out or slow-ins for the shock appeal or the surprise element. It will give more snap to the scene.

Slow-Out and Slow-In

7. Arcs

All actions, with few exceptions, follow an arc or slightly circular path. It is especially true of the human figure and the action of animals. Arcs give the animation a more natural action and better flow. Think about natural movements regarding a pendulum swinging. All the arm movement, head turns, and even eye movements are executed on arcs.


8. Secondary Action

The action adds to and enriches the main action and adds more dimension to the character animation, supplementing and re-enforcing the main action. For Example, A character is angrily walking toward another character. The walk is forceful, aggressive, and the forward leaning. The leg action is just short of the stomping walk. The secondary action is the few strong gestures of the arms working with the walk. Also, the possibility of dialogue being delivered at the same time with the tilts and turns of the head to accentuate the walk and dialogue, but not so much as to distract from the walk action. All of these actions should work collectively in support of one another. Think of the walk as the primary action and arm swings, head bounce and all the other actions of the body as secondary or supporting action.

Secondary Action

9. Timing

Expertise in timing comes best with the experience and personal experimentation, using the try and error method in refining technique. The basics are: more drawings between the poses slow and smooth the action. Fewer drawings make the action faster and fresher. A variety of slow and fast timing within the scene adds texture to the movement. Most animation is done in twos or on ones. Both are used most of the time, and ones are used during camera moves such as trucks, pans and occasionally for the subtle and quick dialogue animation. Also, there is timing in the acting of a character to establish mood, emotion, and reaction to another character or a condition. Studying movement of actors and performers on stage and in the films is useful when the animating human or animal characters. This frame by frame examination of the film footage will aid you in understanding timing for animation. It is a great way to learn from the others.


10. Exaggeration

Exaggeration is not the extreme distortion of a drawing or extremely broad, violent action all the time. It’s like a caricature of facial features, poses, attitudes, expressions and actions. Action traced from live action film can be accurate, but hard and mechanical. In feature animation, a character must move more broadly to look real. The same is true of facial expressions, but the action should not be as broad as in the short cartoon style. Exaggeration in a walk or an eye movement or even a head turn will give the film more appeal. Use good taste and common sense to keep from becoming the too theatrical and excessively animated.


11. Solid Drawing

Basic principles of drawing form, volume, weight and the illusion of 3 dimensions apply to animation as it does to academic drawing. The way you draw the cartoons, you draw in the classical sense, using the pencil sketches and drawings for the reproduction of life. You transform these into the color and movement giving the characters the illusion of three-and four-dimensional life. Three dimensional is movement in space. The fourth dimension is movement in time.

Solid Drawing

12. Appeal

An animated characters has appeal. The appealing animation doesn’t mean just being cute and cuddly. All the characters have to appeal whether they are heroic, villainous, comic or cute. The appeal, as you will use it, includes an easy to read design, clear picture, and personality development that will capture and involve the audience’s attention. Early cartoons were a series of gags strung together on the main theme. Over the years, the artists have seen that to produce a feature there was a need for the story continuity, character development and a higher quality of artwork throughout the entire production. Like all the forms of storytelling, the feature has to appeal to the mind as well as to the eye.


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