No matter if we draw by hand, with 2D programs, or with complex 3D modeling software, all animation projects follow some fundaments known as the 12 principles of animation. The correct application of these principles will guarantee the level of expression and proper movement expected in an animation.
In the beginning, the animations were done with little or no reference from nature. It all started when Walt Disney noticed that the level of animation was unsatisfactory. From this concern emerged a new way of drawing human and animal figures in movement, where the analysis of real action became important for the development of animation.
“When we consider a new project, we really study it… not just the surface idea, but everything about it.”Walt Disney
From all these exercises and studies, new concepts and several techniques emerged, but they were so innovative that they did not have a name to define them, so it was difficult to explain them among animators. In order to improve communication among them, these new practices adopted proper names, what we know today as Principles of Animation.
Walt Disney’s Twelve Basic Principles of Animation are a set of principles made known by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. They represent the starting point for anyone wishing to enter the creative field of animation. Learning and practicing them will not only help you create animation, but will also make your animation lively and meaningful.
Squash and Stretch
The exaggeration and deformation of the bodies, as if they were flexible, serves to achieve a more funny, or more dramatic effect. For this principle, speed and inertia, momentum, weight, and mass must be considered.
This principle is useful for facial and body expressions of characters when you want to emphasize certain emotions and movements.
This principle prepares the viewer for the main action, which the character intends to do. Movements must be anticipated to guide the viewer’s gaze and announce what is going to happen.
This technique is divided into three steps: anticipation (prepares us for the action), the action itself, and the reaction (recovery, end of the action).
With this principle, we translate the intentions and the atmosphere of the scene into specific positions and actions of the characters. By staging the key positions of the characters we will define the nature of the action. There are several staging techniques to tell a story visually. Hiding or revealing the point of interest, or creating chain actions (action-reaction) are two examples. The effective use of shots and camera angles helps to focus the viewer on the scene.
The main goal of the staging is to tell the viewers exactly where the action will occur so they don’t miss anything. This means that only one idea is produced at a time, or else viewers may be looking at the wrong thing. A good example of staging in motion is the eye, which is drawn in a movement in a still scene.
Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
In direct action we create a continuous action, step by step, until it ends in an unpredictable action. In the action pose to pose we break down the movements into structured series of key poses.
The direct action gives fluidity to the movement and provides a fresh, loose, and casual look. In the action pose to pose we develop an initial approach. It is a more controlled animation that is determined by the number of poses, and the intermediate poses. These two techniques can be mixed.
Follow Through and Overlapping Action
These two techniques help to enrich and give detail to the action. In continuous action, the character still moves after the main action. In the overlapping action, multiple movements are mixed which influences the character’s position. Virtually nothing stops at the same time.
Slow-in and Slow-out
It is a matter of speeding up the center of the action, and slowing down the beginning and the end of it. In the physical world, objects and humans apply the impulse before they can reach maximum speed. Similarly, it takes time to slow down before something can come to a complete stop.
By using arcs to animate the character’s movements we will be giving it a more natural look, as most living creatures move in curved trajectories, never in perfectly straight lines.
When a person is shooting an arrow, they are barely flying in a straight line. Gravity causes moving objects to arc between the start and endpoints. Even many of the natural movements in the human body move in arcs, such as arms, hands, and fingers, etc.
It consists of small movements that complement the main action and, in fact, are a consequence of it. The secondary action should never be more marked than the main action.
In the physical world, we can observe primary movement only in movement if a person is walking. Secondary actions, such as a person swinging his arms while walking or “birds” waving their feathers, help support the primary movements. Even smaller actions, such as eye blinking, are also considered in secondary actions. In secondary animation, it is important that the main animation is not diminished.
Timing gives meaning to movement. The time it takes a character to perform an action, or the interruptions and hesitations in the movements define the action. It also helps to give an idea of the weight of the model, and the scales or sizes.
This principle also helps to establish the personality of the characters and the emotions they want to express. They used pace as the main tool to communicate personality through flat shapes that are representative of body parts.
Accentuating an action usually helps to make it more credible. It basically involves altering the physical characteristics of a character so that it can capture the attention of the audience. This principle emphasizes the physical features of a character as well as their behavior, condition, movements, etc.
Solid Drawing and Solid Posing
Good modeling and a solid drawing will help bring the character to life. It means that the animator must-have skills to understand three-dimensional shapes in terms of weight, balance, light, and shadow. Character poses should be clear and expressive with easily recognizable silhouettes. It means drawing their image in such a way that it looks alive, considering their center of balance and weight distribution.
It’s about providing an emotional connection with the viewer. The personality of the character must be consistent with the way they move. An attractive character is not always pretty. Even ugly or evil characters with a certain level of charisma can gain the empathy of the viewer if their appearance fits their personalities.
The 12 principles of animation are the foundations on which well-executed animation projects rest. These principles are not rigid rules to be followed, but they are proven theoretical tools.
Together with the basic concepts of animation, constant practice, and a creative attitude, it is possible to achieve an artistic style that is particular to the animator. These characteristics combined with the application of these principles will undoubtedly result in a unique, original, and distinctive product that will be appreciated by viewers.
Be Creative! … and Have Fun!
- Dondis, Donis A. La sintaxis de la imagen. Editorial Gustavo Gili. 2017.
- Jackson, Chris. After Effects for Designers: Graphic and Interactive Design in Motion. Routledge. 2017.
- Johnston, Ollie; Thomas, Frank. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. Disney Editions. 19995.
- Poulin, Richard. Fundamentos del Diseño Gráfico. Promopress. 2016. ISBN-10: 8415967896.