12 Animation Principles From Disney Every Animator Must Know

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Komal Chaturvedi

Co-Founder & CEO, MotionGility

12 Animation Principles
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    Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas of Disney introduced the 12 Animation Principles to the world which went on to transform the world of animation.


    Initially created in the 1930s and included in their book – The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation in 1981, these principles have served animators and artists worldwide in learning and adapting to the fundamentals of animation.


    Each principle holds technicalities that come out as integral elements, enriching the overall animation quality and viewing experience of the viewers.


    So if you’re an animator or an animated video production company, following the principles mentioned below can help you become an extraordinary artist.

    12 Animation Principles

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      1. Squash & Stretch

      Flexibility is the other name for the first animation principle – Squash and Stretch. 


      Basically, if you see contraction and expansion in any object or character, this principle has come into play.


      Due to its elastic-like characteristics, the principle allows animators to breathe more life into their visual elements.

      12 animation principles from disney every animator must know

      Here’s an example of how a ball when gets in contact with the ground, maintains its base yet expands a little and then again bounces back for another movement driven by motion.


      Also, an impact is created on the ground when the ball falls because there’s no particular volume loss.

      The presence of the squash and stretch principle eliminates rigidity or stiffness in animation, allowing artists to move their objects or animated characters freely.

      2. Anticipation

      Ever seen a batter swing his bat strongly at the ball thrown by the pitcher? 


      Now imagine him hitting the ball without his bat swing – not so interesting to watch as a viewer, right?


      Well, these are some tiny moments termed anticipation – referring to what will happen next and then next…


      The anticipation principle refers to – Evoking curiosity in your viewers’ minds.


      By applying this principle, animators can add realistic movements to their objects or characters and provide a seamless touch to bring viewers to the edge of their seats.


      Here’s another example of the principle in motion:

      12 animation principles from disney every animator must know

      3. Staging

      The third of the 12 Animation principles laid down by Disney animators is a crucial one that many artists tend to mess up.


      Often while animating, due to the requirement of presenting numerous elements, the key ones often end up getting ignored.


      This shifts the focus of the animated video to the non-important elements from the important ones and disturbs the message to be ultimately communicated.


      Staging is all about setting up your character, background, and animation to provide a clear view to the viewers.

      staging animation principle

      4. Follow-through and Overlapping

      Whenever a character comes to still, there can be multiple elements that will continue their movement for a few seconds after the character’s stoppage. 


      In the animation set-up, this is known as Follow-through. 


      Example: Imagine a female child with pony-style hair walking up to you. Even after she stops, her hair will continue to wave for a while before resting on her shoulder.


      Overlapping can be said to be the movement of different body parts at different intervals, producing a seamless waving motion.

      follow through & overlapping action animation principle

      5. Ease In & Ease Out

      Alternatively known as Slow In Slow Out, this principle is one of the most fundamental pillars of animation.


      For instance: While bowling in cricket, does the bowler accelerate instantly and clock 90 miles per hour straightaway at his run-up? 


      No, right? He begins his run-up slowly, accelerates, reaches his desired speed, bowls, and then slows down again for the follow-through action.


      So this is how objects are moved and synced as per their pace to avoid looking unnatural and robotic.

      12 animation principles from disney every animator must know

      6. Arcs

      It’s almost impossible and unnatural for characters and objects to move in a straight line. 


      So for animators to produce realistic movements, it’s crucial for them to adhere to the Arcs principle.


      For example: Imagine a character turning his head sideways. His neck movement will create an arcing motion.

      12 animation principles from disney every animator must know

      7. Exaggeration

      Imagine a cop swinging his arm way back before punching the thief and after getting punched, the thief lands 100m away – This is the exaggeration principle in application.


      Exaggeration is added by animators to add a comical element to a particular plot. 


      This brings out additional drama in the scenes and adds to the fun for the viewers.


      In most cases, the central idea behind leveraging this principle is to establish more context and impact on the viewers’ experience.


      Attached below is an example of Exaggeration:

      exaggeration animation principle

      8.Solid Drawing

      The solid drawing principle is also known as 3D Characterization where every character is provided a solid touch in terms of height, width, and depth.


      As an animator, it’s necessary to establish a perfect balance to the character while animating it to allow a free flow of movement throughout the video.


      This sense of volume and dimensionality enhances the character’s personality and elevates the overall viewing experience.

      solid drawing animation principle

      9. Appeal

      As the name suggests, the appeal principle is about adorning your objects and characters with elements that speak to the viewers.


      These features may include adding interesting movements to a character’s appearance that makes him look distinctively appealing.


      Appeal goes beyond the bare minimum of emotions. It’s also about adding personality to a character’s persona that helps draw attention and engagement from the audience.

      appeal animation principle

      10. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

      Let’s break down each in simple terms:


      The Straight Ahead Action principle is how animators approach the scene animation frame-by-frame. 


      The intention here is to create a linear sequence of continuous frames to allow the characters and objects to move freely as per the storyboard.


      This is more suited when there are multiple elements to animate and the story demands a dynamic state of motion.


      Whereas, the Pose to Pose principle involves animating a few selected scenes at certain key points. 


      Once the animation of key-frames is done, the artists pick up the leftover scenes in the middle for the final video compilation.


      However, there’s one disadvantage of applying Pose to Pose – Rigidity can appear on the final video and it may look unplanned and distorted at times.

      straight ahead & pose to pose animation principle

      11. Timing

      The second last of the 12 animation principles refers to how artists provide realistic touch and emotion to their objects by reasonably timing them.


      For every animated scene, the timing choice matters as it can evoke emotions and curiosity in the viewers’ minds.


      Example: In emotional scenes, adjusting the video pace at a slower tone may create additional emphasis whereas during comic scenes, a fast-paced sequence may develop more fun.


      Timing essentially governs the overall rhythm of the video and hence, it’s as crucial as other principles.

      12 animation principles from disney every animator must know

      12. Secondary Action

      Secondary action can be termed as an aid to the primary action.


      This additional movement to the primary action enhances the overall animation quality and provides an interesting context to the plot.


      The origin of this secondary action traces back to the initial movement. These actions supply more insights into a character’s personality such as insights, emotions, intentions, etc.


      For example: A man walking waving at his friend sitting across the street.

      12 animation principles from disney every animator must know
      Want to grab your audiences' attention and increase brand awareness using effective marketing animated videos?


      So whether you’re into traditional hand-drawn animation or digital, abiding by these principles of animation in your art will certainly elevate your video’s quality.


      Now that you’ve your animation software and principles to get started, creating an excellent animated video shouldn’t be a problem anymore.


      If you’re interested in getting a video created, our team of experienced motion graphic artists and animators can help you get one.


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