The 12 principles of animation for a killer production

Reading time: 5 minutes

Learn how animations for amazing videos are made and what are the 12 principles that govern this art

The concept of animation we know today was founded in the 1930s at Walt Disney Studios. Almost 100 years ago, the specialized workforce was scarce and there was a team formed by the “nine elders” (old nine men), the best animators of the time. They who were responsible for giving soul to the well-known Disney animations. Two of them, Frank Thomas and Oliver Jhonson created a manual to maintain the quality of Disney films for future animators.

Watching different films, they studied how the laws of physics intercede in the actions of characters or objects captured by the camera. So, they wrote the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation and the 12 principles for creating killer animations were born. Check out what they are!

1. Compress and stretch (Squash and Strech)

The first principle is based on passing the illusion of weight and volume to an object as it moves. During the studies of the films, the authors realized that the movements formed blurs. This gives the impression that things are stretching, until they return to their original form when at rest.

When an object touches a surface, such as a rubber ball dripping on the floor, it compresses when it comes in contact with the surface and returns to normal when it is static.

Therefore, the first principle concerns changing the shape of the dough, preserving the volume. That is, when the object stretches, it also gets thinner, while when compressing, it gets wider, maintaining the volume of the original object. This principle can be used for moving objects, character gestures and facial expressions.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation aims to prepare the audience for the main action that is about to happen. Each main action is preceded by small movements that suggest to the viewer what will happen in the following seconds.

As the main role of animations is storytelling, anticipation tells the story of each movement. It creates expectation in the viewer, who will pay attention to the object’s next action.

For example, before a basketball player throws the ball in the basket, he flexes his knees. Before an object can directly make the desired movement, it must preview this movement, the anticipation.

3. Staging

Staging, staging, mise-en-scène… Understand each of these terms with our free Audiovisual Dictionary.

These terms refer to the study of how the characters and objects will interact in relation to the camera. In any video, the main information must be clear to the viewer.

Later on, we will see that for the information to be clear in the animation, the movements can be a little bit exaggerated, using all the available space on the screen.

This exaggerated movement combined with the anticipation, will direct the viewer’s gaze to the important action in the scene, making it clear that that is the main one.

See 7 scene composition techniques to use in the videos!

4. Direct Animation or Pose to Pose (Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose)

The fourth principle concerns two ways of building animation. Let’s see one at a time!

In the pose-to-pose animation, the first point and the last point are drawn. Then, the main frames are produced between the first and the last point. Finally, all the frames that intermediate all the movement are created.

The direct animation starts at a starting point and the drawing develops freely until reaching the final frame.

5. Action Overlap and Continuity (Follow Through and Overlapping)

No movement should be stopped suddenly in an animation. When a character or object abruptly stops a movement, it must contain a small swing. For example, when there is braking in a moving car, the body moves slightly forward until it returns to its original position.

The professional animations follow the same principle of the physical body, having a continuity of the action before the complete stop.

6. Acceleration and Deceleration (Slow in and Slow out)

According to the same principles as rule five, movements do not follow a continuous speed. The object comes out of inertia and begins to accelerate, until it begins to decelerate and return to the resting position. Because of gravity and air resistance, there are almost no linear accelerations on the earth. Therefore, it is interesting to accelerate and decelerate all objects in an animation.

The 12 principles of animation were based on the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. (Art: Juliana Polastri)
The 12 principles of animation were based on the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. (Art: Juliana Polastri)

7. Arc-shaped movement (Arcs)

Observing nature, the authors realized that most forms are curved, arched. Straight lines convey a “mechanical” sense, which does not belong to natural movements.

The movements of the characters and objects are more real when they respect these curves and arcs. The perspective view of the camera is also more realistic when the movements are in an arc path.

8. Secondary action (Secundary Act)

Every type of movement will influence several other objects in the scene. The secondary action derives from the main movement, with the aim of reinforcing the first action and adding dimension and realism to the image.

When a person walks, movement is produced by the legs, but the hair and clothing will also move.
In animation, it is important to identify the primary movement, the one that commands the scene, and to produce the secondary movements from that first action.

9. Timing

O timing is responsible for making the animation fluid, capturing the viewer’s attention and even surprising him. The movements within the space of the screen must respect a time.

Knowing when to start, accelerate and slow down a movement are notions of timing. This notion is acquired with a lot of experience and respecting the principles 5 and 6 of the animations.

10. Exaggeration

The exaggeration in the animation has the main function of making clear the objective of the scene. It works very well in combination with principle 3, staging. By using the screen space clearly, animators can “play” with facial expressions and main movements.

Exaggeration is very present in cartoons, but not exclusive. This principle deviates from the laws of physics, but it is an interesting touch for the language of animation.

11. Volumetric Drawing (Solid Drawing)

The volumetric design concerns the depth and perspective of the image. Always respecting the proportion of the characters, scenery and other objects.

This realism is pleasing to the viewer as it passes the illusion of volume and weight of the object.
When the animation is done frame by frame, or drawn by hand, drawing techniques must be well employed to convey the desired message.

12. Appeal

The appeal of animation has to do with the beauty of design, but not only. Often, the appeal is linked to the charisma of the character and feelings of the actions.

Humanized objects and movements help to create an emotional connection with the viewer. Mostly, the appeal comes from a well-told story and a well-built character.

The 12 principles of animation

A killer production of an animation video contains most of these 12 principles of animation. These videos perform better on social media, engage viewers more easily and convert better.

Check out the video styles produced for companies!

Production of animation videos by Voxel Digital.
Production of animation videos by Voxel Digital.

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