Why are the 12 principles of animation important?
Sep 30 6 minutes read Gordon Barry
As an animation design studio with over 30 years of collective experience, we know a thing or two about the principles of animation. Below, we explore each one of the 12 principles of animation alongside taking a look at why these were (and continue to be) so important to the animation industry.
What are the 12 basic principles of animation?
Introduced in 1981 by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their book, ‘The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation’, the 12 basic principles of animation were created to help animators produce more realistic work. Based on the work of Disney animators from the 1930s up until the 1980s, these principles are still taught today in classrooms and professional design studios across the world.
1. Squash and stretch
Squash and Stretch (also referred to as S&S) refers to the change of shape applied to an animated character or object to give it a more flexible and lifelike appearance. This contrasting change of shape from a ‘squashed’ pose into a ‘stretched’ one, or vice versa, helps to provide realistic movement in animation.
Without this principle, animation may appear unrealistically stiff or rigid. A bouncing ball, for example, needs to show a degree of squash and stretch for it to look realistic when being bounced on the floor. If it were to remain rigid, the viewer wouldn’t be able to see the elasticity of the object and might assume it was a more solid material.
Anticipation is the moment before an action that often involves the build up of momentum. In animation, anticipation can be seen before a character jumps or punches, for example. In the build up before a jump, a character is likely to move back, squat and position the top half of their body forward slightly – this is all known as anticipation. The greater the action, the more fluid the anticipation will be.
Used to inform the audience about a character or narrative, staging is used to express an action in a clear and easily understandable manner. This process often requires animators to convey emotions, attitudes and expressions. For example, if an animator wants to convey two characters having a heated conversation, it would be poor staging to have the characters facing one another completely with minimal expression and body language.
Instead, good staging in this instance would be positioning the character’s bodies at an angle to ensure the audience can see their body language and expressions. If the audience can clearly see the character’s arms outstretched with a furrowed brow, they are likely to make a more accurate assumption about the animation narrative.
4. Straight-ahead action and pose-to-pose
‘Straight ahead action’ and ‘pose-to-pose’ refer to two different drawing processes implemented by animators. Straight-ahead action involves the frame by frame drawing out of a scene, while pose-to-pose is the drawing of certain key frames – the remaining frames are added in later. Put simply, straight ahead action plans out every frame from start to finish, while pose to pose focuses on the main events first and fills in the interlinking frames later.
5. Follow through and overlapping action
Follow through and overlapping motion are two similar techniques used to create more realistic movement by ensuring characters and other moving objects follow the laws of physics. Follow through motion refers to the continuation of movement despite one part coming to a stop. For example, when a character stops walking, their arms might continue to swing slightly.
Similarly, overlapping action refers to different parts of a character or object moving at different speeds. For example, if a character jumps, their hair and clothing may move at a slightly slower speed than their body. This helps to make characters and their motions more believable.
6. Slow in and slow out
Put simply, slow in and slow out is the acceleration and deceleration of an object or character in animation. To make the movement of an object or character appear more realistic, it will gradually gain speed and then slowly decrease speed before it comes to a stop.
Similar to follow through and overlapping motion, the arc principle aims to ensure characters and objects follow the laws of physics. More specifically, the arc refers to the law of inertia – an object moving at a constant speed in a straight line will continue to move at a constant speed in this straight line unless it is acted upon by a great enough force. For example, a rolling ball will only come to a stop if interrupted by a physical block.
8. Secondary action
The secondary action is any resulting action motivated by a primary action. This additional action enhances the primary action to help bring the animated scene to life. By way of illustrating, a character walking along is the primary action, but their scarf blowing behind them or their hair showing movement is a secondary action that enhances the main movement.
The timing principle simply refers to how long it takes for an action to be completed. It involves several factors including duration, speed and velocity. By taking into consideration the laws of physics as well as the weight and scaling properties of an object, the timing of an action can be calculated to ensure it appears realistic in an animation.
As suggested by the name, exaggeration is used to emphasise certain actions, poses and expressions in animation. While exaggeration may seem like the opposite solution to creating realistic animation, animation without exaggeration can appear too stiff, giving a lifeless appearance to actions. This might include the exaggeration of a character energetically swinging a golf club, for example.
11. Solid drawing
Solid drawing is a crucial animation principle used for creating realistic-looking objects and characters. It involves the rendering of a three-dimensional character in a two-dimensional space. To achieve this, the animator needs to consider many factors including the volume, weight, balance and anatomy of the character.
Appeal is the principle that animation should be appealing, meaning it should be attractive or interesting to the audience, but doesn’t necessarily need to look pleasant. Instead, the animation simply needs to stand out and capture the audience’s attention from the beginning, arguably making this principle one of the most important of the 12 animation principles.
Why are the 12 principles of animation important?
As animation has developed over the decades, it’s become increasingly realistic – which is in no small part thanks to these 12 principles of animation! Ultimately, these principles are designed to ensure that animation adheres to the basic laws of physics, ensuring a lifelike motion and appearance in objects and characters.
Tricks Studio animation services
At Tricks Studio, we pride ourselves on our ability to understand your specific business requirements – as well as the 12 principles of animation. Through the immersive and attention-grabbing medium of animation, we’re able to convey complex ideas and important internal messages to your target audience with ease.
Driven forward by our close-knit and talented team, we produce all our animation work to a high standard, ensuring outstanding animations every time – but don’t just take our word for it!
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