12 Principals of Animation

  1. Squash and Stretch

This refers to an animated character or object which will change in shape or length to give the illusion of weight and momentum. This principal helps to emphasise what the material/s a character or object is made up of and what weight it is.


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    2. Anticipation

A way in which an action is prepared for is by exaggerating movement. In animation it must be made clear to the viewer what they should be looking at so to do this the character will be drawn in the various stages before carrying out the actual movement. This gives the audience time to realise what is it they should be focused on and why.


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      3. Staging

This can be applied to many elements within animation including timing, acting, camera angles e.t.c. It is when it is made completely clear to the audience what is happing in the scene. Nothing is there by chance, everything is carefully thought out and placed in a specific place to present the story in its intended light.


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      4. Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose

This principal refers to two ways in which drawings can be animated. The first, straight ahead, is when each drawing is drawn in order one after another. The second, pose to pose is when the first and the last of each main action is drawn and then the blanks are drawn in later. Pose to pose tends to allow more control over what you draw because you can easily decide where the character begins and where they end up. This is more difficult with straight ahead. However straight ahead can be used to animate unpredictable scenes, things with constantly changing physics such as fire or smoke.


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     5.Follow Through & Overlapping Action

This principal adds a sense of realism to the scene by leaving parts of the character/object behind during movement or allowing them to continue to move after the character or object has stopped. For example the cape on a super hero character wouldn’t move at the same rate as the character themselves, it would flow behind them and have to catch up. This also allows the animator to describe what something is made of.


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     6. Slow in and Slow Out

Mainly all types of movement (excluding machinery) starts movement slowly, speeds up and comes to a gradual halt. This principal allows for an animation to look and feel believable.


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      7. Arcs

“The movements of most living creatures will follow a slightly circular path”.- Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston (The Illusion of Life)

Describes a form of movement whereby characters generally move in a circular path to avoid rigid movement and make characters move more realistically.


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     8. Secondary Action

“When used correctly, secondary action will add richness to the scene, naturalness to the action, and a fuller dimension to the personality of the character”.- Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston (The Illusion of Life)

This refers to additional actions which are added to support or emphasise main actions or primary actions. If a character is running secondary actions can be added to emphasise why they are running. If the character is looking behind them every few seconds they may be running from something but if they are looking straight ahead and have a relaxed posture they may be out for a jog.


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     9. Timing

This refers to how many frames are put into a scene and how different effects can be produced. The more drawings you place in between the first and last frame the slower it will be whereas the fewer drawers you place the faster the action will happen.

Drawing on ones: a drawing is placed on every frame. This can sometimes look jumpy

Drawing on twos: a drawing is placed every two frames. This tends to look a lot more fluid than drawing on ones, making it the more commonly used method.


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    10. Exaggeration

This refers to the emphasis of actions in animation. Without this principal animations would look flat and boring. This helps to really bring them to life.


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     11. Solid Drawing

This refers to the use of volume, weight and balance in animation to make it look as though the characters and the scenes that they are in are in a 3-dimensional space. This is also used to ensure that the perspective stays constant and that the characters and objects make sense in regards to scale.


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      12. Appeal

“To us, it meant anything that a person likes to see, a quality of charm, pleasing design, simplicity, communication and magnetism”.- Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston (The Illusion of Life)

The basically means that the characters should have some sort of charismatic quality about them which makes the audience ‘like them’. Generally characters will have a distinctive feature or features which make the visually appealing to an audience.

  • Variety of shapes
  • Proportions
  • Keep it simple

Our life drawing assignment was to design a character based on the principal of appeal.

At first I wasn’t sure what kind of character I wanted to design so I drew out some potential shapes and designed a little rabbit character.


My final character is a tiny dog with bat-like ears. Here are some of the early designs for him.lifedrawing3lifedrawing4

Here are some of the more final designs for him:


Here are a few digital drawings of the character with colour added:

dogcharacWhile I was designing him it occurred to me that he put me in mind of the character ‘Winston’ from a Disney short entitled ‘Feast’ (2014). So I watched it over and over to see how they approached animating his movements.


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When designing the character I thought that his big ears linked well to the Follow Through and Overlapping Action principal because of their size they could take a while to catch up to the body or flow behind him when he is running (almost like a cape). Here are some sketches showing this.


Secondary Action.jpgI considered giving the character a longer tail but thought that the shorter tail fit better with the overall proportions of the character. While designing this character I also thought back to the Secondary Action Principal. Expression can be shown from various points of the character not only the face and body, for example the tail could wag alongside a happy facial expression to show happiness or the ears could fall back and the body could hunch lower to suggest fear or sadness.

My character was greatly influenced by various characters including Disney’s Bolt (2009) because of the main characters small stature and boisterous nature.


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I also took some inspiration from the character designs from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians in regards to the characters eyes.


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I also thought about the tenth principal, exaggeration, when designing my character. I wanted to exaggerate the proportions of the dog and make his head and ears much larger than his body. In the end I feel like I could have did a better job at this but I’m still pretty happy with the character.

“When Walt asked for realism, he wanted a caricature of realism.”- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (The Illusion of Life)

I found the quote (above) very interesting and definitely thought about it when creating my character. I wanted to emphasise obvious physical traits of dogs that I based the character on such as French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers which are easily recognised by their pointed ears and small bodies.


In regards to the second principal, anticipation, I considered this also during the designing of my character. I feel as though the character could easily be drawn in ways that show this principal. For example if he were about to jump he could be drawn lowering himself to the ground before springing upwards. This gives the jump context and prepares the audience for the following action.

Although the character isn’t what I would have liked it to be I am pretty happy with it. I plan to work more on the design of the character over the summer using what I have learned in the life drawing classes to help me create a more dynamic and well rounded final result. I would also like to have a go at modelling the character in Maya and maybe using some tutorials on rigging quadrupeds to me a. help me get better at character design and b. help me with learning more about modelling and rigging in maya.


Thomas, F. and Johnston, O. (1995). The Illusion of Life, 1st ed. New York: Disney Editions

Disney’s ‘Feast’ (2014) Directed by Patrick Osborne

Disney’s Bolt (2008) Directed by Byron Howard & Chris Williams