Since the introduction of animation a century ago, the world hasn’t been the same. It’s difficult to imagine a world without these characters. 

From drawing stick figures, cutting out parts of the figures that are to move, pinning those parts to a board and photographing those, before moving the shot slightly for the next shot and repeat, animation has come a long way.

The “bible” for any animation artist, Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston’s The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, was first released in 1981This publication was even voted the best animation book of all time!

“These principles were applied for the first time in the early 1930s in films like The Three little pigs. They were improved and refined in the first masterpiece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 (Disney, 1937) and the other animated features that followed. These principles, developed over the first half of the last century, are still the basis for all animation work. ”
Creative Bloq

1. Squash and Stretch

Considered the most important, the squash and stretch principle is number one on the list for a reason. By applying this principle, your animated character will have the illusion of gravity, weight, mass, and flexibility. This allows your character to look realistic. Squash and stretch allow you to keep the object’s volume consistent and realistic.

E.g. If you are creating a ball bouncing off the floor, the ball will stretch when it travels up into the air while it flattens (squish) when hitting the ground.

squash & strecth principle

2. Anticipation

Or, antici…pation. This principle helps viewers prepare for what is about to happen. This includes details that make the animation seem more natural and realistic.

E.g. Bending the character’s knees before jumping. Without anticipation in design, your animation will appear stale, lifeless, and awkward. 

anticipation principle

3. Staging

Staging is often overlooked, but this is where you guide your audience’s eye to focus on what you want them to look at. Draw attention to what is important in the scene, by motion and staging. Equally, keep the motion of everything else that is not as important, to a minimum. 

E.g. Where you choose to place your character in the scene.

staging principle

4. Straight Ahead Action & Pose-to-Pose

Two different techniques, one amazing animation. Each comes with its own benefits and you could even combine the two approaches.
Fluid, realistic movements are achieved by straight-ahead action, as you’re drawing the whole process frame-by-frame from start to finish. Straight ahead action is less planned, making it new and surprising.
For a more controlled process, the pose-to-pose application is your best bet as it allows you to increase the dramatic effect of the motion. This technique entails drawing the first, last, and middle frames, first, and then you can fill in the gaps.


5. Follow Through & Overlapping Action

Just like in real life, when an object stops, not all parts halt at the same time. Disney’s fifth principle relates to the overlapping action when parts of a character are moving at different speeds or rates. Likewise, when your character stops, their hair or their jacket might still move until it comes to a complete stop.

E.g. If your character is running, their arms and legs are not in sync with each other.

follow through principle

Notice how the Jedi’s sleeves still swing as he moves his arms. 

6. Arcs

Most objects follow an arc or path when they’re moving. Your animation should reflect that to make it as realistic as possible.

E.g. When you throw a ball up into the air, gravity will bring it back down again.

Arcs principle


“When working in animation, it’s best to stick with the laws of physics.”
Creative Bloq

7. Slow In & Slow Out

Like all good things, you need to pace yourself…Slow in & slow out gives objects more life and is achieved by adding more frames to the beginning and end of an action sequence.

E.g. If your character is raising their arm, the movement will start off slowly, then as it gains momentum the speed picks up.

Slow in slow out principle

8. Secondary Action

Just like the name suggests, secondary action supports and emphasizes the main action within a scene, by adding more dimension to your characters and objects. It is important to note that the secondary action should never overpower the scene or distract attention from the primary action.

E.g. facial expressions or hair blowing in the wind.

Secondary action principle

9. Timing

Again, remember to base your animation and design on the laws of physics to make it as natural as possible. Use the ‘real world’ for reference. In the ninth principle of animation, the rule is all about timing. Timing is about where you put each frame of action in a timeline. 
By using the correct timing, you can control the reaction and mood of the characters and the scene. By focusing on realistic timing, your scene becomes more believable. The success of your animation is going to depend on your sense of timing.

E.g. If a ball is bouncing, as the ball slows down to a roll and stop, the frames will be closer to each other. 

timing principle

10. Exxageration

Yes, you want to keep it realistic, but in saying that, too much realism can also ruin your animation by making it appear static and, dare we say, boring… Balance it out with exaggeration. By applying exaggeration, you’re making your characters more dynamic. The key is to push the limit to just beyond possible and voila!

E.g.If you are trying to portray something as big, you could make it abnormally large to really paint the picture for the audience… i.e, literally as big as a house!

Exxageration principle

11. Solid Drawing

While pushing (just beyond) the limit is encouraged, remember to keep it consistent. Keep the same look and perspective throughout all the drawings to keep your animation from falling apart. To achieve this you need to understand the basics of drawing in a 3D space, especially focusing on form, anatomy, weight, and volume.

E.g. If your door is wobbly, keep it consistent and make it appear wobbly throughout.

Solid drawing principle

Notice how the character features are all rounded throughout


Last but not least, your characters, objects, and the animated world needs to be appealing to your audience. You’re telling your story through animation, so, remember to double-check that the final product is attractive and enticing. 

E.g. Make sure that the message is clear, and that it is easy to read and understand. Use solid drawing and make sure your characters and the animated world have personality and match the tone of your message.

Appeal principle

All images and gifs are sourced via IdeaRocket Animation

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