12 Principles of Animation


Applied to 3D Animation

In the early 1930s, Walt Disney and company sat down to codify the hand-drawn animation process that had been informally evolving at Walt Disney studios. What emerged became known as the “12 Principles of Animation,” and set the standard for hand-drawn animation.

At Saturday morning’s “The 12 Principles of Animation applied to 3D Animation,” Isaac Kerlow, Director of Digital Production at the Walt Disney Company, argued that the principles need to be adapted for the modern day. Using visual examples from well-known animated films, Kerlow reinterpreted the twelve principles as they would apply to 3D animation, and added a few new ones of his own.

The purpose of adapting the principles, Kerlow said, is to guide the development of 3D animation, a relatively new art form. Computer animation is very complex, and a well-understood framework can help artists and producers weave together the many separate aspects of character and scene creation, into an animated tapestry that will truly captivate an audience.

For each of the following twelve principles, Kerlow defined the intention of the principle, presented a visual example to back it up, and suggested a modern equivalent that would apply to character artists working in 3D.


1. Squash and Stretch



 Original idea: In traditional animation, characters movements (particularly facial movements) had a very high degree of exaggerated, non-rigid deformation. (Imagine any Disney character whose face contorts wildly during a sneeze or a scream.)

Modern equivalent: The principle still holds in the 3D era, especially for cartoon-like animations. (Anime tends toward exaggerated subtlety.) Squashing and stretching happen within animation packages, using dynamics weighting or unusual IK systems.


 2. Anticipation


Original idea: Anticipation is the technique by which the audience’s eyes are drawn to where action will occur on-screen (e.g. a cartoon that begins making running motions before actually going anywhere). Anticipation announces the coming surprise and is a very useful technique for guiding expectation. (Again, Disney animation tends toward heavy anticipation, whereas in anime we see very little — given anime a more etheric, fantastic feel.)

Modern equivalent: Anticipation can be created by the skillful use of motion curves, expanding or contracting pieces of animation to create the anticipatory effect.




3. Staging

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Original idea: Staging refers to the way in which character motion and camera movements are set up to convey the mood and intent of a scene. (Example: in Toy Story, Buzz Light year’s arrival in the bedroom is shown with a close-up that begins at his feet and pans dramatically upward to his helmet.)

Modern equivalent: In 3D, staging can be expanded to include more detail, hide points of interest, set up for chain reactions, and so on. Staging is also useful in animistic, which establish a scene’s core movements before primary animation gets underway. Contemporary moving image techniques, such as 3-axis camera moves, slow motion, “bullet time,” and so on, also add to 3D staging abilities.


4. Straight Ahead  or Pose-to-Pose


Original idea: In traditional animation, character actions were either drawn from beginning to end, creating an unpredictable look and feel, or they were broken down into a more predictable set of key poses.

Modern equivalent: In 3D animation, straight ahead animation corresponds to procedural animation techniques (e.g. motion capture and 3D rotoscoping); pose-to-pose would correspond to key frame animation. Modern artists can take advantage of layers or channels to intelligently mix both types of motion, or use non-linear motion curve editing to edit different aspects of a single character’s motion.


5. Follow-Through and Overlapping


 Original idea: Follow-through refers to the reactive animation that occurs after an action is completed, telling the audience how the character feels about that action. (Think of Donald Duck throwing a football, watching it for a moment, and then lowering his arm in disappointment.) Overlapping refers to the additional motions that overlap the main motion of a given character.

Modern equivalent: Follow-through can be done with dynamic simulation and scripts – especially for cloth and hair. Overlapping is achieved by using layers and channels to blend different types of motion into a sequence.


6. Slow-in and Slow-out

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 Original idea: If you look closely at movies animated in the Disney style, you’ll see that characters’ motions tend to be quicker in the middle of an action than at the beginning and end. This slowing of the intro and extra sections of a movement creates a “snappy” effect.

Modern equivalent: Fine-tuning animations using time-editing tools, such as dope sheets, curves, and timelines. Motion capture performers can also be directed to do slow-ins and slow-outs.


7. Arcs


Original idea: Organic characters almost always move in motion arcs, as opposed to straight lines. Straight line motions make a character look sinister, robotic, or restricted in some way. (In The Iron Giant, the giant begins the movie with linear movements, and adopts arc-based motion as he becomes “more human” later on.)

Modern equivalent: In 3D packages, motion can easily be constrained to arcs. Motion capture performances can also be fine-tuned using arc editors.


8. Secondary Action


 Original idea: These are small complementary motions that occur in a scene.

Modern equivalent: Using layers and channels to build up different aspects of secondary motion. Collision detection is another useful tool for generating secondary actions.




9. Timing


Original idea: Timing refers to the precise moment at which a given character motion occurs, and how long it continues for. (Humor is often created through the use of clever timing juxtapositions.)

Modern equivalent: In 3D animation, timing can be refined using the time-editing tools, and frames can be easily added or removed to make the timing work. Using different animation tracks for different character (and sub-tracks for parts of characters) also helps create precise timing.


10. Exaggeration


Original idea: The essence of an action is often enhanced by the exaggeration of a given motion – especially for cartoon-style animation. (Eyes bugging out, jaws dropping, etc.)Modern equivalent: In 3D, this can be done at the performance level, using procedural techniques, and can also be worked into cinematography and editing.


11. Solid Drawing

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 Original idea: Originally, this principle referred to using appropriate weight, depth and balance to give drawings the desired look.

Modern equivalent: Kerlow suggested renaming this principle “Solid Modeling and Rigging,” since the same principles now apply to the optimization of models and IK skeletons to create specific “animation personalities” for different characters.





12. Characters’ Appeal

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 Original idea: The last of the twelve principles suggests that characters be well-developed, with interesting and distinct personalities.

Modern equivalent: In 3D animation, character complexity and consistency can be dramatically increased – and built in to a character’s design – so that appeal is not being recreated from scratch with every set of drawings. Kerlow pointed out that in gaming, walk and run cycles are especially important aspects of a character’s appeal. He showed a clip from Kingdom Hearts in which Sora, Donald, and Goofy are walking side by side, each with their own distinct style.


Animation Principles


The bible of the industry is the “Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.These 12 principle became the gospel according to the nine old men of animation that worked with Walt Disney in founding the industry that you see today.

1. Stretch and Squash

2. Anticipation


4.Straight Ahead Action and Pose to pose

5.Follow Through and Overlapping Action

6. Slow In and Slow Out

7. Arcs

8. Secondary Action

9. Timing

10. Exaggeration

11. Solid Drawing

12. Appeal


1This action gives the illusion of weight and volume to a character as it moves.Also stretch and squash is useful in animation dialogue and doing facial expression.How extreme the use of stretch and squash is, depends on what is required in animating the scene. Usually it’s broader in a short style of picture and subtler in a feature. It is used in all form of character animation from a bouncing ball to the body weight of a person walking. This is the most important element you will be required to master and will be used.


imagesThis movement prepare the audience for a major action the character is about to perform, such as, starting to run, jump or change expression. A dancer does not just leap off the floor. A back wards motion occurs before the forward action is executed. The backward motion is the anticipation. A comic effect can be done by not using anticipation after a series of gags that used anticipation such as a pitcher’s wind-up or a golfers back swing.Feature animation is often less broad than short animation unless a scene requires it to develop a character personality.


A pose or action should clearly communicate to the audience the attitude, mood, reaction or idea of the character as it relates to the story and continuity of the story line. Staging directs the audiences attention to the story or idea being told. Care must be taken in background design so it isn’t obscuring the animation or competing with it due to excess detail behind the animation. Background and animation should work together as a pictorial unit in a scene.


images (2)Straight ahead animation starts at the first drawing and works drawing to drawing to the end of a scene. You can lose size, volume, and proportions with this method, but it does have spontaneity and freshness.Fast, wild action scenes are done this way. Pose to Pose is more planned out and charted with key drawing done at intervals throughout the scene. An animator can do more scenes this way and concentrate on the planning of the animation. Many scenes use a bit of both methods of animation.


When the main body of the character stops all other parts continue to catch up to the main mass of the character, such as arms, long hair, clothing, coat tail or a dress, (these follow the path of action).Nothing stops all at once.This is follow through.Overlapping action is when the character changes direction while his clothes or hair continues forward.


slow-in_out-copyAs action starts, we have more drawing near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near the next pose. Fewer drawing make the action faster and more drawing make the action slower. Slow-ins and Slow-outs soften the action, making it more life-like. For a gag action, we may omit some slow-ins or Slow-out for shock appeal or the surprise element. This will give more snap to the scene.


images (1)All action, with few exceptions, follow an arc or slightly circular  path. This is especially true of the human figure and action of animals. Arcs give animation a more natural action and better flow. Think of natural movement in the terms of a pendulum swinging. All arm movement, head turns and even eye movement are executed on an arcs.


This action adds to and enriches the main action and adds more dimension to the character animation, supplementing and/or re-enforcing the main action.The secondary action is a few strong gestures of the arms working with the walk.Think of the walk as the primary action and arm swings, head bounce and all other actions of the body as secondary or supporting action.


Expertise in timing come best with experience and personal experimentation, using the trial and error method in refining technique. The basics are more drawing between pose slow and smooth the action.Fewer drawing make the action faster and crisper. Also, there is timing in the action of a character to establish mood, emotion, and reaction to another character or to a situation.


10 ExaggerationExaggeration is not extreme distortion of a drawing or extremely broad, violent action all the  time. It’s like a caricature of facial features, expressions  poses, attitudes and actions. Action traced from live action film can be accurate, but stiff and mechanical.Exaggeration in a walk or an eye movement or even a head turn will give your film more appeal.


The basic principle of drawing form, weight, volume solidity and the illusion of three dimension apply to animation as it does to academic drawing. The way you draw cartoons, you draw in the classical sense, using pencil sketches and drawing for reproduction of life.


A live performer has charisma. An animated character has appeal. Appealing animation does not mean just being cute and cuddly. All character have to have appeal whether  they are heroic, villainous, comic or cute. Appeal, as you will use it, includes an easy to read design, clear drawing, and personality development that will capture and involve the audiences interest.Like all forms of story telling, the feature has to appeal to the mind as well as to the eye.

These are the main and very important principle of animation.