The 12 basic principles of animation is a set of principles of animation introduced by the Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their 1981 book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.[a] Johnston and Thomas in turn based their book on the work of the leading Disney animators from the 1930s onwards, and their effort to produce more realistic animations. The main purpose of the principles was to produce an illusion of characters adhering to the basic laws of physics, but they also dealt with more abstract issues, such as emotional timing and character appeal.
The book and its principles have become generally adopted, and have been referred to as the “Bible of the industry.” In 1999 the book was voted number one of the “best animation books of all time” in an online poll. Though originally intended to apply to traditional, hand-drawn animation , the principles still have great relevance for today’s more prevalent computer animation.
Episode 1: Exploring the Principles of Animation with MODO from Foundry on Vimeo.
The 12 Principles are:
- Squash and Stretch
- Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose
- Follow Through and Overlapping Action
- Slow-In and Slow-Out
- Secondary Action
- Solid Drawing
A short on the principles of animation from the Foundry.
1. SQUASH AND STRETCH
This action gives the illusion of weight and volume to a character as it moves. Also squash and stretch are useful in animating dialogue and doing facial expressions. How extreme the use of squash and stretch 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 forms 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 often.
A Page from Preston Blair’s Animation (1st addition). Here you can see a number of the principles in action in a single animation by seeing its “layers” (referred to as onion skinning). Notice how the ball is at its normal total volume at the peak of the arc, and as it moves “faster” (images spaced further apart appear to move faster. Closer together= slower), it begins to stretch. On impact, it squashes, shifting its volume from that of one stretched out to one compressed vertically.
This example is taken from the 2007 film ‘Persepolis’ where the main character has a montage to the song Eye of the Tiger. In the montage, there are many dance moves and gestures with very subtle squash and stretch. this gives the illusion of dynamics in gesture and weight. It’s a really witty example, so enjoy the characterizations, especially the teenage school girls bobbing their heads.
This movement prepares 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 backward 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 use anticipation. Almost all real action has major or minor anticipation, such as a pitcher’s wind-up or a golfer’s back swing. Feature animation is often less broad than short animation unless a scene requires it to develop a character’s personality.
A pose or action should clearly communicate to the audience the character’s attitude, mood, reaction, or idea as it relates to the story and the continuity of the storyline. The effective use of long, medium, or close-up shots and camera angles also helps tell the story. There is a limited time in a film, so each sequence, scene, and frame must relate to the overall story. Do not confuse the audience with too many actions at once. Use one action clearly stated to get the idea across unless you are animating a scene depicting clutter and confusion. Staging directs the audience’s attention to the story or idea being told. Care must be taken in background design, so it isn’t obscuring or competing with it due to excess detail behind the animation. Background and animation should work together as pictorial units in a scene.
4. STRAIGHT AHEAD AND POSE-TO-POSE ANIMATION
Straight-ahead animation starts at the first drawing and works from drawing to drawing to the end of a scene. With this method, you can lose size, volume, and proportions, but it has spontaneity and freshness. Fast, wild action scenes are done this way. Pose to Pose is more planned and charted, with key drawings done at intervals throughout the scene. As is the action, size, volumes, and proportions are controlled better. The lead animator will turn the charting and keys over to his assistant. An assistant can be better used with this method so that the animator doesn’t have to draw every drawing in a scene. An animator can do more scenes this way and concentrate on the planning of the animation. Many scenes use a bit of both method of animation.
5. FOLLOW THROUGH AND OVERLAPPING ACTION
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, coattails or a dress, floppy ears, or a long tail (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. The character is going in a new direction, followed several frames later by his clothes in the new direction. “DRAG,” in animation, for example, would be when Goofy starts to run, but his head, ears, upper body, and clothes do not keep up with his legs. In features, this type of action is done more subtly. Example: When Snow White starts to dance, her dress does not begin to move with her immediately but catches up a few frames later. Long hair and animal tail will also be handled in the same manner. Timing becomes critical to the effectiveness of drag and the overlapping action.
6. SLOW-OUT AND SLOW-IN
As the action starts, we have more drawings near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near the next pose. Fewer drawings make the action faster, and more drawings 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-out or slow-ins for shock appeal or the surprise element. This will give more snaps to the scene.
Look at the above images and imagine a drawing of the ball at each mark. The linear interpolation example would result in a very mechanical animation of a ball rolling back and forth. The non-linear animation, with the drawings “favoring” the in and out, referred to as slow-in and slow-out, results in a more natural animation. The ball appears to take a moment to get up to speed and then loses energy and slows down. This clearly illustrates that the closer your drawings are to one another the slower the object appears to move.
More space between = faster movement
Less space in between + slower movement.
Wiley Coyote is well known for running off cliffs, but by watching carefully, you will notice that the actual decent out-of-shot is only a few frames long. Running on thin air gives us a big clue as to what happens next, and the next shot looking down the cliff face, reveals his gradual plummet to the ground. The slow build-up, fast action, and slow reaction.
All actions, with few exceptions (such as the animation of a mechanical device), follow an arc or slightly circular path. This is especially true of the human figure and the action of animals. Arcs give animation a more natural action and better flow. Think of natural movements in terms of a pendulum swinging. All arm movements, head turns, and even eye movements are executed on an arc.
If nothing else, arcs represent the flow of a force pushing/pulling into and around an object.
Feet of Song (above) is a wonderful way of viewing our bodies and their potential energy, becoming kinetic throughout. At some point, the joints become invisible, almost as a metaphor for the driving force (e.g., arms) pushing through the air and falling with gravity. This pendulum movement is what creates drag and adds realism to an animation.
8. SECONDARY ACTION
This action adds to and enriches the main action and adds more dimension to the character animation, supplementing and/or reinforcing the main action. Example: A character is angrily walking toward another character. The walk is forceful, aggressive, and forward-leaning. The leg action is just short of a stomping walk. The secondary action is a few strong gestures of the arms working with the walk. Also, the possibility of dialogue being delivered simultaneously with tilts and turns of the head to accentuate the walk and dialogue, but not so much as to distract from the walk action. All of these actions should work together in support of one another. Think of the walk as the primary action and arm swings, head bounce, and all other actions of the body as secondary or supporting actions.
Expertise in timing comes best with experience and personal experimentation, using the trial and error method in refining techniques. The basics are: more drawings between poses slow and smooth the action. Fewer drawings make the action faster and crisper. Various slow and fast timing within a scene adds texture and interest to the movement. Most animation is done on twos (one drawing photographed on two frames of film) or on one (one photographed on each film frame). Twos are used most of the time and during camera moves such as trucks and pans, and occasionally for subtle and quick dialogue animation. Also, there is timing in the acting of a character to establish mood, emotion, and reaction to another character or to a situation. Studying the movement of actors and performers on stage and in films is useful when animating human or animal characters. This frame-by-frame examination of film footage will aid you in understanding the timing for animation. This is a great way to learn from others.
Timing in Disney’s Fantasia is crucial to the whole feature, as it is all timed perfectly to an orchestra. In this piece, the animators have first marked on the screen each key position (as beads of light) and then used the gap between beats to reveal the ‘timeline’ using trailing lines. This is the simplest form of combining timing and motion to show the inner mechanics of fundamental animation.
Exaggeration is not an extreme distortion of a drawing or extremely broad, violent action all the time. It is like a caricature of facial features, expressions, poses, attitudes, and actions. Action traced from live-action film can be accurate but stiff and mechanical. In feature animation, a character must move more broadly to look natural. The same is true of facial expressions, but the action should not be as broad as in a short cartoon style. Exaggeration in a walk or an eye movement or even a head turn will give your film more appeal. Use good taste and common sense to keep from becoming too theatrical and excessively animated.
Exaggeration does not just mean distorting the actions or objects; the animator must carefully choose which properties to exaggerate. If only one thing is exaggerated, it may stand out too much. If everything is exaggerated, the entire scene may appear unrealistic; the balance must be right. Exaggeration is used in animation when trying to decide whether to be realistic or not by playing with the levels of exaggeration used, an animator can achieve this. Exaggeration can be used on the character or elements in the storyline itself.
The scene in the Lion King has the correct amount of exaggeration. When finding an example of this principle I tended to focus on the characters’ features, the eyes in particular.
11. SOLID DRAWING
The basic principles of drawing form, weight, volume solidity, and the illusion of three dimensions apply to animation as it does to academic drawing. The way you draw cartoons, you draw in the classical sense, using pencil sketches and drawings to reproduce life. You transform these into color and movement, giving the characters the illusion of three-and four-dimensional life. Three-dimensional is movement in space. The fourth dimension is movement in time.
A live performer has charisma. An animated character has appeal. Appealing animation does not mean just being cute and cuddly. All characters have to have appeal, whether they are heroic, villainous, comic, or cute. As you will use it, appeal includes an easy-to-read design, clear drawing, and personality development that will capture and involve the audience¹s interest. Early cartoons were a series of gags strung together on the main theme. Over the years, the artists have learned that to produce a feature, there was a need for story continuity, character development, and a higher quality of artwork throughout the entire production. Like all forms of storytelling, the feature has to appeal to the mind and the eye.
This example is perfect for showing appeal with the design of the witch and Snow White. They are an excellent contrast to show both negative and positive appeal.
These are some excellent explanations of the 12 principles.
Here is a very short short on Erick Oh’s, animator on the Academy Award-nominated short The Dam Keeper (2014, Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi) process.
The Trailer for The Dam Keeper.