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                              12 principles of animation: big review with examples

                              12 principles of animation: big review with examples

                              Animation becomes more and more sophisticated, interesting and, in every respect, highly impressive. We see pictures that make our minds wander and expand themselves. When some phenomenon startles people the same way we are fascinated with animation, questions often arise. For example, what are the pillars behind animation? 

                              Here’s kind of a story. No doubt, the personality of the legendary Walt Disney is well-known all over the world. All of us were growing up while watching his studio’s masterpieces. Still, the cartoons by Disney Inc. are the example of perfection as classic ones so modern.

                              So the question, who created the 12 principles of animation has a simple and obvious answer –  Walt Disney, who else! But… that’s not true. Walt Disney is rather a figure that is to mix up with something that grand. In reality, everything is a bit different. 

                              These rules were formed by Disney animators in the 1930s. Thanks to the 12 principles of animation, the practice of animation creation has evolved from a timid child into real art. Technologies are changing and improving, the computer has confidently entered the production process of animated films, but these principles remain unchanged and serve as a guide for animators around the world.

                              Animators work in the article on the principles of animation

                              Was it Disney himself, creating animation principles?

                              Despite those rules are commonly known as “Disney’s”, the guys, who really cooperated with the creation and formulating of those guidelines were two coryphaei of Disney production studio – Frank Thomas and Olly Johnston.  They recovered the tips to make your process of animation making efficient and comfortable both for the master and the consumer. Both of them had had huge experience and had worked for Disney Studio quite for a lifetime, and the principles of animation were their vital clue for the apprentices in cartoon making and animation in its modern form included in their book.

                              What are the principles of animation by Thomas & Johnston?

                              Let’s look through their animation principles with examples to understand those 12 animation rules clearly.

                              Compression and stretching 

                              Key point:  the essence of the reception is to give the stature “rubber” qualities: the living body is always compressed and stretched while moving, in animated films these deformations are served in a hypertrophied form. The main rule is that the volume of the character’s body remains the same all the time – except for absolutely radical cases. 

                              How does it change?  It never gets old, and hardly ever will. However, there is a thing: the technologies have changed, so today animators use them a bit differently. But also changed the tastes, fashion and standards. There are so many characters – peculiar, unique, weird – that have to be moved by animators. Many cartoons include characters that move rather curiously than naturally. Anyway, the principle is working.


                              Key point: poses and facial expressions (or muzzles) should be extremely simple and humanly expressive, even hyper-expressive. The principle of theatricality is based on the main rule of the theatre, where, as you know, you cannot make out fine lines from the back rows. The camera must be positioned so that the viewer sees all the movements of the character, and the clothing should not hide his movements. 

                              How does it change: You do know that this one not only vanished but even got improved? There are new styles of animation (fantasy, full world-building, camera-tracking compositing, mixed-media) that require picturing different psychology, therefore expressiveness should be different.  

                              Anticipation or refusal 

                              Key point: In real life, before performing any action, a person usually has to do preparatory movements – for example, before jumping, it is desirable for a person to sit down, or take a hand back before throwing, or wipe for a blow. A transition from pose to pose: before the detailed frame-by-frame drawing of the character, the movements are pre-arranged: the artist draws the main points and places the character on the stage, and only then do the assistants draw all the frames of the movement. This approach provides improved performance and the absence of random blunders. 

                              How does it change: One more time: nowadays many animation styles appear basically out of nowhere, and the preparatory movements are not the same as in classic movies. For example, if you take a look at the game animation, you would have to face one “set” of such movements. In Pixar movies it remains the same, but yet it has differences. 

                              Follow through and overlapping actions 

                              The key point: the movement should never stop. Even if the figure is mostly static, its minor elements must be constantly in motion, moreover, the artist must constantly keep in mind the “body hierarchy”. 

                              How does it change: This hierarchy allows you to link all the movements of the character in a separate chain and rigidly describe the rules by which he moves. What is changed? The way  Let’s take a look at Coraline Jones’ movements – the main character from the movie is called “Caroline”. It’s stop-motion animation. Her body is always aligned with the body hierarchy. Her eyebrows play another role, but everything is well-orchestrated, so to say. She’s not looking usually – her head is big, her body is very thin and she doesn’t move the way we used to see cartoons move.

                               Follow through - 12 principles of animation

                              Slow in & Slow Out 

                              The key point: every move accelerates and slows down. This principle is directly related to the 4th principle: developing the expressive poses, the artist puts all his skill, therefore, these moments should be emphasized. To do this, assistants finish the movements in such a way that most of the frames are next to the key postures: the character as if slips from one layout to another, slowly leaving the pose and slowing down from the other.

                              How does it change: One of the main rules behind animation that hardly ever change. 

                              Slow in & Slow Out - 12 principles of animation

                              Movement in arcs

                              The key point: living organisms always move along arcuate paths (it is only a drunken snake that crawls strictly in a straight line). Sometimes it seems that during sharp movements this principle is not respected since movements go in a straight line. 

                              How does it change: Well… it is still true, but we’ve got a lot of animated ads and promotional videos that follow rather different movement ideas. Many characters in simple videos are more robotic – simple as well. So, the principle is still out there, but there are exceptions to this one. 

                              Secondary Actions

                              The key point: to emphasize expressiveness and emotionality, and therefore they are extremely widespread in animation. 

                              How does it change: It is not at all! 

                              Secondary Actions - 12 principles of animation


                              The key point: The weight of the character is made up of such factors as movement speed and inertia. When calculating the time takes into account the weight, inertia, volume and emotional state of the hero. The mood is also transmitted by the speed of movement of the character. So the depressed character moves very sluggishly, and the inspired one moves quite energetically. 

                              How does it change: It is still a rule, but animators often play with time, space and physics. So the weight of the character does not always depend on movement speed and inertia.

                              Timing - 12 principles of animation

                              Exaggeration or “caricature realism” 

                              The key point: 

                              Essential realism in animation does not work, but the hypertrophy of all elements is very much the same. The sad character should look darker than a cloud, the character happy – shine and glow like a Christmas tree, an angry character should look like a steam boiler, which is about to jerk.

                              How does it change: It changed drastically! We can see now exaggerations of all sorts due to the universe’s rules inherent to animation. Besides, dystopian narratives and a variety of post-worlds are very popular nowadays.

                              Exaggeration or “caricature realism” - 12 principles of animation

                              Solid Drawing

                              The key point: the word drawing refers to traditional whiteboard animation. In the case of 3D graphics, we are talking about the expressiveness of the character. The poses of the hero convey his mood, intentions. Here, too, it is worth mentioning the possibility of using a silhouette.

                              How does it change:  The expressiveness of the character’s behaviour and poses convey to the viewer the overall mood of the scene. It doesn’t change over years, and it won’t at all.

                              Solid Drawing - 12 principles of animation

                              Delight, Happiness, Appeal 

                              The key point:  If the character is boring to watch, then the whole movie will be boring. Even ugliness can be made in some way attractive (at least attracting attention), and vice versa – an attractive outwardly character can be turned into a real devil by relatively simple means. Behind an example, it is not necessary to go far: the “Beauty and the Beast” cartoon. The terrible “monster”, laid out at once from several animals, as a result, turns out to be more than sympathetic, while the handsome Gaston from the very first moment of his appearance arouses suspicions that he is an inveterate bastard. 

                              How does it change: However, the number of worlds that were made out of animation is countless. In some of them, there are only villains, only bad guys that still fit into this principle.

                              “Beauty and the Beast” - Delight, Happiness, Appeal - 12 principles of animation“Beauty and the Beast”


                              Animation still stands in the same pillars as they were established by the guys from Disney. However, after all these years not only technology has changed, but also the way people see narratives. Even though a narrative is just a form, today it affects the stories, and these have an immense impact on characters. 

                              Many brands engage their audiences with animated character videos and boost their position on the market. Darvideo animation studio can make a unique video for your business. Contact us right now!

                              You may also be interested in:

                              Most Unusual Explainer Videos of All Times: How to Create One?

                              Tone of voice for a brand: how to craft it with the help of an animated video

                              Why animation is a powerful storytelling tool?

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                              Robinson 10.08.2021 at 16:06

                              Your blog is full of very informative information for those who are interested in animation. This is a great job.

                              Endry 29.09.2021 at 01:09

                              This topic has been covered so broadly. This is why I love your blog. You do all the work professionally

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