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The 12 Principles of Animation

Squash and Stretch Objects and characters will squash and stretch depending on their construction and what forces are inflicted on them or movements that they do. Squashing and stretching must be controlled and done for a reason: a football will squash when dropped but a bowling ball won’t. Squashing and stretching also depend on the construction of the character: the lower half of a person’s face around the jaw and cheeks will squash and stretch but the cranium won’t.

Anticipation Any major movement is preceded by a minor anticipatory movement. This anticipatory movement prepares the audience for the major movement to happen and makes them look at the right place on the screen. It also seems to ‘wind the character up’ and give them energy to do the action they are going to do. For example, if a character is going to throw a ball, they will pull their arm back first before throwing. The amount of anticipation depends on the action that is going to happen and whether you want to surprise your audience. Always vary the intensity of the anticipatory movements during a scene to stop them becoming monotonous.

Staging Stage the action in a scene so that it is obvious what is happening to an audience. This principle is similar to staging in theater and film. Have good, strong silhouettes (if the character were completely blacked in, could you tell what it was doing?). Make sure nothing else in the scene distracts from what the audience is looking at and make the composition lead the audience’s eye to the important part of the shot, through perspective, color, lighting and/or shadow.

Straight-Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose As discussed above, these are two different approaches to the animation process. ‘Straight-ahead’ animation involves producing the scene frame by frame from beginning to end (drawing one drawing after another or positioning a puppet or computer model one frame at a time), while ‘pose-topose’ animation involves starting with a few key positions and then filling in the intervals later (known as ‘in-betweening’ or ‘tweening’). Straight-ahead animation creates a more fluid, dynamic illusion of movement and is better for producing realistic action sequences. However, it is hard to maintain proportions and to create exact, convincing poses along the way. Pose-to-pose animation works better for dramatic or emotional scenes, where composition and relation to the surroundings are of greater importance. A combination of the two techniques is often used. 3D computer animation tends to use pose-to-pose with the software doing the in-betweens for the animator. However, it generally doesn’t do these in-betweens particularly well, so the animator has to adjust and correct this in-between movement. All puppet animation is straight-ahead, but modern techniques mean that an animator will do a dummy run (or ‘pop through’) of their animation first and use editing techniques to work out the timing. This will then be noted down on an exposure sheet so that, when the animator animates the scene in earnest, they know at which frame their character should be doing what.



Follow-Through and Overlapping Action These closely related techniques help render movement more realistic and give the impression that characters follow the laws of physics. ‘Follow-through’ refers to the fact that different parts of a body will continue moving after the character has stopped. ‘Overlapping action’ is the tendency for parts of the body to move at different rates (the timing of an arm will differ from that of the head, and so on). A third technique that can be employed is ‘drag’, where a character starts to move but parts of him take a few frames to catch up. These parts can be inanimate objects, such as clothing or the antenna on a car, or parts of the body, such as arms or hair. On the human body, the torso is the core and the arms, legs, head and hair are appendices that normally follow the torso’s movement. Body parts with a lot of tissue, such as large stomachs and breasts or the loose skin on a dog, are more prone to independent movement than bonier body parts. Again, exaggerated use of the technique can produce a comical effect while more realistic animation must time the actions exactly to produce a convincing result. There is also the idea of the ‘moving hold’. A character may have a fixed facial expression as they do a fast movement so that the audience registers that expression.

Slow In and Slow Out Any movement of a character will accelerate to an maximum speed and slow to a stop. Animation will look more believable if it follows this rule. There are exceptions to this, for example when an object falls down and hits the floor. It often pays to animate this acceleration unevenly, for example by having a movement accelerate slower than it decelerates or vice versa. Constant acceleration and declaration can look robotic.

Arcs Most human and animal movement occurs in arcs. They way in which we are constructed means that we move our outer extremities is arcs related to joints closer to the body. There is a whole part of our brain that is dedicated to observing and analysing movement and it wants to see living things moving in arcs. Mechanical movement tends to follow circular or straight trajectories and, when you move a human or an animal like this, it looks mechanical.

Secondary Action Adding secondary actions to the main action gives an animated character more believability and can make them more delightful to watch. Secondary animation should emphasise a character’s movements rather than distract from it, and could be the way the arms drag as the body moves, the way another character follows a first character or the flow of drapery or cloth. Try to avoid ‘twining’, which is movement of different parts of the body in similar ways (e.g. arms moving simultaneously in the same way). When a character comes to rest, have different bits stopping at different times.


The 12 Principles of Animation

Timing Timing refers to the points during a scene when various things an audience registers happen. Each of these key points happens with a given number of frames or drawings between them and the amount of frames or drawings that each of these key points is ‘held’ for. It pays to vary the timing of the key positions during a scene and to also work to a beat or rhythm. Show your work to as many people as possible. Give them the minimum they need to understand what’s going on and then play with them. Slow things down before something major happens. Move things according to the mood at the time. There is no easy way to learn time – just animate, animate, animate.

Exaggeration All animation is artifice and exaggeration makes animation more believable. An action or expression that works in live action won’t necessarily work in animation. The level of exaggeration depends on how realistic your characters are. Live-action actors in a movie do not behave like real-life people and nor do animated characters.

Solid Drawing An understanding of drawing in 3D space gives volume and weight to a character. An animator needs to have an understanding of anatomy, weight, balance, light and shadow. All animators should take life drawing classes and also do location sketching of humans and animals. An animator who fills up several sketchbooks a year will be better than one who doesn’t.

Appeal An animated character should be appealing to an audience. This would be described as charisma in an actor. Your audience has to be interested in the character in order to keep watching the movie they are in.



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