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  • Writer's pictureTushar Bahadure


The Principles of Animation are the most important techniques you need to master as an animator. Created by animation pioneers Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in the 1930s, the 12 Principles of Animation follow the basic laws of physics as well as emotion and attraction.

Although originally developed for pencil drawing, the same principles apply to digital animation. They should be the definitive guide to creating engaging and realistic character animations. Following the laws of physics is one way to start, but what about more abstract things like emotional timing and character attraction?

The principles mentioned below are taken from The Illusion of Life:

Disney Animation is one of the "greatest animation books of all time" and is illustrated with examples made using the Animatron.


Considered the most important principle, "squash and stretch" gives designed objects a sense of weight and volume. This is best described by a bouncing ball that appears stretched as it falls and compressed as it hits the ground. Even slightly exaggerating the shortening and expansion of animated objects gives them a realistic feel.


This principle, which involves the use of the illusion of movement and extreme posing, makes the book an exciting page-turner. This gives your audience a sense of anticipation even though they may not be sure what to expect. You achieve this by strategically dropping hints into your story.


The play sets the scene. Imagine watching a show where the characters are playing baseball, but the stage is like a bathroom. It needs to be explained and it confuses the public. In the staging phase, you need to make sure that the scenery fits the context of the image.

Colors: You can wear many dark blue shades in the evening, and bright warm shades in the morning.

Lighting: a character in an open field should have brighter lighting than under a tree.

Speed: A walking animation can have a slower-moving background than a running character.


This is a two-in-one principle that applies to the drawing process in animation. Drawing all scenes one frame at a time is called a simple operation. When posing from a pose, you draw only the keyframes and fill in the rest later. For smoother, more realistic movement, consider straight-ahead action.

However, it is best to write more dramatic scenes using the pose-pose method. This is because the relationship between the characters and the stage is much more important here.


Follow Through is the idea that particular body parts continue to move after the character has stopped. When the character stops walking, the arms may move forward before settling down. This can also be the case with clothes. An overlapping action (also called "pull" or "lead and follow") is very similar because it means that different parts of the body move at different times.

An example of overlapping action is when a character raises an arm to wave: first the shoulder moves, then the arm, then the elbow, before the arm moves back after a few frames. It can also be seen when the grass is blowing in the wind. First, the bottom moves, and then the rest of the grass follows at different speeds, giving it a rocking motion.

Also, the rest of the characters still need to show some kind of movement (blink, breathe, etc.) so that the animation doesn't "die". This is called a "moving grip".


Everything in real life usually moves in some kind of curved motion. Since it is unnatural for people to move in a straight line, you should follow this animation principle to ensure smooth and realistic movements. The faster something moves, the smoother the arc and the wider the turn. The only time anything moves in a perfectly straight line is a robot.

When the character turns his head, he dips his head during the turn to create an arc motion. You also want to make sure the finer things move in an arc. For example, when a character walks, even the tips of their toes should move in rounded, curved motions.


The classic definition of exaggeration used by Disney was to stay true to reality and only present it in its wildest, most extreme form. Since a perfect imitation of reality can seem static and boring in cartoons, exaggeration is especially useful and invigorating in animation.

Exaggeration can create very cartoonish movements, including physical changes or supernatural elements. Or the exaggeration can be added with some moderation to achieve more realistic actions. But even then, you can exaggerate to make a more readable or funnier move while staying true to reality.


Secondary action refers to actions that support or emphasize the main action to bring more life to the animation and create a more compelling presentation. It is important to remember that the secondary action should usually be something subtle that does not detract from the main action (perhaps even as a subconscious action). Therefore, dramatic movements take precedence over things like expressions.

Supporting the main action with a secondary one adds dimension to the character animation and gives the scene more life. The staging principle is very important for the correct implementation of actions. Make sure the secondary activity emphasizes the primary activity rather than detracting from it.


The timing and spacing of the animations give objects and characters the illusion that they move within the laws of physics.

Timing refers to the number of frames between two positions or the speed of action. For example, if the ball moves 24 squares from the left to the right of the square, that would be timing. It takes 24 frames or 1 second (if you run at 24 seconds) for the ball to reach the other side of the screen. Time can also strengthen mood, emotions, and personality.

Spacing refers to how the individual frames are spaced. For example, in the same example, the distance would be how the ball sits in the remaining 23 frames. If the distance is close to each other, the ball moves slower. The farther, the faster the ball travels.


This animation technique focuses on the time it takes to go (in) and stop (exit). A common statistic for racing cars is their 0-60 time. This is the time it takes for a car to accelerate from 0 mph to 60 mph. Depending on the speed, even a car that comes to a complete stop takes time.

Of course, the laws of physics are distorted in the world of animation. However, the more you factor in lightness, the more realistic the movements will be.


All animations, including 3D animations, are basically 2D-based. By skillfully combining shadows and highlights, flat objects can create the illusion of depth and simulate a 3D look. Known as solid drawing, this technique is dedicated to capturing the essence of three-dimensionality and imbuing a work of art with a life-like quality.


It's not just about looking happy or pretty. In animation, the appeal goes beyond superficial qualities to include believability, likability, and the ability to evoke empathy in the animated characters. The combination of facial features plays an important role in their overall appeal, while their seamless integration into the larger story adds to their charm.


The 12 Principles of Animation, essential to achieving realistic animation go beyond mere rules that can be read once or twice. Instead, they require regular reviews and revisions of your projects. Use these principles alone or in conjunction with your work and let us know how it improved.

Also, read...

1. Best Animation Companies in Mumbai.

2. Do’s and don'ts of commercial video animation advertising

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