Introduction to Animation

Within animation, there are 12 basic principles that are used today. These principles were introduced in the early 1930s with the infamous Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two people that were in Walt Disney’s animation team being among the masterminds behind these principles. The principles were introduced to contribute to the general development of animation and the development a new art form. It is a language among animators and leaves room for criticism, allowing animators to know what to improve or discuss what to change when, for example, a certain scene doesn’t add as much impact as intended.

Squash and Stretch

Squash and stretch is used on characters to give an illusion of a character’s weight and size. This action will be used regardless of what form the character is. Squash and Stretch can be used on any form of animation from the body weight of a person in motion to a simple ball, with the squash and stretch principle to even provide emphasis even on simple characters. Using squash and stretch is often used to give a comedic effect.

In this image, the ball stretches and loses it initial size by the 5 frame. Once it hits the ground, the ball ‘squashes’.

In 3D Animation

Squash and stretch can be used in 3D animation to convey the weighting of a 3D mesh using various manipulation tools and techniques such as morphing. By morphing the skin and muscle of the 3D character itself to give a squash and stretch effect.


This principle shows a movement of a character which connotes that a major action is forthcoming such as a bodily action including jumping and running or a general change in expression. This principle affects the audience by preparing them for the major action that will soon follow. The more anticipation included, the less suspenseful it would be. For example, instead of a character immediately jumping in the air, the principle is applied to leave anticipation. The anticipation is the person slowly transitioning into a crouch position before propelling itself into the air, as if the character was biding his power together before jumping. However, anticipation can be more subtle. A minor anticipation can include a footballer player swinging his leg far, far back before actually performing the action to kick the ball.

An image example of anticipation.

An image example of anticipation.

In 3D Animation

Anticipation in 3D animation can be replicated through timing using various digital tools. This includes time sheets, curves and time lines.


Staging is a principle where the action whether it being the attitude, idea, mood or reaction to a character should clearly be communicated to the audience when relating to the continuity of the storyline. To help the communication to the audience various camera shot and angles are used to help telling the story. Camera shots including long, medium and close up are used. However, they must be used effectively to successfully communicate the story towards the audience. As an understanding of the scenes of an animation must be received from the audience, too many actions must be avoided otherwise the communication will be lost and will confuse the audience. Because a cluttered scene should not be used, the same principle is applied with backgrounds. Backgrounds should not obscure the animation or fight alongside it. Backgrounds must be distraction free and must work alongside the animation.

An imagine comparison showing the differences between bad and good staging.

An imagine comparison showing the differences between bad and good staging.

In 3D Animation

3D animation has the capabilities to pre-render the staging before the main core of the scene has been implemented, enabling them to decide how the scene would look like and what additional assets and budget they would need to go and create and produce the primary and secondary sectors of the animation. These are called animatics. Digital film techniques such as camera pans, motion loops and slow motion can help portray the action and intention of the scene towards the audience.

Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose Animation

Straight ahead animation starts at the very first drawing. From this, each frame is drawn until the very end of the scene without any keyframes added. Although by doing this you can lose all volume, size and proportion. However, this is not always a disadvantage as it used in fast, wild action scenes. Pose to pose animation is the polar opposite. It is more planned out and uses keyframes between certain intervals of the scene, causing all proportion, size and volume to be more accurately retained. Many scenes within animation use both of these principles.

Example of straight ahead and pose to pose animation.

Example of pose to pose animation.

In 3D Animation

When implementing this technique in 3D animation, motion capture and rotoscoping is used. Motion capture is used to capture the movement of an actor which would than be implemented to a 3D character model. Tracing over live action footage frame-by-frame is the process that animators do to rotoscope, allowing animators to keep the volume, size and proportion of a character.

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Both of these methods require precise timing in order to successfully add an impact to these principles. This method is used when a character stops in motion and the other parts associated with the character is trying to catch up to its main mass. These body parts include clothing, body parts such as hair and arms. As the parts catch up, the parts do not all stop at once. This is the follow through method. Overlapping action revolves around the change of direction in a character. As the character changes direction, the clothes or other parts continue going forward. The clothes or other parts then eventually turn the other direction as the character after a certain amount of frames. This gives the sense of the clothing or parts to be unable to catch up with the character, as if it can’t keep up.

Example of an overlapping action.

Example of both an overlapping and a follow through action.

In 3D Animation

Dynamic simulations are often used in 3D animation to emulate the follow through and overlapping technique.  Clothing and hair are made to move dynamically, enabling cloth movement and hair movement to follow after a characters action. An example of this would be when a character turns their head quickly and the dynamic hair follows soon after. This gives a natural flow towards the physics of the character.

Slow-Out and Slow-In

When an action scene starts, more animation frames are drawn at the starting pose then less in the middle. More frames are then drawn near the next pose. This is because fewer drawings in actions scenes because the action to feel faster. When more frames are added, the action scene will appear significantly slower. As action starts, we have more drawings near the starting pose, one or two in the middle, and more drawings near the next pose. 

An example of slow in and slow out.

An example of slow in and slow out. Less frames are produced in the middle of the action to give the illusion that the action is going at a faster pace.

In 3D Animation

Slow out and slows ins are used during motion capture techniques.  Sometimes in television adverts the opposite of this technique is used, this is called a fast-in and fast-out. The advert starts off at a fast pace until it gets to the middle of the scene, where it slows down and speeds up again at the end of the sequence. This is to convey a surreal feeling from the audience.


Most actions follow an arc or a circular path causing the animation to have a more natural and flowing action. Mostly used on human figures and animals, an exception to this technique is when animating mechanical devices. This gives a more natural flow as it does a pendulum like swing. This would be used on anything from arm movements to eye movements.

An example of an arc movement within animation.

An example of an arc movement within animation.

In 3D Animation

With 3D animation, restrictions can be set to essentially ‘force’ the character to perform an arc motion. Arcs can also be done after the use of motion capture software. However, more fine tuning is involved in the process such as the use of curve editors.

Secondary Action

Including a secondary action adds more impact to the character animation and supporting emphasis on the original, main action. Instead of a character smiling to show happiness, a secondary action causing the character to jump energetically through the air. Secondary actions should work in support with each other and should not distract one another, they should work together in unity.

An image example of secondary actions within animation.

An image example of secondary actions within animation.

In 3D Animation

Using various layers and channels to produce secondary motions is a common technique used in 3D animation. To produce a secondary action, examples such as layers for hair or a layer for certain pieces of clothing can be created.


A mixed array of slow and fast timings will add interest to the movement of the animation. More drawings smooth the action when used during the posing, less drawings make action faster.  When drawing, most drawings are done in twos and ones. Meaning the one drawing is set into one or two frames. Twos are used most of the time whilst ones are used during quick dialog movement and camera moves such as camera pans. Timing is done perfectly over an animators experience and does not come immediately. One must refine their ability to time their animation through practice.

An example of timing.

An example of timing.  Notice the decrease of frames when the ball is dropping. This is is to make the action appear faster as the ball is hitting the ground hard and fast. The opposite is done when more frames are added to show that the ball is slowing down and losing momentum, making the action appear slower.

In 3D Animation

Within 3D animation, timing can be easily manipulated as 3D animations follow a non-linear path enabling the animator to insert or remove frames at any time needed.


As well as an extreme drawing that emphasises violent action, it is also commonly used to emphasise facial features such as poses or expressions as well as attitudes and additional actions. If tracing from a live action film, although it can be accurate, it would not fit well into animation. Animation must move more broadly and more emphasised to look natural within the scene. The same rule applies with facial expressions. Exaggeration in shoulder movement when a character is laughing can be used. Exaggeration must also not be overdone to avoid unnatural animation.

An example of the exaggeration principle.

An example of the exaggeration principle.

In 3D Animation

Intensity can be produced through motion pictures and editing when exaggerating with 3D animation.  Motion ranges (the amount a joint can move) and scripts are used to produce exaggerated motion.

Solid Drawing

Solid drawings from volume, weight and the illusion of three dimensions towards animation.  Drawing the characters, colouring them in and animating them bring them to life. Three dimensional is the movement of space and four dimensions is movement of time.  

An example of a solid drawing.

An example of a solid drawing.

In 3D Animation

Essentially solid modelling and rigging, the 3D variation of a solid drawing. Weight, depth and balance of a character is important when modelling the character. Correct connotations of the characters attributes previously listed means that the character has been precisely modelled. However, a character must be compatible with the motion and personality to what is being output.


Animation must appeal to the mind as well as to the eye.

An animated character must have appeal. Appeal to a character must have an easy to read design and a clear drawing. Personality development is also key. Characters must appeal to be heroic, villainous, funny or cute. Having an appeal to a character will engage the audiences interest.

In 3D Animation

Consistency is important when dealing with the appeal of a 3D character. Characters often have key poses and consistency to how the character moves, how the character relates to other characters within the animation and how the character reacts to different scenarios is a very important factor when forming the main characteristics of the characters personality.

This character in motion uses various animation techniques. Squash and stretch is used to show the character his volume and weight. Follow through and overlapping action is also used to show that his flopping stomach cannot keep up with the rest of his bodily movements, being the character's main action.  the follow through technique is used on his hat and facial hair. A solid drawing is used to bring the character to life whilst antcipation is used to show that the character is building to stand to his full height.

This character in motion uses various animation techniques. Squash and stretch is used to show the character his volume and weight. Follow through and overlapping action is also used to show that his flopping stomach cannot keep up with the rest of his bodily movements, being the character’s main action. the follow through technique is used on his hat and facial hair. A solid drawing is used to bring the character to life whilst antcipation is used to show that the character is building to stand to his full height.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s