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6 principles of animation

There are twelve principles of animation identified by Disney animators Thomas and Johnston. This article looks at 6 of them.
Twelve principles of animation: squash and stretch, timing and motion, anticipation, staging, follow through and overlapping action, straight ahead and pose-to-pose action, slow in and out, arcs, exaggeration, secondary action, solid drawing, appeal
© NFTS

Below is a brief description of the six principles. You may find them useful for analysing existing animations or for having a go at creating your own.

1. Staging

Staging is used to make sure that the most important actions in the story are noticed. Audiences can only process so much at once and we need directing to the key action.

This can be achieved through a combination of framing, lighting and composition as well as ensuring that the backgrounds and other objects and characters do not create distractions and clutter.

2. Follow through and overlapping action

This principle is to develop realistic movement. When a character, or moving object, stops, then some of its attributes will keep moving or ‘follow ‘through’ – for example the superhero’s cape.

If the superhero changes direction then the cape will take time to catch up, changing direction a few frames later, creating ‘overlapping action’.

sketches of a stickperson wearing a cape

3. Timing

Timing refers to the number of frames used to create an action or part of an action. The shorter the distance between positions, the slower and smoother the action; the greater the distance, the faster and sharper the action.

Timing can be used to establish how characters interact, as well as their feelings and emotions. We have also discussed how animators can alter timing by using ones (24 frames) or twos (12 frames) to animate.

4. Exaggeration

Exaggeration is an important tool for animators to create drama by accentuating actions, emotion or expression. The amount used is a matter of taste, style and purpose.

Two stickpeople fighting

5. Solid drawing

This is the principle that animation drawing should appear to have the weight and volume of the three-dimensional asset being drawn. In other words, helping the sense that it is ‘real’ and (where necessary) subject to the laws of gravity!

6. Appeal

Animated characters need to be visually and emotionally appealing, regardless of whether they are the hero or not. For the story to function we need to be engaged with the characters.

If you’d like to learn more about the other 6 principles of animation, check out the full online course from The National Film and Television School, below.

© NFTS
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Explore Animation

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