12 Principles of Animation

The 12 principles of animation are the basic and essential laws that all animators need to know when creating their first animated feature.

1. Squash and Stretch

Squash and Stretch is meant to show the weight and mass of an object.  The more flexible an object is, the softer and more malleable an object is.  Without squash and stretch, objects appear to be solid and heavy objects.  In the case of a bouncing ball, with squash and stretch, the ball could be anything like a kickball or a soccer ball, but without squash and stretch, the ball will appear to be that of a bowling ball or a boulder.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation prepares the audience for an action that is about to occur.  Think of a baseball player about to pitch a ball.  The pitcher needs to wind up the pitch by lifting his leg in the air and reaching his arm back as far as possible before lunging forward and throwing.  Without anticipation, it can leave the audience confused as to what has even just occurred, or it will make an action look very weak

3. Staging

Staging helps the audience follow the story that is presented on screen by leading the eyes to the correct places.  There needs to be a distinct action to draw the viewers attention to the right place.  If too many actions are happening at once, a viewer will get confused as to where they should be looking.  Main actions should either be in the center of the shot, or following “the rule of thirds.”

4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

There are two different ways to animate an action.  Straight ahead, an animator will draw every picture of an action, one right after the other.  Pose to Pose is the more traditional way of animating, where an animator will draw the beginning pose and the end pose, then fill in the blanks in between the established action.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Follow through and overlapping action are extra movements on appendages for the main body of an object.  Think of a superhero’s cape.  When a superhero is flying, then he lands on the ground, his cape will not just be a stiff board and land at the same time they do, it will keep moving in the direction it was going until it is stopped by crashing into the hero’s body or goes past them and then stops when it can’t go any further.  Another example is the antenna on a moving car, it wiggles back and forth as it bounces with the car’s movement and follows behind as the car moves forward.

6. Slow In and Slow Out

Slow in and Slow out is quite self-explanatory.  Think of a swinging pendulum, as it swings to the top of it’s arc, it slows down as gravity pulls it back in the other direction.  Togo in that other direction, it needs to speed back up.  This technique is executed by drawing extra frames at the beginning and end of an action to allow the audience eye to prepare for the next action

7. Arc

All actions have arcs.  Swinging a sword, arms and legs moving while running, even a car bounces up and down as it drives down a straight road.

8. Secondary Action

Secondary action adds flavor and character to a basic action.  It can help convey emotion.  For example, if a character is knocking on a door, they will knock with one hand, and with the other hand, we can convey how they are feeling.  If the character has a balled fist, we know they could be angry, but if the hand is close to the body and soft, it could show fear.

9. Timing

Timing is how fast or slow an action can happen depending on how many frames are drawn.  This one is better explained with visual representation.

10. Exaggeration

Exaggeration makes an action more readable, stronger, and/or comical.  In the same way that anticipation gets you ready for a following action, exaggeration pushes that action far beyond n normal human action.  If a character is hitting a fly with a flyswatter, he could just arc his hand down and smash it, but what if the character is so afraid of the bug that he swats at it so hard that his feet leave the ground when he hits it.

11. Solid drawing

Solid drawing is what gives a character life.  “Twinning” is when a character’s left side is posed the same as their right, which is something that needs to be avoided in solid drawings.  Solid drawing shows 3 dimensional space, weight and mass of a character as well.

12. Appeal

Appeal is what makes you like a character.  A character should always be interesting and pleasing to the eye.  Not necessarily that they are beautiful, but there is something interesting about them that makes them likable.  A character can be drawn with exaggerated features that makes them more appealing to look at.  The best example is the use of large eyes on cartoon characters.

For anyone that needs more of a visual reference, I would like to point you towards Alan Becker, who has a visual representation of all 12 of the principles:

Other References:

Digital Tutors – 12 Principles of Animation

12 Principles of Animation – Wiki


Students – After reading the blog post, watch the cartoon provided below and identify as many principles of animation as possible.


About wondertwin0821

I am a Graduate from Full Sail University, I have a Bachelor's of Science in Game Art. I graduated as the Salutatorian of my graduating class and also received the Advanced Achiever Award, which is the highest honor only received by one student per program. I am always expanding my portfolio in multiple fields of the 3D Industry and am always interested in any opportunities it has to offer. I am currently working on animated short side project and a game.
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One Response to 12 Principles of Animation

  1. (Sample Activity)
    0:44 Appeal – Road Runner has friendly look. Legs are exaggerated to emphasize it runs fast
    0:48 Timing – Road Runner goes from slow motion to fast running
    0:58 Exaggeration – Road Runner runs so fast the road bends like rubber as it takes the turns
    1:15 Anticipation – Coyote winds up before he runs off frame
    1:48 Overlap – Road Runner wiggles back and forth as he screeches to a halt
    2:12 Squash and Stretch – Coyote gets hit with boomerang and his body stretches as it wiggles it’s way down.

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