The 12 principles of animation

Learn how to create animation, how to make it appealing, natural and alive.

The 12 principles of animation

In the last century Disney animators invented 12 basic laws and principles of animation. Knowing and practicing them will not only help you to create animation, but will also make your animation more appealing and alive.

  1. Squash and Stretch
  2. Anticipation
  3. Staging
  4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
  5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
  6. Slow-in and Slow-out
  7. Arcs
  8. Secondary Action
  9. Timing
  10. Exaggeration
  11. Solid Drawing and Solid Posing
  12. Appeal
12 Principles of Animation Disney Pixar Tutorial

Squash and Stretch

Squash and stretch makes an illusion of character's elasticity, volume and flexibility. Squash and stretch is also helpful in facial animation. The extent of squash and stretch depends on scene requirements and animation stylistics. More often squash and stretch is extremely strong in animation films and feeble in feature films when realistic characters are used. Squash and stretch is used in all kinds of character animation from bouncing ball to moving person.


This motion prepares a viewer for the main action, which the character intends to do. For instance, starting to run, jump or make a dash. To jump up, first you need to squat - this is preparation or anticipation. Comic effect can be achieved without preparation or anticipation after you used it several times. Virtually all real motions to a greater or lesser extent contain preparation or anticipation - a sweeping motion with the bandy before a strike, squat before a jump, swinging your arm back before throwing a stone, etc.


Poses and actions, arrangement of cameras, background and stage elements shall clearly demonstrate character's temper, reaction, character's attitude to a story and continuity of the plotline. Effective use of close-ups, medium shots and master shots as well as camera angles help to narrate the story. Film duration is limited therefore each succession, each scene, each film frame shall be relevant to the whole story. Do not confuse the viewer with too many simultaneous actions, use one clear action at a time to convey the idea. Exceptions are the cases when you really need to show the turmoil or confusion. Staginess directs viewer’s attention towards the story being told. Chosen background shall neither distract the viewer from the story or a character nor attract his attention by too many details. Foreground, character and background shall complement each other and work as a whole in the course of storytelling.

Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

Straight ahead animation starts with the first picture (in hand-drawn animation) or character pose (in 3D animation) and gradually picture by picture (or pose by pose) is brought to the end of the scene. Using this method you may lose the size, volume and proportions of the character. This method helps to achieve more spontaneity in animation, but makes it difficult to control its duration. It is more often used in hand-drawn animation creating quick chaotic scenes.

Pose to pose method is more planned with clearly arranged key pictures/poses throughout the whole scene. Using this method means better control of a size, volume, proportions of the character as well as his actions. Lead animator may set only key poses of animation and pass the rest of the work to be finished by assistant animators. In this case work resources are being used more efficiently as lead animator shall not worry about each animation frame, he may concentrate on acting and in turn assistant animators shall not worry about keyframes.

Sometimes both Straight ahead and Pose to pose methods are used together complementing each other.

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Let's have a look at a running squirrel, we will see that its tail reminds us the wave motion. Besides, when squirrel’s body goes down, the tip of its tail goes up. Or imagine a whip, the motion starts with a handle then passing to the middle part of the whip and afterwards to the end of the whip. These examples vividly demonstrate what an overlapping action is. Similar is follow through motion. An example of this motion might be a longhaired running girl wearing a dress. If she suddenly stops, her dress, hair, hands and to some extent her body will continue to move for a while. Technically follow through motion is happening when one or several body parts have stopped, and the rest of the body is still in motion. Practically nothing comes to a stop at the same time.

Slow-in and Slow-out

Another name for it might be speedup and slowdown. Basically nothing moves with constant speed. Imagine that you sat on a bicycle and all of a sudden you ride with a speed of 40 miles per hour. You arrived at your destination and at the same very moment your speed from 40 miles per hour drops to 0 (zero) - a full stop. Something is missing, isn't it? Well, you sat on a bicycle, then you speed up, then you reach the speed of 40 miles per hour and having reached your destination you slow down to a full stop. The same applies to almost everything - you throw a ball, start to run or jump, start driving a car, fly on a plane - abatement of start and end of the motion. Simply put, everything starts with a speed-up and ends with a slowdown.


Motions of all living beings (people, animals, birds, fish, etc.) and many other objects do not happen in straight lines, but in arcs. Imagine a pendulum, its motion reflects an exact arc. The same applies to hands, legs, head and body as a whole. A perfect example is walking. Pay attention to how you move your feet. You simultaneously start to raise and move the foot and end up with lowering and a full stop. Your foot made an arc motion. Your pelvis moved in arcs as well. You may try moving your feet in a straight line for that you just need to drag them without lifting from the ground. Your pelvis most probably will further continue to move in arcs. When throwing a ball your arm will move along in an arc and flying ball will also make the same arc motion. In animation arc motion will appear more natural and appealing.

Secondary Action

Secondary actions are intended to complement and intensify the main action or with intent to distract or direct spectator's attention to other actions so enriching the animation and making it more appealing and solid. Imagine a student reaching for a test paper during examination, he is viewing them with uncertainty, shifting from foot to foot in doubt, his eyes wondering - this is the main action. Now imagine the same scene when a schoolboy is fidgeting with a pen, what is a secondary action. This makes the whole scene deeper and more attractive. Other examples:

  • pushing a car (main action) and at the same time whisking off a fly from the nose (secondary action),
  • preparing a meal and at the same time watching TV,
  • talking to each other and at the same time scratching your head.

Secondary actions may become main actions. In an example with a schoolboy we can switch spectator's attention from the main action. For instance if the schoolboy unintentionally bends the pen and breaks it, so our secondary action becomes the main action because the spectator switches his attention from test-papers to reaction to a broken pen. So secondary action becomes the main action.


This is time or number of frames you use to demonstrate an action or motion. Use less frames and your motion will be sharp and quick, use more frames and your motion will be smooth and slow. For example you are working on an animation of striking a ball. Give 4 frames for this animation and you will have a sharp and very quick strike:

  • 1st frame - a foot is lifted up
  • 5th frame - the foot strikes a ball
  • 2nd, 3rd and 4th frames are in between frames, where the foot goes all the way from a swing to striking a ball.

Now let us consider the same animation but with different timing:

  • 1st frame - a foot is lifted up
  • 50th frame - the foot strikes a ball
  • In frames from the 2nd to 49th the foot goes all the way from the swing to striking a ball.

With a speed of 25 frames per second the first version will take 1/5 (one fifth) of a second while duration of the second version will be 2 seconds. Correspondingly the action in the second version will be much slower and smoother.

Timing is in charge not only for speed, but also for size, weight and even character's temper. Imagine a little ant, who within 2 seconds will run a distance of about 2 inches and make about 50 steps. And now think how many steps can an elephant make in 2 seconds? Or how long does it take for an ant and an elephant to make a U-turn? The time will not be the same - this exactly is timing.

There might be variations of quick and slow timing what gives unique rhythm and appeal to an action.


Animation is limitless and allows showing things as we want them to show different from reality. By means of exaggeration we can achieve greater expression, precision, more dynamic poses and motions. Not only primary lines of a character can be exaggerated, but also his personal traits, his behavior, condition, his motions, etc. Let us compare two boxing punches. First example is a realistic one when during the swing the character makes a slight turn taking his body into a "charge". In animation this motion will not be dynamic enough and appealing. Another example is animation with exaggeration when during a swing our character turns his body to 3/4 of a circle - what is a powerful charge, dynamic and appealing pose.

Solid Drawing and Solid Posing

Your character poses shall be clear and expressive, the silhouette easily read. Stick to clear shapes, watch the center of gravity, weight should be evenly distributed. Poses shall clearly express thoughts, intentions, condition, wishes and feelings of a character.


Here we do not deal with cover girls or a fluffy kitten with a pink ribbon. All characters may and shall to a greater or lesser degree be appealing whether they are heroes, villains, mammoths, dinosaurs or an object. This refers to their type, nature, background and behavior. Even villain-like characters shall be charismatic and might be liked by spectators. Spectators more easily accept and understand appealing characters, they show them empathy. Even a little mouse may be so appealing that became a legend - a Mickey Mouse.

Appeal means when you really like it.

For better understanding of these laws and principles they shall be read and put in practice.

All laws and principles mentioned above will be studied in details and put into practice in our courses. Knowledge gained on these courses will be useful and applicable regardless of software package you use.

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