Principles of Animation: the famous 12

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The Illusion of Life: A book on the twelve animation principles

To be one of the greatest, we must first learn the basics so that we can have a starting point. Animation like any other discipline, has its own fundamental principles which artists which can be – on occasion – altered to separate from the usual animation cliché. However, in order to successfully do this, we must always first understand the functionality of the subject at hand.

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The best way to explain this principle is by using the example of a bouncing ball. When a ball bounces in animation, it does not stay as a simple circle that moves up and down. The movement of the ball squashes as it hits the ground and stretches as it moves upwards. This principle is what gives the illusion of weight for a simple drawing.

Anticipation is the movement prior to the main action. It prepares the audience for the movement that the character is about to perform. We can use the example of a jump. A person does not simply jump, but they first bend their knees in order to prepare for a jump.

How you stage the scene is also an essential aspect of animation. Each scene must be framed effectively in order to send the right message across to your audience. Successfully using long, medium, or close up shots, as well as camera angles can help tell the story you wish your viewers to know. This also means that as an animator, you must think about how the background, mid-ground, and fore-ground will all look together in the scene. Using the right colours, shapes, and form can create an effective stage for the audience.

Straight ahead is when an animator begins animating from the first key-frame till the end. Pose to pose is a little more planned out by creating key-poses at intervals in the scene and adding more poses in between to create the flow of the animation. The second method is used in bigger teams where the lead animator may create the key-poses and pass it on to one of their assistants to finish off the flow of the action.

Nothing stops all at once and this is what follow through and overlapping actions are about. When the main body of the character stops moving, all other parts continue to move in order to catch up to it. This can be their clothes, hair, arms, floppy ears, tail, or anything that hangs off.

As the action starts, we create more key-frames near the poses and less key-frames in between. Basically, fewer key-frames make the animation look faster, while more key-frames will do the opposite.

Most actions will follow the path of an arc. This is especially true for human actions. Following an arc motion during your animation gives it a more natural flow.

The secondary action is a supporting action. It is a form of movement that helps exaggerate the primary action. For example: If a character is walking angrily towards another character, the leg action might be a stomping walk and the secondary action is some sort of gesture with the arms to accentuate their anger.

An animator must be able to estimate timing. This can be Timing can establish the mood, emotion, and reaction to another character. For example, a cartoon character might run off a cliff and you may leave a few seconds for them to stay hanging in mid-air before falling to increase the humour of the action. Timing is one of the principles of animation which may require a bit of a trial and error approach to master.

We can describe exaggeration as a form of caricature for facial features, actions, expressions, poses, or attitudes. Try and push these as far as you can without losing the character’s appeal. Take a look at a few Looney Tunes episodes and you will find a lot of exaggeration has been used.

This principle is a whole other subject on its own. Drawing itself, has its own fundamental principles which we can discuss on another post. Basically, this involves considering the drawing form, volume, and weight in order to apply the illusion of dimension. Three dimensional characters require the movement in space whereas the fourth dimension is movement in time.

A live performer will have charisma and this is also true for characters. A character should have some form of appeal to its viewers; this does not mean that they should immediately be cute. An appeal can mean some form of personality growth, an effective character design, or a clear animation sequence to keep the interest of the audience.

It is important to consider these principles when delving into the realm of animation. Understanding these principles will not only allow an animator to create better, more effective animations which their audience can enjoy, but also give them the opportunity to successfully deviate from the animation norm without losing the viewers.


Principles of Animation (2014). Principles of Animation. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 October 2014]

The Twelve Principles of Animation (2014). [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 31 October 2014]

Thomas, F. & Johnston, O. (1981). The Illusion of Life. Abbeville Press.