12 Basic Principles of Animation

In the world of animated entertainment, few works can compare to those of Walt Disney. Part of that is thanks to animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas’ 12 Basic Principles of Animation. Which they talk about in their 1981 book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.

A strict adherence to this 12 basic animation principles lends artists an almost uncanny appeal, and if you follow these concepts, the sky is the limit for your creations.

1. The Squash and Stretch

When a soft object hits something hard, it will temporarily change in shape but not in bulk. Its volume must go somewhere, so while the impacted side flattens, the item itself will stretch in the opposite direction.

Squash and Stretch

2. Anticipation

Before hitting a golf ball, you must start by swinging the club, and not many people can jump in the air without first bending their knees. In animation, such anticipatory movements add to the realism.

Mario CrouchingMario Jumping

3. Staging

The ideas you present to an audience must be clear. With creative lighting, framing and camera angles, a good animator can focus on what where the action will be while minimizing unneeded detail.


4. Straight-Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose

With the straight-ahead action technique, you draw the scene from start to finish one frame at a time. While this does create a fluid movement, it can also wreak havoc with proportion. In pose-to-pose animation, on the other hand, you start by creating a few key frames, filling in the missing ones later.

Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose

5. Follow-Through, Overlap, and Drag

The various parts of any item can move at different speeds. According to the concept of follow-through, it’s looser sections continue moving after it comes to a halt. The principle of overlapping action deals with the various speeds at which different parts travel, and in line with the theory of drag, some sections of an item may lag behind after its mass is in motion.

Follow through and overlapping action

6. Slow In and Slow Out

All moving objects need some time to get up to speed or stop. Devoting a few extra frames to the start and finish of any action will increase the realistic effect.

Slow in and slow out

7. Arc

Non-mechanical action always moves in arcs that flatten out as speed increases and widen when negotiating turns. Natural motion that fails to follow this rule will always look erratic.

Arc Arc Foot

8. Secondary Action

The character that simultaneously walks and chews gum is exhibiting secondary action. When using this technique, be sure that it focuses attention on the main action rather than detracting from it.

Secondary Action Secondary Action 02

9. Timing

The perceptive animator knows how many frames it takes to show an action at the proper speed. When used correctly, this principle allows animated objects to conform to the laws of physics and can help to establish a character’s mood and personality.


10. Exaggeration

Exaggerated motion can lend interest to an otherwise static and boring scene, but using it excessively can confuse or annoy the viewer.


11. Solid Drawing

To keep your animated figures from resembling paper dolls, you must give them weight and volume. The concept of solid drawing deals with the proper use of light and shadow to delineate shapes and define anatomy.

Solid drawing

12. Appeal

A figure that lacks charisma will leave the audience cold. While the use of symmetrical or baby-faced features will add to any character’s likeability, a well-conceived villain will often be equally appealing.


A Special Nod to Disney

Most animators nowadays attribute the great success of Disney creations to the use of these 12 time-tested principles. Mastering them is sure to improve your own animation endeavors.

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