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.

A Short Biography of Walt Disney

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, IL, on December 5th, 1901 to Elias and Flora Disney. The name Disney itself derives from his French ancestor d’Isigny (later changed to Disney).

When Walt Disney was only four years old, his family moved to a farm home in Marceline, MO, where he first developed his love for drawing. He began to draw pictures of things around his house and “re-draw” cartoons published in a local newspaper.

In 1911, at age 10, Walt moved with his family to Kansas City, KS, where he met theater enthusiast Walter Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer introduced him to motion pictures and vaudeville entertainment. These then occupied much of his time.

Even as a child, Walt was busy. He was attending grade school, ran a paper route, and went to Saturday classes at the Kansas City Art Institute.

In 1917, Walt went back to Chicago with his family. He graduated there from McKinley High School, where he acted as cartoonist for the school newspaper. He also took night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1919, Walt Disney moved to Kansas City to begin his career. At first, he drew political cartoons for a newspaper and ads for an art studio.

Later he started working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company. This is where he learned about animated cartoons.

Soon after he started his first animation studios called Laugh-O-Grams. This company went bankrupt a few years later.

In 1923, Disney moved to Hollywood. There he started the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, later renamed Walt Disney Company.

His first cartoons here were the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Disney lost the rights to Oswald.

In response, he created Mickey Mouse. His career expanded from there. His most impressive success was his innovation of full-length cartoon films. Beginning with Snow White in 1934.

After seven Emmy Awards, 22 Academy Awards, and one Cecil B. DeMille Award, Walt Disney died of lung cancer on December 15th, 1966. He was 65 years of age.

He left the world with a plethora of unforgettable film characters and a myriad of high moral and high-quality children’s films. His accomplishments have not been equaled.