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Fundamental Principles of Animation

In 1981, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, two accomplished Disney animators, unveiled the twelve principles of animation in their book “The Illusion of Life.” These two artists were key members of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” a foundational group of animators responsible for advancing the craft of traditional animation. Today, these twelve principles stand as universally acknowledged cornerstones in the realm of animation, applicable to animators working on diverse projects, including animated entertainment, commercials, and web-based explainers.

Table of Content

  • Squash and Stretch
  • Anticipation
  • Staging
  • Straight Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose
  • Follow Through and Overlapping Action
  • Ease In, Ease Out
  • Arcs
  • Secondary Action
  • Timing
  • Exaggeration
  • Solid Drawing
  • Appeal

Squash and Strech – “Squash and Stretch” is one of the fundamental principles of animation introduced by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their 1981 book, “The Illusion of Life.” This principle involves altering the shape of an object or character to convey a sense of weight, flexibility, and vitality in animation. When an object or character moves, it can appear to squash (compress) and stretch (expand) to emphasize the impact of motion, creating a more dynamic and lifelike animation. This technique is commonly used to make movements and actions in animation feel more natural and engaging.

Anticipation – “Anticipation” is another essential principle of animation introduced by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their influential book “The Illusion of Life” in 1981. This principle involves preparing the audience for an upcoming action or movement by having the character or object make a subtle motion or adjustment just before the main action occurs.

For example, if a character is about to jump, they might crouch down slightly before leaping into the air. This anticipatory movement not only adds realism to the animation but also helps viewers understand what is about to happen. Anticipation is a key tool for building audience engagement and making animated actions more believable and relatable.

Staging – Staging in animation refers to the arrangement and presentation of elements within a scene or frame to effectively convey the intended message or story.To apply staging effectively, animators must consider the composition, framing, and positioning of characters, props, and backgrounds. The goal is to guide the viewer’s attention to the most important elements of the scene and ensure that the storytelling remains clear and visually engaging. Proper staging can help convey emotions, actions, and story elements in a way that is easy for the audience to follow and understand.

In essence, staging is about making deliberate choices in how elements are arranged and presented to enhance the overall impact and clarity of the animation. It plays a crucial role in storytelling and visual communication in animation.

Straight Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose  – “Straight Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose” are two different approaches to creating animation.
Straight Ahead Action: In this approach, animators start at the beginning of a sequence and create each frame one after the other in a continuous and progressive manner. They do not plan out all the key poses in advance but instead animate the action as it unfolds naturally. This method is often used for creating dynamic and fluid animations, particularly for actions that have a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability, such as a character falling or dancing.

Pose-to-Pose: In contrast, pose-to-pose animation involves planning out key poses and important moments in a sequence before filling in the intervening frames. Animators establish the key poses and then create the in-between frames to connect them. This method is useful for actions that require precise timing and control, such as character performances or complex movements.

The choice between these two approaches depends on the specific requirements of the animation. Straight Ahead Action can result in a more organic and energetic feel, while Pose-to-Pose offers more control and precision. Animators often use a combination of both techniques to achieve the desired results in their animations, check it out Animated Movies from 20th Century Fox.

Follow Through: Follow through is the principle that states that after a character or object makes a significant movement, certain parts of it may continue to move for a short while even after the main motion has stopped. This secondary motion adds a sense of weight, flexibility, and realism to the animation. For example, if a character quickly stops after running, their hair, clothing, or other loose elements may continue to sway or bounce for a moment before coming to a rest.

Overlapping Action: Overlapping action is closely related to follow-through and involves the coordination of different parts of a character or object to create a more natural and believable movement. It acknowledges that not all parts of a character will move simultaneously. For instance, when a character raises their arm, the shoulder will start moving before the hand, and the hand will continue moving slightly after the shoulder stops. This overlapping of actions contributes to the overall fluidity and realism of the animation.

Both follow-through and overlapping action help to avoid stiffness and make characters and objects in animation feel more lifelike and responsive to the forces and physics of their environment. They are particularly important in creating convincing character animations and dynamic sequences.

Ease In (Slow In): This principle involves starting a movement slowly and gradually accelerating it as it progresses. When an object or character begins a motion with an ease-in, it gives the impression that it is overcoming inertia or starting from rest. This gradual buildup of speed at the beginning of a movement makes the animation look more realistic and avoids sudden, jarring starts.

Ease Out (Slow Out): Conversely, ease out involves slowing down a movement as it reaches its conclusion. As an object or character approaches the end of a motion, it gradually decelerates, which simulates the effect of coming to a stop or transitioning into a different action. Like ease in, ease out contributes to the overall fluidity and believability of the animation.

These principles are essential for creating lifelike animations because they mimic the way objects and characters move in the real world, where inertia and momentum influence how things start and stop. By applying ease in and ease out, animators can make their animations feel more natural and visually appealing.

Arc:- The principle of “Arcs” in animation refers to the path that objects or characters follow when they move. This principle is an essential aspect of creating natural and believable motion in animation. Arcs are based on the observation that most movements in the real world tend to follow curved or arced paths rather than straight lines. Here are some key points about the principle of Arcs in animation like realism, fluidity, Charaecter animation, camera momvment , variety  etc.

Secondary Action –  This principle refers to the addition of supplementary movements or actions to a primary character or object animation to enhance the overall storytelling and characterization. Some key points about secondary action in animations are like complementary action, Characterization, realism etc.

Timing – Timing” is a crucial principle of animation that involves determining the duration of various actions and movements in a sequence to create the desired effect.

Exaggeration – “Exaggeration” is a fundamental principle of animation that involves emphasizing and amplifying certain aspects of movements, actions, expressions, or characteristics to make them more visually appealing, engaging, and expressive.

Solid Drawing – This principle emphasizes the importance of creating three-dimensional, believable, and well-constructed characters and objects in animation, even though they are typically represented in two dimensions.

Appeal – “Appeal” is a principle of animation that refers to the quality of a character, design, or animation that makes it visually interesting, engaging, and likable to the audience.

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