What Are Disney’s 12 Principles Of Animation?


Disney holds the crown in the world of animation. Disney’s 12 principles of animation are the guiding principles that are not only followed by the Disney animators, but other animators worldwide have also used to put life into their animations since after 1930.

In their book, “illusion of life”, Frank Thomson and Ollie Johnston introduced these golden principles for the world of animations. Even today, these principles are still followed all around the globe.

Although the book is old, and since then, a lot of innovation and technology has entered the world of animation. However, these rules still act as fundamental basics for the people who want to be animators. Let us take a look at Disney’s 12 principles of animation one by one to understand them better:

1. Staging

Staging is one of the most important but overlooked principles of animation. Its purpose is to keep the viewers’ focus on the right thing. Hence, It ensures that the secondary objects in the scene don’t distract them. Just like staging in films scenes, which tells the actors what they should do, where they should stand, and how the camera should take the shot; staging in animation also tells what characters should be doing and how they should be standing. The scene should have one thing is going at once, and the shot should be focused on it. If the shot includes multiple views and a lot happening in one scene, viewers may not know what to focus on. This leads to viewers missing the actual storyline.

2. Squash and Stretch

The squash and stretch is the basic animation principle for any moving object, whether living ( like a person) or non-living (such as a ball). This principle gives the feeling of weight, volume, flexibility, and mass to the object. If we think about a flying rubber ball, we expect it to squish when it gets pressed against a surface and stretch when it moves back against the wall. The same principle is used for moving objects in the animation. While keeping their volume the same, the object should become thick when squished and thin when stretched.

The same principle gives facial expressions to characters during animation. For instance, a smiling character has a wider and thinner face in comparison to a character with a serious face.

3. Anticipation

Before any action happens, there is some preparation for it. Anticipation is a principle that suggests the inclusion of preparatory action to make the characters and their actions more realistic. For instance, if the character doesn’t bend his leg while moving or pulls his arms backs before throwing a ball, it will look unrealistic.

Anticipation prepares the viewers for the action. For example, blowing wind helps the viewers anticipate that something is about to happen, such as cloth waving on a rod before the wind blows it away.

4. Straight Ahead Action & Pose to Pose

Principles of animation suggest two methods of animation drawing to show the scenes, called straight-ahead action and pose to pose.

Straight ahead action means that you draw an animation frame following the flow of action, one by one till the end frame. This technique allows adding realistic effects, like controlling the motion of fluids and spontaneity, etc.

The other technique is the pose-to-pose action. It suggests that you can have more control over your animation drawing. This is possible by drawing the first and end frame along with some in-between frames where you require to have a certain action happening and then filling in-between the frames. This technique allows you to set how you want the animation to go and helps add dramatic effects.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

The follow-through and overlapping action are one of Disney’s animation principles that ensures that the flow of the scene doesn’t break. When a character suddenly stops in a scene, his other characteristics, like hair, clothing, arms, legs, etc., don’t stop at once along with the character; rather, they keep moving and stop for some time.

Similarly, when a character abruptly changes their direction, these characteristics don’t change the direction but keep moving in the same direction for a while. This principle uses the logic of inertia to make sure that scenes continue their inflow and there is no sudden obstruction that breaks the flow.

6. Arc

Although animation is a work of art, the principles of animation follow the laws of science and physics. In animation, the principle of arc suggests that motion in animation should be in arcs as it is more natural. In our real life, when we look around, straight-line motion is not present in nature except when we humans create them artificially. Similarly, animations don’t use straight-line motion except for mechanical objects, and things move in an arc. The arcs make motion more natural, smooth, and expressive. The speed and timings of these arcs are also important during the animating motion.

7. Slow In and Slow Out

Slow in and slow out is another principle that uses observations from nature to give animation smoothness and flow. We know that every moving object, e.g., a car, takes momentum slowly. This means that it doesn’t reach the speed of 100 km/hour at once but takes some time for it. Similarly, it doesn’t stop at once; instead, it needs breaks, and even when the breaks are pressed, it takes some time to restrict its motion until it stops completely. The same goes for athletes as well. This principle is used during animation as slow in and slow out, which means that the object doesn’t gain speed or stop at once; instead, it takes some time to do that. The slowness in animation at the start or end can be done by adding more frames at the start or the end.

8. Timing

Time is an important jewel not only in our real life but also in animations. That’s why it is a part of Disney’s 12 principles of animation. Proper timing in animation can serve several purposes. It can help to show differences in weight between different objects. It can also help show the scale and size of things. Moreover, timing can help express the feelings and emotions of the objects or characters, like If a character is lazy or lethargic, his pace will be slow.

Similarly, the perfect timing of sound in a scene can heighten its humour or attractiveness. There is no perfect tip for timing since it comes with personal experience and experimentation.

9. Secondary Action

As the name suggests, secondary action happens due to a primary action, but they both hold a primary position in animation principles. These actions add more complexity to the character’s personality, enhance the dimensions, and deepen the impact of the primary action. An example of secondary action is the character’s facial expressions after spitting out food that he didn’t like.

Secondary actions can help the viewers understand what characters are feeling or thinking, but care should be taken to ensure that they don’t mask the attention on the primary action.

10. Solid Drawing

Solid drawings are an essential part of the principles of animations, and the use of technology in today’s world has made this easier. It means that animations should have a 3D effect and volume. The design of the animated objects and characters should give them a realistic appearance with having a certain mass and shape. The use of colours and shades can help the drawing seem to move in space and time to add life to them.

In the above image, you can feel that the cube isn’t a 2D object but has some volume and depth, giving it a 3D, realistic feel.

11. Exaggeration

Most animation principles encourage the artists to take a more realistic look, but exaggeration is the principle that adds fun and draws the viewers’ attention. Exaggeration means enhancing the object and characters’ actions, movements, and expressions. But the animation principle of exaggeration demands special care since it should not make the actions distorted or extreme. Animations allow you to push the limits of what is possible and using creativity bring actions to the world that are only possible within our thoughts and mind.

12. Appeal

 The fundamental principles for which we use all the above principles of animation is to attract the viewers and appeal to them. So the final principle of appeal suggests using solid drawings, expressions, and a little exaggeration in animation to appeal to the viewers. There are no special rules for appeal, and sometimes breaking some rules may increase it, but it all depends on the animator and how well they understand the animated scene they are trying to portray.

Ready to apply Disney’s 12 principles of animation in your animations!

Disney’s 12 animation principles are fundamental for bringing life into objects and characters and using them, makes animations better. Using these principles, one can create a well-made and attractive animated scene. Creating animated videos or clips isn’t an easy task, but if you understand these 12 principles well, you can use them to make an exceptional one!

If you want to know how to create Lottie animation, use After Effects and the basics of an animator’s world, read our blog!

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