The 12 principles of animation are a list of standards collected in the book The Illusion of Life, written in 1981 by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Two pioneers of Disney animation in the 30s and 50s. A series of principles that we have to keep in mind whenever we want to make any kind of animation.
If you are studying 3d or 2d animation, you will have found thousands of articles on the Internet that talk about the laws of animation. Most are a copy-paste of another article, in some, the order varies, in others even the number. But all erroneously express the true origin of these concepts, making them also immovable rules. And although it is the first thing that is studied in any 3d animation course, its foundations are rarely studied. His origins. I think that in order to understand and apply them correctly, we must first understand what they really are.
What they never told you about the principles of animation is that they are, in reality, a series of rules that were born from the need to create a language among Disney animators. For many years dozens of artists and artists were forced to learn how to draw animation while building, almost without knowing it, a revolutionary way of telling stories. Walt Disney Studios made animation at the same time that he invented it. There were no documents, no training, not even the concepts to define what they were doing.
So they started to create their own language. They should name things and they began to coined terms to communicate with each other. “This movement lacks anticipation ” or “Correct the timing, your character seems lame” or “too rigid, accentuates its bow in the pitch”
It was in the need to use a language, where the true origin of the famous 12 principles of animation emerged. This should lead us to review the idea of what the expression “Principles of animation” means and associate it more with a “Tool” and less with a “Rule”. That is, if you want to make more consistent use of this enormous legacy, you should not apply it as a strict norm, but as a series of instruments that you simply have to take into account when necessary.
Who created the 12 principles of Animation?
The twelve principles of animation were created by two Disney animators named Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston and collected in the famous book The Illusion of Life. Although these principles were developed over the years by all the animators who worked in the great factory, it was these two veteran artists who were responsible for creating the document that would compile the great legacy of animation.
The first of the 12 principles of animation. Stretching and shrinking consists of deforming an object, body or pose, to increase the sensation of movement or create a more comical or dramatic effect. Let’s put the classic example of a bouncing ball. It crushes when it touches the ground (when braking) and stretches in the air (when it picks up speed).
However, this principle can also be applied to a character who gains momentum to jump. If you think about it, there does not have to be a deformation. Simply compress him against the ground by flexing his entire body and then, during the jump, stretch all his limbs in the same direction. Easy, right?
This, in 3D animation, can be applied to the skin, muscles, bones, joints, … It can also be applied using dynamic simulations of clothing, hair and other elements that are involved in the animation of secondary actions. Remember that depending on the type of Animation you want to create (realistic, cartoon or snappy), you must use this principle with greater or lesser intensity.
The principle of anticipation serves to guide the public’s gaze to the place where an action is about to occur. And usually, it is done in the opposite direction to that action. A girl who takes a run, a player who is going to throw a baseball, or even a character about to sneeze.
This makes the higher the anticipation, the more predictable what is going to happen. But also greater is the suspense. As for 3D animation, we can increase or decrease this effect by creating more or less pronounced curves in our character. Even stopping the values momentarily on the appropriate axes of our curve editor. They are dynamic animation that we will use to get the attention of our viewer.
03 – Staging
Staging. This principle tells us that the first thing to do is to make clear the idea of what happens in a scenario. You can define an action, the acting or the personality of our actor, your intentions or even your mood. Of course, although the term for animated cinema is defined here, this also happens in any real shooting set, stage of a theater or even in the content of an artistic picture.
Here the nature of the action in each plane also intervenes and therefore, the situation of the objects and the position and movement of our camera. The staging is usually defined during the Storyboard process. In any case, we must make the context clear and make the relationships of some elements (or characters) with others identifiable.
In our Industry, 3d animators use Layout and animation tools to precisely define the staging and test it. They are the best tool to build and know if our plan works before starting to animate any key. If you want to learn more about acting do not miss the best acting books for animators.
Although it is defined as a principle of animation, I think that these two concepts should be understood as two different animation techniques. That is, we can create an animation sequentially, frame by frame until an unplanned action is concluded and with an unpredictable duration (Direct Animation or Direct Action). Or we can create an animation by planning the most important poses (Key Poses or Extremes) and then intersperse or create controlled transitions between them (Pose a Pose).
Now comes the silly but logical question. Which is better? Well, I will give you a silly but also logical answer; it depends. It depends on the scene you have to plan, the level of control you need or the needs of your supervisor. Imagine a reaction of chain actions, or a very crazy and explosive body movement.
In any case, in 3D Animation, the most common is to use the Pose a Pose technique through the Blocking process. That is, create the poses of our 3D model in the appropriate frames. This helps us to have greater control of the duration and position of all the elements involved in each moment.
05 – Continuous and Overlapping Action
Principles of Continued and Superimposed Action. These two principles help to emphasize the action in our animations, in addition to making them more natural and credible. When the movement of an object or character occurs, at the end of its trajectory. The different parts of its body tend to continue said trajectory (principle of inertia). This is called Continued Action.
To look for naturalness in our animations, we must avoid that the elements or parts of the body react in parallel and simultaneously. This is achieved with the Overlay. If our character has just landed in one jump we can support one foot first and then the other (although it is very subtle).
For continuous action in 3D Animation, dynamic simulations of clothing or hair are often used. In addition, the 3D animation software and programs now allow us to almost automatically overlap the animations of the different parts of our character.
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06 – Slow Inputs and Slow Outputs
Slow Entries and Slow Departures. Another principle oriented to create more natural and organic animations. Every object in motion, affected by gravity and resistance, has an acceleration and a deceleration (Progressive). That is, at the exits and entrances the object moves slower, while during the trajectory, the speed is faster.
There is an exception, collisions. If you throw yourself through a window, believe me, the stop will be spontaneous. However, in a character who walks, or stretches his arm to pick up the phone, absolutely all parts of his body are accelerating and decelerating in all directions and constantly.
This is one of the things that I love about 3D Animation since the programs allow us to obtain very precise results just by adjusting the curves of our editor. Of course, all this is valid for all Animation techniques.
07 – Arches (Arcs)
The foundation of this Animation Principle – Arcs, is based on the fact that living beings do not move in a straight line. We are built with joints that function as pivots. In addition, we are not optimal, our trajectories are not perfect. This stupid evidence that I just released you, has accustomed our brain to perceive differently anything that doesn’t move like that.
All right. This Animation principle is based precisely on creating arcs in the movements of our characters to give it a natural appearance. Sometimes we must even exaggerate a curve where it apparently would not exist in real life. Without them, we will obtain a robotic and sinister result.
In 3D animation, there are many automated tools that will help us create more. Or less accentuated arcs depending on the speed of the trajectory. We can also use constraints to force or limit arcs in those paths that interest us.
08 – Secondary Action
The principle of the secondary action in animation is to give life to those small elements that complement the main action and are in fact a consequence of it. The reactions of our hair, the classic hat that stays floating in the air if a character suddenly starts running. But also throwing a ball in the middle of a conversation are clear examples of secondary animation.
That is why it is called secondary action because it should never be more marked than the dominant action. It only exists to emphasize it. Remember that we have the obligation to communicate and attract the attention of our viewer to the place that interests us. Otherwise, we will distract him and lose our goal.
As for the 3D animation. Dynamic simulations and scripts can be used to control much of the secondary action, hair, clothing, physical simulations, etc. Today all 3D Animation Movies use this technology to save millions of hours of work (and in fact, it is one of the most demanded professions ).
The principle of Timing is used to refer to the rhythm. And duration that a character should take to perform an action. This, in principle, seems to affect only the naturalness of our animation. But believe me, if in two characters we create exactly the same movement but at a different speed. We will get completely different emotions and intentions.
For example, if our character turns his head slowly we can denote distraction, curiosity or meditation. If we repeat it a little faster, we might think that someone has called him. If the turn is very sharp, something has scared him.
Whenever we want to tell something through body language, we must use the correct timming. Combining different rhythms for each part of our body. We can completely interrupt the movement in some parts and move others in a very crazy way. The tools and 3D animation programs, in this sense, are great because they allow us to discriminate and refine those keys that we are interested in moving or blocking.
10 – Exaggeration
Exaggeration principle. The most initiated are not going to believe me. But in animation, accentuating and exaggerating an action generally helps to make it more credible. Here all other principles can intervene. Or rather, the principle of exaggeration can intervene in everyone else.
We can exaggerate anticipation, a Squash, and Strech, even the Timming or a Bow. Of course and as with the rest, this principle should be applied only in a consistent manner. Depending on the situation, the style of the animation, or the emotional intensity of the scene.
As for 3D animation, there are hundreds of rigging, morphing and scripting techniques. Which will help us so that the Mayans of our characters can move, crush and stretch at our whim?
The principle of solidity refers to two things. The pose we are doing must be natural, cried and that keeps the balance. You must also be able to do it throughout the entire sequence. This is more understandable in 2D Animation since our drawings must remain proportional. However, in 3D Animation, our characters are already previously modeled and in essence, we should not worry about this aspect.
The second thing to keep in mind and which is not usually explained refers to each of the images that make up a sequence. Our animation must be consistent and all the poses that make up that animation must work individually. As well as being consistent with each other. For example, if our character is sad and we stop any of his frames. It must reflect that emotion without having to see the complete sequence. If you also manage to convey that idea just by looking at the silhouette. You will have earned a VIP pass to the nirvana of the animators.
Ignore all those confusing and generalistic shits about depth and weight. This principle means that we are not handling images. And loose poses, but that they must function and interact correctly with each other.
12 – Personality and Attractiveness
The meaning of animation (etymologically) is to encourage, give soul, give life. This is why the animators have the mission of getting our drawings or characters to come alive. To the point of creating an emotional connection with the viewer and maintaining it. The personality principle reminds us that the animation of a character must be consistent with his way of being, moving and his emotional state at that time.