The Illusion of Life: The 12 Principles of Animation

My first part of this lesson was researching the 12 Principles of Animation. I also felt confident enough to try and link them to an animation, I chose the Pixar short: Mike’s New Car. I couldn’t apply every principle, but I gave it my best shot!

Squash and stretch- When an object gets longer or flatter to emphasise their speed, momentum, weight and mass. The more squash and stretch, the softer the object, the less squash and stretch, the stiffer the object. The volume of the object needs to be consistent to make this work. A good example in Mike’s new car is when Mike opens the lid of the car, and the gears and cogs are bouncing up and down, preserving volume by getting narrower as they go up, and stretching out but getting smaller as they go down.

Anticipation- When a character prepares for an action, in order to give the audience a clue as to what is happening next, as well as to make the action appear more realistic. After Mike stops being stuck in the cogs, he takes an obvious second of anticipation to calm himself down and regain composure before walking back to get back in the car. He then swings his left arm back and starts walking.

Staging- Staging is the presentation of any idea so that it is completely and unmistakably clear. It can apply to acting, timing, camera angle & position, and setting. Staging is used to control the attention of the people watching, and is used to divert the eye towards the center of attention. The main action should be in the center of the shot, or one of the thirds. Another use of staging is emphasising a particular idea, such as a sad character having a cloud over their head to make it really obvious that they are sad. A good example if this is after Mike gets stuck on the gears, when he walks back to the car door, there is a small plume of smoke trailing behind him to emphasise the damage.

Straight ahead and pose to pose- This term describes two methods used to animate. Straight ahead is going frame at a time linearly to create an animation, for example making a frame, then the next, then the next and so on. Pose to pose is drawing key frames, then filling in other frames afterwards bit by bit, so that you have a good idea of what the action is going to look like early on. Straight ahead is better for more unpredictable animations, such as things with weird physics like flames. Sometimes it’s best to do pose to pose initially, and then go back and do straight ahead for smaller details such as hair or key chains. For pose to pose, you first make keys, then make extremes (the furthest a character will go in a particular direction), then connect the extremes with breakdown poses. In Mike’s new car, the animators probably animated Sully’s figure moving with pose to pose, and then maybe used straight ahead with the parts that flow like his fur.

Follow through and overlapping action- This is the technique of having body parts and appendages drag behind the rest of the body, and continue to move when the body stops. Follow through and overlapping action are commonly associated with drag, which all describe the same thing but in different ways. Follow through refers to the way parts of the body continue to move after the body has stopped. Overlapping action describes the offset between the timing of the main body, and it’s other parts. Drag describes the technique of delaying the movement of body parts in relation to the main body. When a body moves, the tip of the appendage should be the last to catch up, when the body stops, the tip should follow through and launch furthest before settling back. An example of this in Mike’s new car is when Mike flys backwards. When Sully catches him, Mike’s arms and legs follow through and swing backwards after his main body have stopped.

Slow in and slow out- This principle refers to the way that all movement starts slowly, builds speed and finishes slowly. This is the one of the most important principles to achieving lifelike motion. This can be done by adding more frames at the start and/or end of an animation. For example, if a character about to run, add more frames at the start to emphasise the acceleration, then more spaced out in the middle as they go fast, then evenly spaced out at the end (as in, same amount of frames) to show the slow down.

Arcs- Most living creatures move in a circular path, otherwise known as an arc. Arcs can give character to otherwise boring things, for example a head turn with a dip or arc can add more life to the character. Fast objects can have arcs added in the form of a smear, for example with a character swinging a sword fast, you can take the start and end frames and add an arc that is the same colour as the object, and that is transparent or fragmented towards the end of the action. When Mike gets stuck on the gears, his bounce patterns follow an arc.

Secondary action- Secondary actions are the gestures that support the main action to add more dimension to the character animation. For example, when a character is walking angrily, the primary action may be the legs, and the secondary action is everything else, for example arms swinging, head bobbing and facial movements. Secondary action can link to staging on some occasions, for example a sad character could turn their head with a tear, but to give the secondary action the effect it needs, you need to use staging to maybe wipe away the tear so that it gets noticed. In Mike’s new car, an example of secondary action is when Mike unveils his car, he talks excitedly at Sully. The secondary action could be his excited nodding, and the hands being wide open to display the car.

Timing- The personality of an animation is greatly affected by the number of frames inserted between the main action. Lots of frames very close together between the two main poses make the action look very slow, whereas having very few frames put far apart from each other make the action look very fast. The timing of an action can give that action several meanings. If one frame is made for each 24 frames per second, this is called drawing on ‘ones’, drawing a frame every 2 frames is drawing on ‘twos’, and making a frame every 3 frames is drawing on ‘threes’. Drawing on twos is more common than ones for a few reasons, firstly it cuts the amount of work, and secondly it makes slower actions looks smoother than when they are drawn on one frame. Some say drawing on twos adds more sparkle and life to faster animations too, because otherwise it seems too evenly timed and less lively, but ones are better for something immediate like a scramble or panic. When Mike jumps, it starts off slow then get’s faster as he gets higher up to emulate acceleration

Exaggeration- Where every action is taken to the next level to make more impact for the viewer. Exaggeration is best used to add a bigger emphasis on what is happening, for example making a character’s movements bigger and bolder. For example, a character hitting someone over the head could have their arms and legs briefly swing behind them and their body being further forwards before landing the hit to give the hit more force and power. Exaggeration is used in very fast situations, so the movement literally needs to be big to be noticed. An example of this could be where Mike splays his arms and legs open when his hand is trapped under the lid of the car

Solid drawing- This is used to make objects look like they are in physical space by using volume, weight and balance. This mostly applies to 2D animation rather than 3D animation. This is used to give something depth, for example when drawing lines on a sphere you need to contour the lines to the bend of the circle. To draw a realistic 3D character you need to use cubes and spheres, not squares and circles. Perspective lines in the scenery also help with this because it gives the background depth and makes the character stick out, and is also useful for scaling the character based on how close or far away they are from the camera. Overlap on a character’s clothing also makes this more realistic, because without overlap everything appears to be on the same plane. Also avoid parallel lines, adding a curved line (or even offsetting two curved lines) makes it look more natural and adds more flow. Solid drawing does apply to 3D in the form of character weight. To avoid ‘twinning’ (when the arms and legs and other paired features do the exact same thing), you need to make a conscious effort to make one arm do a different thing, or maybe make the character put more weight on a specific leg, or make the character slouch, anything to show that the character has weight in a 3D environment.

Appeal- Animated characters should be pleasing to look at. They need a charismatic aspect to like about them. This doesn’t only apply to the hero of the story, but also the villain and the other characters. The characters need to be interesting to look at, and have character depth and quirks. Playing with shapes and proportions is a good way to do this. Picking out important details and emphasising that detail works well for this, for example a cute character could have really big eyes and a big head. The biggest part of appeal in Pixar’s animation, in my opinion, is the eyes. A good example of this is Mike’s eye, the way it creases at the top like an eyebrow should, except it’s just one bend. Mike’s shape is appealing too, it brings the focus to his big eye and mouth, and detracts the focus from his arms and legs.


I then tried animation for myself, and made a short animation of a lamp getting ready to pounce


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