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The Twelve Principles Of Animation are a list of animation principles that came about during The Golden Age of Animation, being discovered and refined by the many studios of the time. The Walt Disney and Looney Tunes studio make the most notable usage of these principles.

The principles in question are[1]:

  1. Solid Drawing[2]: Not "Solid" as in "Solid like granite", but rather a drawing with a controlled form and an animatable, pliable mass. This essentially means having a mastery and proper understanding of drawing construction, perspective, form, anatomy and line control. Easily the most important of them. A shorthand example of solid drawing would be Bill Tytla's animation of Grumpy in Snow White, or any bit of animation done by Milt Kahl. Solid Drawing also means avoiding of symmetry in poses and design (although they made an exception for Mickey's design) as well as avoiding the rigid, geometric, inorganic shapes in drawings that were common in old rubberhose cartoons in favor of more organic, pliable forms, via the usage of intertwining S Curves and convex curves.
  2. Appeal[3]: Easily the most subjective principle, this essentially means giving the characters, good or bad, some charismatic aspect to like about them. Solid Drawing can be appealing in and of itself, although there are certainly far more ways to find appeal that that.
  3. Exaggeration[4]: Distortion of the drawings from their real life counterparts for comedic effect.
  4. Staging[5]: The presentation of an idea, scene or action so that it is unmistakably clear, or directing the audience's attention to what is most important in a scene, what is happening, or what is about to happen. Only present one idea at a time to ensure your audience does not get confused and can register the presented idea clearly. This can extend from using negative spaces and broad gestures in your characters movements and expressions, to as far as tailoring an entire background and layout around an action for the sake of clarity.
  5. Timing[6]: Three versions:
    • The first is Physical Timing. This helps objects appear to have a believable, but not always realistic, sense of weight and mass to them.
    • The second is Theatrical Timing. This is developed through natural experience.
    • The third is Musical Timing.
  1. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose[7]: Either drawing each frame in a linear sequence or planning key poses ahead of time and filling them in. A combo of those two things is sometimes used.
  2. Anticipation, AKA Antic[8]: The preparation of what action is going to happen next. For example, a baseball player readies his bat before he swings, or Donald Duck prepares to launch himself into a run. A classic example of an antic is demonstrated by this image. Sometimes an antic can be avoided to add spontaneity to an action--an example of this would be a scene from the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Bugs Bonnets", when, as "Indian Bugs", he snaps out his arms to grab Elmer's rifle, with no antic.
  3. Squash and Stretch[9]: Gives the drawings weight and flexibility while maintaining volume, making them look very organic and natural. The classic bouncing ball test is a perfect demonstration of this principle (among others) and is often used as an entry lesson exam for beginning animators. Squash And Stretch is not "cartoony" in and of itself, but it can, and is often, exaggerated for comic effect. This principle is usually avoided in TV cartoons, save exceptions like Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, being percieved as "Too expensive", or, misguidingly, as "Too cartoony".
  4. Arcs[10]: The lines of movement for paths of action, to make the movement feel natural instead of mechanical.
  5. Secondary Action[11]: An extra action that helps support the main action. For example, a man is whistling while he walks, or Doc the Dwarf's cheeks drag as he turns his head.
  6. Slow In and Slow Out[12]: A more specific variation of the Timing Principle--Every object needs time to both accelerate and slow down and everything is either accelerating or decelerating. This helps out with spacing in animation, which is essential for life-like smoothness and keeping your animation from looking mechanical and weightless.
  7. Follow Through and Overlapping Action[13]: Not all parts of the body move evenly together. Hard, bony parts move first and the fleshy parts have to catch up--this is demonstrated in the cheek animation of the Dwarfs in Snow White. For another example, when a character swings from a rope, the legs drag behind the body. Clothing also drags with movement. Frolicking Fish is where this principle was discovered.

Principles 6 to 12 pertain to the Disney School of Acting and Mime.

Trope Namer is the Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.

It SHOULD be noted however, that while Frank and Ollie's list covers a fairly good amount of the animation process, other Disney veterans like the late Walt Stanchfield suggested that there are actually a whopping 28 principles of animation, which are discussed in the two volumes of "Drawn to Life", which compile the thousands of notes taken during his acclaimed masterclasses. These principles are listed below:

  1. Pose and Mood
  2. Shape and form
  3. Anatomy
  4. Model or Character
  5. Weight
  6. Line and Silhoutte
  7. Action and Reaction
  8. Perspective
  9. Direction
  10. Tension
  11. Planes
  12. Solidity
  13. Arcs
  14. Squash and Stretch
  15. Beat and Rhythm
  16. Depth and Volume
  17. Overlap and Follow Thru
  18. Timing
  19. Working from Extreme to Extreme
  20. Straights and Curves
  21. Primary and Secondary Action
  22. Staging and Composition
  23. Anticipation
  24. Caricature
  25. Details
  26. Texture
  27. Simplification
  28. Positive and Negative Shapes

Notes

  1. The order listed here was suggested by John Kricfalusi according to what he considered important, starting with this blog entry (he also believes in three additional principles, "Funny", "Clever", and "Appealing Fun Specific Characters", which would be at 6, 7, and 8 respectively, for 15 total principles.). The original order is hottipped below, along with the order including John's three additional principles.
  2. 11
  3. 12
  4. 10
  5. 3
  6. 9
  7. 4, 9
  8. 2, 10
  9. 1, 11
  10. 7, 12
  11. 8, 13
  12. 6, 14
  13. 5, 15
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