What is Anticipation in Animation? Learn How to Use it Like a Pro

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Animation is all about bringing characters to life, but there’s one element that’s often overlooked: anticipation.

Anticipation is one of the fundamental 12 basic principles of animation, as set out by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in their authoritative 1981 book on the Disney Studio titled The Illusion of Life. An anticipation pose or drawing is a preparation for the main action of an animated scene, as distinct from the action and the reaction.

Think of the way a real person moves. They don’t just suddenly jump (here’s how to do that in stop motion), they squat first and then push off the ground.

In this article, I’ll explain what it is, and how to use it to make your animations feel more lifelike.

Anticipation in animation

Mastering the Art of Anticipation in Animation

Let me tell you a story about my journey as an animator. I remember when I first started out, I was excited to bring characters to life (here’s how to develop them for stop motion). But something was missing. My animations felt stiff, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I discovered the magic of anticipation.


Anticipation is the key that unlocks the door to fluid, believable animation. It’s the principle that gives movement a sense of weight and realism. As animators, we owe a lot to Disney for pioneering this concept, and it’s our job to apply it in our work to captivate our audience.

How Anticipation Breathes Life into Motion

Think of anticipation as the spring in a bouncing object. When the object is compressed, it’s preparing to release energy and propel itself into the air. The same goes for animation. Anticipation is the buildup of energy before a character or object springs into action. Here’s how it works:

  • The character prepares for the action, like squatting down before a jump or winding up for a punch.
  • The stronger the anticipation, the more cartoony and fluid the animation becomes.
  • The smaller the anticipation, the more stiff and realistic the animation appears.

Applying Anticipation to Your Animations

As I continued to hone my skills as an animator, I learned that anticipation is crucial in creating engaging animations. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Study real-life movements: Observe how people and objects move in the real world. Notice the subtle ways they prepare for actions and incorporate those observations into your animations.
  • Exaggerate for effect: Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of anticipation. Sometimes, a more exaggerated buildup can make the action feel more powerful and dynamic.
  • Balance cartoony and realistic: Depending on your project, you may want to lean more towards cartoony or realistic anticipation. Experiment with different levels of anticipation to find the perfect balance for your animation.

Anticipation: The Animator’s Best Friend

In my years as an animator, I’ve come to appreciate the power of anticipation. It’s the secret ingredient that makes animations feel alive and engaging. By understanding and applying this principle, you too can create animations that captivate your audience and leave them wanting more. So, go ahead, embrace anticipation, and watch your animations spring to life!

Mastering the Art of Anticipation in Animation

As an animator, I’ve come to realize that anticipation is a crucial element in creating powerful and engaging animations. It’s a simple concept that can be easily neglected, but when used effectively, it can make your animations come alive in a whole new way. In essence, anticipation is the preparation for an action, a subtle signal to the audience that something is about to happen. It’s a language that we, as animators, use to communicate with our audience and keep them engrossed in our creations.

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Anticipation in Action: A Personal Experience

I remember the first time I discovered the importance of anticipation in animation. I was working on a scene where a character was about to jump. Initially, I had the character simply spring into the air without any preparation. The result was a stiff and unnatural movement that lacked the fluidity and cartoony feel I was aiming for. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the concept of anticipation that I realized what was missing.

I decided to edit the scene, adding a squatting motion before the actual jump. This simple change completely transformed the animation, making it smoother and more believable. The character now appeared to be gaining momentum before jumping, with their legs compressed and ready to push off the ground. It was a small adjustment, but it made a world of difference.

Learning from the Masters: Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation

When it comes to mastering anticipation, it’s essential to study the work of those who have come before us. Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation, synthesized by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, are a fantastic resource for any animator looking to improve their craft. Anticipation is one of these principles, and it’s a testament to its importance in the world of animation.

Richard Williams, a renowned animator and author, also emphasized the significance of anticipation in his book, “The Animator’s Survival Kit.” He mentioned that anticipation is one of the basics that every animator should master and apply in their work.

Mastering the Art of Anticipation in Animation

As an animator, I’ve learned that anticipation is all about channeling the energy and preparing the character’s body for the action that’s about to happen. It’s like when I’m about to jump in real life, I squat down a bit to gather my strength and then push off with my legs. The same concept applies to animation. The more energy and preparation we put into the anticipation, the more fluid and cartoony the animation will be. On the flip side, if we skimp on the anticipation, the animation will feel stiff and less engaging.

Steps to Apply Anticipation in Your Animation

In my experience, there are a few crucial steps to applying anticipation in animation:

1.Gauge the character’s needs:
First, we need to determine how much anticipation our character needs. For example, if we’re animating a superhero like Superman, he might not need as much anticipation as a regular person because he’s, well, super. However, for more grounded characters, a reasonable amount of anticipation is necessary to make their movements feel natural.

2.Match the anticipation to the action:
The size and shape of the anticipation should match the action that follows. For instance, if our character is about to perform a high jump, the anticipation should be stronger and longer, with the character squatting down more before pushing off. Conversely, if the character is just taking a small hop, the anticipation should be smaller and shorter.

3.Edit and refine:
As animators, we sometimes need to go back and edit our work to make sure the anticipation is just right. This might involve tweaking the timing, adjusting the character’s body language, or even completely reworking the anticipation if it doesn’t feel right.

Factors to Consider for Anticipation in Animation

When I’m working on anticipation in my animations, there are a few factors I always keep in mind:

Anticipation is a physical principle, so it’s important to pay attention to the character’s body language and movement. This helps to express the energy and preparation needed for the action.

The length of the anticipation can greatly impact the overall feel of the animation. Longer anticipation can make the action feel more cartoony and fluid, while shorter anticipation can make it feel more stiff and realistic.

Object interaction:
Anticipation isn’t just limited to character movement. It can also be applied to objects in the scene. For example, if a character is about to throw a ball, the ball itself might need some anticipation as well.

The Art of Anticipation: It’s Not Just a Mathematical Formula

As much as I’d love to say there’s a simple formula for perfect anticipation in animation, the truth is that it’s more of an art than a science. Sure, there are some general guidelines and principles to follow, but ultimately, it’s up to us as animators to find the right balance between anticipation and action.

In my experience, the best way to master anticipation is through practice and attention to detail. By constantly refining our work and learning from our mistakes, we can create animations that feel natural and engaging. And who knows, maybe one day our characters will be leaping off the screen like the superheroes we grew up watching.

Unveiling the Magic of Anticipation in Animation

As a young animator, I was always fascinated by the magic of Disney. The fluidity and expressiveness of their characters were mesmerizing. I soon discovered that one of the key principles behind this enchanting animation style was anticipation. Disney legends Frank and Ollie, two of the famous “Nine Old Men,” were masters of this principle, using it to create the illusion of life in their animated pictures.

Some examples of anticipation in classic Disney animations include:

  • A character squatting down before leaping into the air, building momentum for a powerful jump
  • A character pulling their arm back before delivering a punch, creating a sense of force and impact
  • A character’s eyes darting to an object before they reach for it, signaling their intention to the audience

Subtle Anticipation in Realistic Animation

While anticipation is often associated with cartoony and exaggerated movements, it is also an essential principle in more realistic animation styles. In these cases, the anticipation may be more subtle, but it is still crucial for conveying the weight and momentum of a character or object.

For instance, in a realistic animation of a person picking up a heavy object, the animator might include a slight bend in the knees and a tensing of the muscles before the character lifts the object. This subtle anticipation helps to sell the illusion of weight and effort, making the animation feel more grounded and believable.

Anticipation in Inanimate Objects

Anticipation isn’t just for characters – it can also be applied to inanimate objects to give them a sense of life and personality. As animators, we often anthropomorphize objects, imbuing them with human-like qualities to create a more engaging and entertaining experience for the audience.

Some examples of anticipation in inanimate objects include:

  • A spring compressing before it launches into the air, creating a sense of tension and release
  • A bouncing ball squashing and stretching as it interacts with the ground, giving it a sense of elasticity and energy
  • A swinging pendulum pausing momentarily at the peak of its arc, emphasizing the force of gravity pulling it back down


So, anticipation is the key to fluid and believable animation. You can’t just spring into action without a little preparation, and you can’t just spring into action without a little preparation. 

So, now you know how to use anticipation to make your animations feel more lifelike and dynamic. You can use this knowledge to make your next animation project a success.

Hi, I'm Kim, a mom and a stop-motion enthusiast with a background in media creation and web development. I've got a huge passion for drawing and animation, and now I'm diving headfirst into the stop-motion world. With my blog, I'm sharing my learnings with you guys.