What Are Arcs in Animation? Learn How to Use Them Like a Pro

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Arcs are crucial for creating fluid and natural-looking animation. They define movement with circular paths that mimic human motion. Without them, characters can appear stiff and robotic.

From Disney to anime, arcs are used in almost every animation. They’re a fundamental aspect of the craft that helps bring characters to life.

In this article, I’ll delve into what arcs are, how to use them effectively, and why they’re so essential to your animation.

Arcs in animation

Mastering the Art of Arcs in Animation

Picture this: you’re watching your favorite animated film, and suddenly, you notice something off about the way a character moves. It’s stiff, robotic, and unnatural. What’s missing? The answer is simple- arcs. In animation, arcs are the secret sauce that brings life and fluidity to movement. They’re the reason why your favorite characters feel so real and relatable.

Understanding the Arcs of Rotation Principle

The Arcs of Rotation Principle is all about creating that illusion of movement by mimicking the way we, as humans, move in our everyday lives. Here’s a quick breakdown of the concept:

  • Arcs are circular paths that define the movement of an object or character.
  • Our limbs and joints naturally move in arcs, not straight lines.
  • By incorporating arcs into animation, we can create more realistic and believable motion.

Animating the Human Body with Arcs

When it comes to animating the human body, there are several key areas where arcs play a crucial role:

  • Arms: Think about how your arm moves when you reach for something. It doesn’t move in a straight line, does it? Instead, it follows an arc, pivoting at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist.
  • Hips: When walking or running, our hips don’t move in a straight line either. They follow an arc, shifting from side to side as we move forward.
  • Head: Even something as simple as nodding our heads involves arcs. Our heads don’t move up and down in a straight line, but rather follow a slight arc as we nod.

Animating Objects with Arcs

It’s not just human movement that benefits from the use of arcs in animation. Inanimate objects, like a ball falling or bouncing, also follow arcs. Consider these examples:

  • Bouncing ball: When a ball bounces, it doesn’t just move up and down in a straight line. Instead, it follows an arc, with the apex of the arc occurring at the highest point of the bounce.
  • Falling object: As an object falls, it doesn’t just plummet straight down. It follows an arc, with the direction of the arc determined by factors like the object’s initial trajectory and the force of gravity.

Read everything on the 12 principles of animation here

Arcs: The Key to Fluid, Lifelike Animation

In conclusion, arcs are an essential technique for creating fluid, lifelike animation. By understanding and incorporating the Arcs of Rotation Principle into your work, you can bring your characters and objects to life, making them feel more realistic and engaging. So, the next time you sit down to animate, remember to think in arcs, and watch your creations come to life.

Mastering the Art of Arcs in Animation

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two legendary animators from the golden age of animation, were masters at using arcs to bring their characters to life. They taught us that arcs are not only useful for creating fluid motion but also for demonstrating the weight and personality of a character. Here are some guidelines they shared that can help you apply arcs in your animations:

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  • Observe real-life movements: Study how people and objects move in the real world. Notice the natural arcs created by their actions and try to replicate them in your animations.
  • Exaggerate the arcs: Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of your arcs to create more dynamic and engaging animations. Remember, animation is all about exaggeration and appeal.
  • Use arcs to show weight: The size and shape of an arc can help demonstrate the weight of an object or character. For example, a heavier object will create a larger, slower arc, while a lighter object will create a smaller, faster arc.

Easing into Arcs: Tips for Smooth Application

Now that you understand the importance of arcs and have some guidelines from the greats, it’s time to put them into practice. Here are some tips to help you ease into using arcs in your animations:

  • Start with simple objects: Before tackling complex character movements, practice using arcs with simple objects like bouncing balls or swinging pendulums. This will help you get a feel for how arcs work and how they affect motion.
  • Use animation software: Most animation software has tools that can help you create and manipulate arcs. Familiarize yourself with these tools and use them to your advantage.
  • Layer your arcs: When animating a character, remember that each body part will have its own arc. Layer these arcs to create more complex and lifelike movements.
  • Experiment and iterate: As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different arcs and see how they affect your animations. Keep refining your work until you achieve the desired result.

Incorporating arcs into your animations may seem daunting at first, but with practice and perseverance, you’ll soon be creating fluid, lifelike movements that will leave your audience in awe. So go ahead, embrace the power of arcs and watch your animations come to life!


So, arcs are a great way to add fluidity and life to your animation. They’re also used in real life, so you can use them to animate both animate and inanimate objects. 

You can use the arc rotation principle to create a circular path that mimics the way humans move. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with arcs and use them to bring your animations to life.

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.