The 12 Principles of Animation: A Comprehensive Guide

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Are you also sometimes struggling to create realistic and engaging animations?

If so, you’re not alone. Animation is a unique form of art that requires a delicate balance of artistic creativity and scientific understanding.

Fortunately, there are some fundamental principles that can guide you in your journey towards more lifelike and convincing animations.

Enter the 12 Principles of Animation.

The 12 principles of animation were developed by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas and published in a book called “The Illusion of Life”. They’re a set of guidelines that can help you create more lifelike and realistic animation.


In this article, we’ll explore each of the 12 Principles in detail, so you can take your animation skills to the next level.

1. Squash and Stretch

Squash and stretch is a principle considered to be one of the most fundamental and important principles of animation.

It is the technique of exaggerating the shape and volume of characters or objects to create an illusion of mass, weight, and force. When an object is squashed, it appears to compress, and when it is stretched, it appears to elongate.

This effect imitates the elastic quality of real-life objects and conveys a sense of motion and weight. This can be applied to simple movements like bouncing a ball or to more complex movements like the musculature of the human figure. The degree of exaggeration can be comical or subtle, depending on the needs of the animation.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation is a principle of animation that involves preparing the viewer for an action that is about to happen. It’s the moment just before the main action takes place, where the character or object is getting ready to jump, swing, kick, throw, or do any other action. Anticipation helps to make the action more believable and effective by giving the viewer a sense of what is about to happen.

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Both Anticipation and follow-through (later in this list) are two principles that involve starting and ending movements. Anticipation is used to prepare the audience for an upcoming movement, while follow-through is used to create a sense of continuation after the movement has ended. These principles are essential for creating convincing and dramatic movements.

3. Staging

Staging is another principle that is essential to the success of an animation. This principle is all about the placement of objects and characters within the frame. By keeping the focus on the essence of the scene and avoiding unnecessary distractions, animators are able to create a clear and unmistakably directed presentation. This can be achieved by paying attention to the camera position, light, and position of the objects within the frame.

4. Pose and Straight Ahead

Pose to pose and straight ahead are two different approaches to animation. Pose to pose involves creating key poses and filling in the intervals between them, while straight ahead involves creating movements from start to finish. When an animator uses the Straight Ahead Action method, they start at the beginning of the animation and draw each frame in sequence until the end.

Which Method Should You Use?

Well, I can be very brief about this one… In stop motion animation there is only animating straight ahead. As it is nearly impossible to do pose to pose with real objects.

However, I can say this about animating in pose to pose method. In stop motion you have to carefully plan everything out. If you do a walking cycle, you can pre determine where the touching points are gonna be. Like say you would when you’re animating the keyframes in pose to pose. So in that sense the method is sort of similar, but when the actual animation is done, it’s always straight ahead.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Follow Through and Overlapping Action is a principle of animation that’s used to create more natural and believable movements in characters and objects.

The idea behind this principle is that when an object or character moves, not everything moves at the same time or at the same speed. Different parts of the object or character will move at slightly different rates and in different directions, which creates a more realistic and fluid movement.

For example, imagine a person running. As they move forward, their hair might flow backwards, their arms might swing forward and backward, and their clothing might ripple in the wind. All of these movements happen at different rates and in different directions, but they’re all part of the same overall motion.

To create this effect in animation, animators use “follow through” and “overlapping action”. Follow through is when parts of an object or character continue moving even after the main movement has stopped. For example, when a character stops running, their hair might continue to flow backwards for a moment. Overlapping action is when different parts of an object or character move at different rates, creating a more fluid and natural movement.

6. Slow In and Slow Out

The “slow in and slow out” principle is a basic but important principle of animation that involves adding more frames at the beginning and end of a movement to create a more natural and fluid look.

The basic idea behind this principle is that objects don’t typically move at a constant speed in real life. Instead, they tend to accelerate and decelerate as they start and stop moving. By adding more frames at the beginning and end of a movement, animators can create a more gradual acceleration and deceleration, which makes the animation look more natural and believable.

For example, if you wanted to create a stop motion animation of a ball rolling across the ground, you might take multiple photos of the ball at different positions as it starts to roll, then gradually increase the number of photos you take as it gains momentum, and then decrease the number of photos again as it comes to a stop.

7. Arc

The arc principle is essential in animation because it reflects the laws of physics and the natural effects of gravity. When an object or a person moves, they follow a natural path that is not straight but curved. By adding arcs to animations, animators can make the animation look more natural and realistic.

An example of how to use arcs in animation is when a person walks. As the person moves their arms and legs, they follow different arcs. By paying attention to the arcs, animators can create more graceful and natural animations. Another example is when a ball is thrown, it follows an arc through the air due to the force applied to it. By adding secondary arcs to the animation, animators can make the motion look more fluid and natural.

8.Secondary Action

Secondary action refers to the idea that objects in motion will create secondary movements in other parts of the body. They are used to support or emphasize the main action happening in a scene. Adding secondary actions can add more depth to your characters and objects.

For example, the subtle movement of your character’s hair as they walk, or a facial expression, or a secondary object reacting to the first. Whatever the case may be, this secondary action should not take away from the primary one.

9. Timing and spacing

I think for stop motion this is the most important one. It really gives a meaning to a movement.

To apply this principle of animation, we should consider the laws of physics and how they apply to the natural world.

Timing involves the length of time an object is on screen, while spacing involves the placement and movement of the object.

Depending on what type of movement or object you want to convey you should take the the right amount of easing into account. If you move an object too quickly or too slowly compared to its natural movement in the real world, the animation won’t be believable.

To apply this principle in stop motion animation, consider first the framerate you’re shooting at. If you’re shooting on one’s or two’s, you’ll most likely shoot at 12 or 24 frames respectively.

Next, time out your animation sequence in advance. For instance, if you have a rolling ball and the shot duration is 3.5 seconds, multiply the shot time by your framerate, for example 12 frames.

So now you know that for this shot you’ll need about 42 pictures (3.5 x 12).

If you want to measure the distance the object needs to move in the shot. Let’s say it’s 30 cm and divide the distance by the number of frames. So in our example, 30 / 42 = 0.7 mm per frame.

Of course you should take the right amount of easing into account. So it wont be an exact 0.7 mm per each frame.


This principle is used to create a dramatic and impactful effect in animations. Animators use exaggeration to make movements and expressions larger than life, resulting in a more dynamic effect.

While animations should look natural, they need to be exaggerated a bit to be effective. This means that movements should be slightly larger than they would be in real life, creating a more dynamic effect.

Exaggeration is a principle that can be used to great effect in animation. By exaggerating certain aspects of the animation, animators are able to create a more dynamic and engaging experience for the audience.

11. Solid drawing

Solid drawing is another key principle that animators must consider. This principle is all about the way that objects and characters are drawn in three dimensions. By paying attention to the physical aspects of the animation, animators are able to create a more lifelike and engaging animation.

12. Appeal

Appeal is another principle that can be used to great effect in animation. This principle is all about the way that characters and objects are drawn to be appealing to the audience. By paying attention to the way that characters are drawn or made, animators are able to create a more engaging and dynamic animation.

Alan Becker

Let’s talk about Alan Becker, the American animator and YouTube personality known for creating the Animator vs. Animation series. I think he has the best and most comprehensive explanation about the 12 principles of animation, so check this one out!

How Do You Practice The 12 Principles Of Animation?

Now, to practice these principles, you gotta start by learning them. There are tons of resources out there that can teach you the ins and outs of each principle, but the most important thing is to understand how they work together. Each principle plays a role in making your animation flow seamlessly.

One of the best way of practice is the famous: bouncing ball. It has almost everything. Squash and stretch, when the ball nearly hits the ground. It has “slow in and slow out”, when the ball starts. It moves in an arc and you can experiment with all sorts off different timings.

Once you’ve got a good grasp on the principles, it’s time to start applying them to your own work. This is where the real fun begins! Start experimenting with different techniques and see how you can use the principles to enhance your animation. Maybe try adding some squash and stretch to your characters, or play around with timing and spacing to create a sense of weight and momentum.

But here’s the thing. You can’t just rely on the principles alone. You gotta have some creativity and imagination too! Use the principles as a foundation, but don’t be afraid to break the rules and try something new. That’s how you’ll really make your animation stand out.

Practice the 12 principles of animation by learning them, applying them, and then breaking them. It’s like cooking a delicious meal, but with your characters and frames instead of ingredients and spices.


So there you have it, the 12 principles of animation that have been used by Disney and many other studios to create some of the most memorable characters and scenes in animation history.

Now that you know these, you can use them to make your own animations more lifelike and believable.

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.