Overlapping Action in Animation: Definition and How to Use It for Smooth Motion

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What is overlapping action in animation?

Overlapping action is a technique used in animation to create the illusion of movement. It involves animating multiple parts of the character at the same time. This technique is very useful and can be used in almost every scene to create the illusion of movement. It’s used in both 2D and 3D animation and in both traditional and computer animation.

In this article, I’ll explain what overlapping action is, how it’s used, and why it’s so important.

What is overlapping action in animation

Mastering the Art of Overlapping Action in Animation

When animating a character, it’s essential to consider how different parts of the body are affected by the main action. For example, if a character is running, their arms and legs will be the leading elements, but don’t forget about the secondary actions that follow, such as:

  • The sway of the hair as it trails behind the character
  • The movement of the dress or tunic as it billows in the wind
  • The subtle tilts and turns of the head as the character looks around

By incorporating these secondary actions, you can create a more believable and engaging animation that truly captivates your audience.


Also read: these are the 12 principles your animation should adhere by

Practical Tips for Implementing Overlapping Action

As an animator, it’s essential to test and refine your overlapping action techniques. Here are some practical tips to help you on your journey:

  • Start by animating the main action, such as a character walking or jumping
  • Once the main action is complete, add secondary actions to the character’s body parts, such as the hair, clothing, or accessories
  • Pay attention to the timing of these secondary actions, as they should follow the main action but not necessarily move at the same speed
  • Use the principles of positive and negative curves to create more dynamic and fluid movements
  • Continuously check your work and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the overlapping action feels natural and believable

By incorporating overlapping action into your animations, you’ll be able to create more lifelike and engaging characters that truly come to life on the screen. So, go ahead and give it a try – you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make in your work!

Decoding the Art of Overlapping Action in Animation

Overlapping action is an essential animation technique that helps create more realistic and dynamic movement in animated characters. It’s closely related to follow-through, another important concept in the world of animation. Both techniques fall under the umbrella of the 12 basic principles of animation, as identified by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in their authoritative book, The Illusion of Life.

Why Overlapping Action Matters

As an animator, I’ve always been keen on improving my craft and pushing the boundaries of what I can create. Overlapping action has been instrumental in helping me achieve that goal. Here’s why it’s so important:

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  • It helps render character movement more realistically by obeying the laws of physics.
  • It conveys the weight and solidity of animated bodies, making them feel more lifelike.
  • It adds depth and complexity to character motion, making the animation more engaging and visually appealing.

Overlapping Action in Action: A Personal Experience

I remember working on a scene where my character, Brown, had to swing a heavy hammer. To make the motion feel authentic, I had to consider the weight of the hammer and how it would affect Brown’s movement. This is where overlapping action came into play. I made sure that:

  • Brown’s body parts moved at different speeds, with some parts dragging behind others.
  • The hammer’s motion overlapped with Brown’s, creating a sense of weight and momentum.
  • Loose and floppy parts of Brown’s body, like his clothing and hair, settled slowly after the completion of the swing, adding an extra layer of realism.

Developing a Keen Eye for Overlapping Action

As I continued to work on various animation projects, I developed a keen eye for spotting opportunities to incorporate overlapping action. Some tips I’ve picked up along the way include:

  • Analyzing real-life motion to understand how different body parts move in relation to each other.
  • Paying close attention to how objects and characters with different weights and materials behave.
  • Experimenting with different speeds and timings to find the perfect balance between realism and artistic expression.

By mastering the art of overlapping action, animators can breathe life into their characters and create engaging, dynamic content that captivates audiences. So, the next time you’re working on an animation project, remember to keep this powerful technique in mind and watch your characters come alive like never before.

Mastering the Art of Overlapping Action

To effectively use overlapping action, you need to break down the body into its individual parts. This means analyzing how each part moves in relation to the others. Here’s a quick rundown of some key body parts and their typical speeds during motion:

  • Head: Generally moves slower than other body parts
  • Arms: Swing at a moderate speed, often opposite to the legs
  • Legs: Move at a faster pace, propelling the body forward
  • Hands and Feet: Can have quick, subtle movements that add nuance to your animation

Applying Overlapping Action to Your Animations

Now that you’ve got a grasp on the concept and the body parts involved, it’s time to put overlapping action into practice. Here are some steps to follow:

1. Study real-life motion: Observe people and animals in motion, paying close attention to how different body parts move at varying speeds. This will give you a solid foundation for creating realistic animations.
2. Plan your animation: Before diving into the actual animating process, sketch out your character’s movements and identify the key poses. This will help you visualize how the overlapping action will play out.
3. Animate the primary action: Start by animating the main action, such as a character walking or running. Focus on the larger body parts, like the legs and torso, to establish the overall motion.
4. Layer in secondary actions: Once the primary action is in place, add in the secondary actions, such as the swinging of the arms or the bobbing of the head. These overlapping actions will enhance the realism of your animation.
5. Fine-tune the details: Finally, polish your animation by adding subtle movements to the hands, feet, and other smaller body parts. These finishing touches will make your animation truly come to life.

Learning from the Pros: Films and Tutorials

To really master overlapping action, it’s helpful to study the work of the pros. Watch animated films and pay close attention to how the characters move. You’ll notice that the most convincing animations utilize overlapping action to create lifelike motion.

Additionally, there are countless tutorials available online that can help you hone your skills. Seek out tutorials that focus specifically on overlapping action, as well as those that cover broader animation principles. The more you learn, the better your animations will become.

By embracing the idea of overlapping action and applying it to your animations, you’ll be well on your way to creating more convincing and lifelike motion in your work. So go ahead, break down those body parts, study real-life motion, and let your animations shine!


So, that’s what overlapping action is and how you can use it to make your animations more realistic and lifelike. 

It’s a useful technique to keep in mind when you’re animating and can help you create better scenes. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with it and see what works best for you.

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.