What is Pose-to-Pose Animation? Master the Technique with These Tips

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Pose to pose is a method of animation where the animator creates key frames, or poses, and then fills in the frames in between. It’s a way to animate without drawing in-between frames.

Pose-to-pose is used in traditional animation, while the parallel concept in 3D animation is inverse kinematics. The opposite concept is straight ahead animation where the poses of a scene are not planned, which results in more loose and free animation, though with less control over the animation’s timing.

What is pose to pose in animation

Unlocking the Magic of Pose-to-Pose Animation

As a budding animator, I remember the first time I stumbled upon the treasure trove of animation techniques. One of my favorites was pose-to-pose animation. This technique involves creating key poses for characters and then filling in the gaps with intermediate frames, making the character appear to move seamlessly from one pose to the next. It’s a technique that works great for both traditional and computer-based 3D animation.

Creating Key Poses and Inbetweening

The majority of the work in pose-to-pose animation goes into creating the key poses, also known as keyframes. These are the main drawings that define the character’s action and emotion. Once the key poses are complete, it’s time to add the intermediate frames, or inbetweens, to make the character’s movement smooth and natural. Here’s how I approach this process:

  • Start by drawing the key poses, focusing on the character’s body language and facial expressions.
  • Add breakdown drawings, which are the poses that help define the character’s movement between the key poses.
  • Fill in the gaps with inbetween drawings, ensuring that the character’s movement is fluid and consistent.

Playing with Eye Contact and Scene Coalescence

One of the things I love about pose-to-pose animation is how it allows me to strengthen the connection between the characters and the audience. By carefully planning the key poses, I can create eye contact between the characters and the viewers, making the scene more engaging and immersive. Additionally, pose-to-pose animation helps me coalesce different elements of a scene, ensuring that everything comes together perfectly in the final product.


Learning from the Pros: Animator Favorites

As I continued to learn and perfect my pose-to-pose animation skills, I found inspiration in the work of some of my favorite animators. Studying their techniques and approaches to pose-to-pose animation helped me refine my own skills and develop my unique style. Some of the animators I looked up to include:

  • Glen Keane, known for his work on Disney classics like “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
  • Hayao Miyazaki, the mastermind behind Studio Ghibli’s beloved films, such as “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro.”
  • Richard Williams, the animation director of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and author of “The Animator’s Survival Kit.”

Why Choose Pose-to-Pose Animation?

When animating pose-to-pose, the process begins with creating key poses for your character. This sets the stage for the action and allows you to concentrate on the most dramatic and exciting moments. By spending time on planning and allocating your creative energy to these essential poses, you’re able to:

  • Ensure a smoother animation
  • Create a more engaging experience for the audience
  • Make better use of your time and resources

Control and Precision

Pose-to-pose animation provides a greater level of control over your character’s movement. By focusing on key poses, you can:

  • Fine-tune the character’s position and expression
  • Ensure that the character’s actions are clear and readable
  • Maintain a consistent sense of timing and pacing throughout the animation

Efficient Workflow

Animating pose-to-pose can save you hours of work, as it involves creating only the essential frames and then filling in the rest with inbetweening. This process, also known as tweening, creates the illusion of movement by smoothly transitioning from one pose to the next. Some benefits of this efficient workflow include:

  • Saving time by not having to draw every single frame
  • Reducing the risk of losing consistency in your character’s movement
  • Allowing you to focus on the most important aspects of the animation

Enhanced Storytelling

Pose-to-pose animation is a powerful storytelling tool, as it allows you to focus on the most impactful moments in your scene. By devoting your energy to these key poses, you can:

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  • Create more dramatic and engaging animations
  • Emphasize the character’s emotions and intentions
  • Draw the audience’s attention to crucial plot points

Flexibility in Animation Styles

The pose-to-pose technique is versatile and can be used in both traditional and computer-based 3D animation. This means that, regardless of your preferred animation style, you can still reap the benefits of working pose-to-pose. Some examples of this flexibility include:

  • The ability to create high-quality animations in various mediums
  • The opportunity to experiment with different animation styles while still using the same core technique
  • The potential to collaborate with other animators who may have different skill sets and preferences

Dissecting the Magic of a Pose-to-Pose Sequence

Creating a great pose-to-pose animation sequence is like cooking up a delicious meal- you need the right ingredients, a good sense of timing, and a dash of creativity. Here are some key components to keep in mind:

  • Character: The star of the show, your character sets the stage for the action and emotions you want to convey.
  • Key Poses: These are the main poses that define the character’s movement and emotions, like an angry outburst or falling off a cliff.
  • Breakdowns: These secondary poses help to smoothly transition between key poses, making the action feel more natural and fluid.
  • Inbetweening: Also known as tweening, this process involves filling in the intermediary frames between key poses to create the illusion of uninterrupted movement.

Painting a Picture with Key Poses and Breakdowns

When animating a pose-to-pose sequence, it’s essential to plan out your key poses and breakdowns. Think of it like painting a picture- you’re setting up the major moments and then filling in the details to make the scene come alive. Here’s how it usually works:

1. Start by sketching out your character in their key poses. These are the moments that convey the main action and emotions of the scene.
2. Next, add in your breakdowns- the poses that help transition between key poses. These can be subtle movements, like a character’s arm reacting to a sudden movement, or more dramatic actions, like a character landing after a jump.
3. Finally, fill in the rest of the frames with inbetweening, making sure the movement flows smoothly from one pose to the next.

Spending Time on the Right Details

When working on a pose-to-pose sequence, it’s important to allocate your time wisely. Spending hours on a single frame might not be the best use of your creative energy. Instead, focus on the key poses and breakdowns that will make the biggest impact on your audience. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:

  • Plan out your key poses and breakdowns before diving into the inbetweening process. This will help you create a more cohesive and polished final product.
  • Don’t be afraid to iterate and refine your key poses and breakdowns. Sometimes, a tiny tweak can make a huge difference in the overall feel of the animation.

Examples of Pose-to-Pose in Action

To get a sense of how pose-to-pose animation works in practice, check out some examples from traditional animation and 3D computer animation. You’ll probably notice that the best sequences have a few things in common:

  • Clear, well-defined key poses that convey the character’s emotions and actions.
  • Smooth transitions between poses, thanks to well-planned breakdowns and inbetweening.
  • A sense of timing that allows the audience to digest each moment before moving on to the next.

Remember, practice makes perfect. So, grab your drawing tools or fire up your favorite animation software and start experimenting with pose-to-pose animation. With a bit of patience and creativity, you’ll be crafting unforgettable sequences in no time.

Mastering the Art of Pose-to-Pose Animation

To start your journey into the world of pose-to-pose animation, you’ll need to select a character and determine the key poses that will drive the movement. Remember, these poses are the foundation of your animation, so take the time to perfect them. Consider the following when choosing your character and key poses:

  • Study your favorite cartoons and animations for inspiration
  • Focus on a simple character design, especially if you’re a beginner
  • Determine the essential poses that will convey the intended movement and emotion

Constructing a Classic Breakdown

Once you’ve got your key poses, it’s time to create a breakdown. This is the stage where you’ll start to see the illusion of movement come to life. Keep these tips in mind as you work on your breakdown:

  • Prioritize the poses that are most important to the overall movement
  • Strengthen the quality of your animation by making sure the transitions between poses are smooth
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques to find the right balance between simplicity and complexity

Flipping Through Frames: The Inbetweening Process

Now that you’ve got your key poses and breakdown, it’s time to dive into the world of inbetweening. This is where the majority of your effort will be spent, as you’ll be creating the intermediate frames that transition from one pose to the next. Here are some pointers to help you through this stage:

  • Use a high-quality animation program to assist with the inbetweening process
  • Focus on making the movement smooth and believable, without disrupting the progression of the animation
  • Practice, practice, practice! The more you work on your inbetweening skills, the better your final result will be

Pose-to-Pose vs Straight Ahead: The Great Animation Debate

As an animator, I’ve always been fascinated by the different approaches to bringing characters and scenes to life. Two of the most popular techniques in the animation world are pose-to-pose and straight ahead. While both have their merits, they also have distinct differences that can impact the final result.

  • Pose-to-pose: This method means drawing the key poses first, then filling in the inbetween drawings to smooth out the animation later. It allows for greater control over the final product and makes it easier to edit.
  • Straight ahead: In contrast, the straight-ahead technique involves animating one drawing after another in sequential order. It’s a more spontaneous approach that can lead to more fluid and dynamic animations.

When to Use Pose-to-Pose

In my experience, pose-to-pose animation is ideal for situations where precision and control are crucial. Here are some scenarios where I’ve found this technique to be particularly useful:

  • Dialogue-driven scenes: When animating characters engaged in conversation, pose-to-pose allows me to focus on the key expressions and gestures, ensuring that the animation matches the language and tone of the dialogue.
  • Complex movements: For intricate actions, like a character performing a dance routine, pose-to-pose helps me plan out the key poses and movements, ensuring a smooth and accurate final result.

When to Use Straight Ahead

On the other hand, I’ve found that the straight-ahead technique shines in situations where spontaneity and fluidity are more important than precision. Here are some examples:

  • Action sequences: When animating fast-paced, dynamic scenes, the straight-ahead method allows me to capture the energy and momentum of the action without getting bogged down in planning every detail.
  • Organic movements: For scenes involving natural elements, like flowing water or swaying trees, the straight-ahead technique helps me create a more organic, lifelike feel.

Combining the Best of Both Worlds

As an animator, I’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to animation. Sometimes, the best results come from combining the strengths of both pose-to-pose and straight-ahead techniques. For example, I might use pose-to-pose for the key poses and actions in a scene, then switch to straight-ahead for the inbetween drawings to add fluidity and spontaneity.

Ultimately, the choice between pose-to-pose and straight-ahead animation comes down to the specific needs of the project and the preferences of the animator. By understanding the advantages and limitations of each technique, we can make informed decisions and create animations that truly bring our visions to life.


So, that’s pose to pose animation for you. It’s a great way to save time and make your animation look more fluid and natural. 

It’s a great technique to use when you’re animating characters. So, don’t be afraid to try it out yourself!

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.