Secondary Action in Animation: Making Your Characters Come to Life

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Secondary action adds life and interest to scenes, making characters feel more real and scenes more dynamic. It encompasses anything that isn’t the main action, from subtle movements to big reactions. Using it effectively can greatly enhance a scene.

In this article, I’ll share some of my favorite examples.

What is secondary action in animation

Unraveling the Magic of Secondary Action in Animation

As an animator, I’ve always been fascinated by the power of secondary action in animation. It’s like a secret ingredient that adds depth, realism, and interest to our animated characters. Secondary action is the supporting cast to the main action, the subtle movements and expressions that help illustrate the character’s emotions and intentions.

Imagine a character walking across the screen. The primary action is the walk itself, but the secondary action could be the sway of the character’s tail, the twitch of their whiskers, or the movement of their arms. These subtle details add weight and believability to the animation, making it feel more alive and engaging.

Also read: this is how secondary actions fits within the 12 principles of animation


Adding Layers of Expression and Motion

In my experience, secondary action is essential for creating a sense of realism and depth in animation. It’s the little things that make a character feel more alive, like:

  • The way a character’s eyes dart around as they think
  • The subtle shift in weight as they lean into a turn
  • The way their hair or clothing moves in response to their motion

These small details might not be the focus of the scene, but they work together to support the main action and make the character feel more real and relatable.

Enhancing Interest and Engagement

Secondary action isn’t just about adding realism; it’s also about creating interest and engagement for the viewer. When I’m animating a scene, I always look for opportunities to add secondary action that will draw the viewer’s attention and keep them invested in the story.

For example, if a character is listening to someone speak, I might have them:

  • Nod their head in agreement
  • Raise an eyebrow in skepticism
  • Fidget with their hands or clothing

These small actions help to convey the character’s emotions and reactions, making the scene more dynamic and engaging.

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Supporting the Fall: The Role of Secondary Action in Action Scenes

In action-packed scenes, secondary action plays a crucial role in selling the impact and intensity of the main action. When a character falls, for instance, the secondary action might include:

  • The way their arms flail as they try to regain balance
  • The ripple of their clothing as they hit the ground
  • The dust or debris kicked up by their fall

These details help to support the main action and create a more immersive and exciting experience for the viewer.

Unveiling the Magic of Secondary Action in Animation

Picture this: a character, let’s call her Teresa, is giving a speech in front of a crowd. As she waves her hand to emphasize her point, her floppy hat starts to slide off her head. The primary action here is Teresa’s hand wave, while the secondary action is the hat’s movement. This secondary action adds depth and realism to the scene, making it more memorable and engaging.

Learning from the Masters: A Mentor-Student Moment

As an animation student, I was fortunate to have a mentor who emphasized the importance of secondary action. One day, he showcased a scene where a character leans on a podium and accidentally bumps it. The primary action is the lean, while the secondary action is the podium’s wobble and the papers falling off. This subtle detail made the scene more believable and visually appealing.

Creating Life-like Characters with Secondary Action

Incorporating secondary action in animation is crucial for creating realistic and appealing characters. Here are some key points to consider when adding secondary action to your animation:

  • Identify the primary action: Determine the main movement or action that will dominate the scene.
  • Analyze the character’s body: Consider how different body parts may react to the primary action.
  • Add depth with facial expressions: Use secondary action to enhance the character’s emotions and expressions.
  • Be mindful of timing: Ensure that the secondary action follows the primary action naturally and doesn’t distract from the main focus.

Applying Secondary Action in the Animation Industry

Secondary action is an essential tool in the animation industry, as it serves multiple purposes:

  • Enhances the character’s behavior: Secondary actions make characters more realistic and relatable.
  • Reveals character traits: Subtle secondary actions can give cues about a character’s personality or emotions.
  • Adds energy to the scene: Well-executed secondary actions can amplify the energy of the primary action.

Remember, secondary action is like the secret ingredient that makes your animation come to life. By mastering this technique, you’ll be well on your way to creating memorable and engaging animated stories.

Mastering the Art of Crafting Secondary Actions in Animation

Step 1: Identify the Primary Action

Before you can add that extra oomph to your animation with secondary actions, you need to pinpoint the primary action. This is the main movement that drives the scene, like a character walking or waving their hand. Keep in mind that secondary actions should never dominate or distract from the primary action.

Step 2: Consider the Character’s Personality and Story

When creating secondary actions, it’s important to consider the character’s personality and the story you want to tell. This will help you decide on the most fitting and impactful secondary actions to include. For example, a shy character might fidget with their clothes, while a confident character might strut with a little extra swagger.

Step 3: Brainstorm Secondary Actions

Now that you’ve got a clear understanding of the primary action and your character’s personality, it’s time to brainstorm some secondary actions. Here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Hair or clothing movement
  • Facial expressions
  • Accessories, like a swinging necklace or a floppy hat
  • Subtle body movements, like a hand on the hip or a foot tapping

Step 4: Add Depth and Realism with Secondary Actions

Secondary actions can make a world of difference in your animation, adding depth and realism to the scene. To create the finest secondary actions, follow these tips:

  • Make sure the secondary action is driven by the primary action, like a reaction or an effect
  • Keep the secondary action subtle, so it doesn’t overshadow the main movement
  • Use secondary actions to showcase the character’s emotions and personality
  • Don’t forget about the little details, like the movement of a ring on a finger or the sound of footsteps

Step 5: Animate and Refine

Now that you’ve got a comprehensive list of secondary actions, it’s time to bring your animation to life. As you animate, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Focus on the primary action first, then add the secondary actions
  • Make sure the secondary actions are in sync with the primary action
  • Continuously refine and adjust the secondary actions to ensure they complement the main movement

Step 6: Learn from the Pros

One of the best ways to master secondary actions in animation is to learn from the pros. Watch animated videos and study how they incorporate secondary actions to create memorable and impactful scenes. You can also seek guidance from experienced animators, like mentors or teachers, who can provide valuable insights and advice.

By following these steps and incorporating your own creative flair, you’ll be well on your way to creating engaging, dynamic animations that showcase the power of secondary actions. So, go ahead and let your imagination run wild – the possibilities are endless!

To truly master the art of secondary action, it’s essential to learn from industry professionals and practice, practice, practice. As a student, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who guided me through the process of creating captivating secondary actions. They taught me the importance of subtlety, timing, and choosing the right secondary actions to support the primary action.

Answering Your Burning Questions About Secondary Action in Animation

Secondary action is the secret sauce that adds depth and realism to your animated scenes. It’s the little things, like a character’s facial expressions or the way their limbs react to movement, that make your animation come to life. By creating these additional actions, you’re giving your characters more dimension and making them more memorable. Plus, it’s a sign of a skilled animator who knows how to create a convincing performance.

What’s the difference between primary and secondary action?

In the world of animation, primary action is the main event, the star of the show. It’s the action that drives the story forward and gets all the attention. Secondary action, on the other hand, is the supporting cast. It’s the subtle movements and expressions that add depth and realism to the primary action. Think of it like this:

  • Primary action: A football player kicks the ball.
  • Secondary action: The player’s other leg moves to maintain balance, and their facial expression shows determination.

How can I make sure my secondary actions don’t dominate the scene?

It’s all about finding the right balance. You want your secondary actions to enhance the primary action, not steal the spotlight. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep secondary actions subtle and natural.
  • Make sure they don’t distract from the main action.
  • Use them to support and emphasize the primary action, not compete with it.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when creating secondary actions?

Even the finest animators can make mistakes when it comes to secondary actions. Here are some pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Overdoing it: Too many secondary actions can make your animation look cluttered and confusing.
  • Timing issues: Make sure your secondary actions are in sync with the primary action, so they don’t look out of place.
  • Ignoring the character’s personality: Secondary actions should reflect the character’s emotions and personality, so they feel authentic and believable.

How can I learn more about creating secondary actions in animation?

There’s a wealth of resources out there to help you master the art of secondary action in animation. Here are some steps to get you started:

  • Study examples from your favorite animated films and shows, paying close attention to the subtle movements and expressions that add depth to the characters.
  • Seek out tutorials and courses, both online and in-person, that focus on secondary action in animation.
  • Find a mentor or join an animation community where you can share your work and get feedback from experienced animators.

Can you give me a quick quiz to test my understanding of secondary action in animation?

Sure thing! Here’s a little quiz to see if you’ve got the basics down:
1. What is the main purpose of secondary action in animation?
2. How does secondary action differ from primary action?
3. What are some tips for making sure secondary actions don’t dominate the scene?
4. Name one common mistake to avoid when creating secondary actions.
5. How can you continue to learn and improve your skills in creating secondary actions in animation?

Now that you’ve got the scoop on secondary action in animation, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to the test and create some truly captivating and lifelike animated scenes. Good luck, and happy animating!


So, secondary action is a great way to add depth and realism to your animation, and it’s not as hard to do as you might think. 

You just need to identify the primary action and consider the character’s personality and the story, and you’re on your way to a great scene with secondary action.

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.