Squash and Stretch in Animation: The Secret to Realistic Movement

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Squash and stretch is the phrase used to describe “by far the most important” of the 12 basic principles of animation, described in the book The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

Squash and stretch is a technique used to make objects and characters look more realistic when animated. It involves deforming the object to make it look like it has physical material. This technique is used to create the illusion of movement and weight in animation.

By exaggerating the squash and stretch, animators can add more personality and expression to their characters. Overall, squash and stretch is an essential tool in the animator’s toolkit for creating believable and engaging animations.

Squash and stretch in animation

Unlocking the Magic of Squash and Stretch

As an animator, I’ve always been fascinated by the power of squash and stretch to breathe life into characters and objects. This principle of animation allows us to create dynamic movements that feel more natural and believable. It’s all about the subtle changes in shape that occur as an object or character interacts with its environment.

For example, imagine drawing a bouncing rubber ball. As it hits the ground, it squashes, and as it takes off, it stretches. This change in shape directly reflects the force applied to the material and gives the animation a sense of elasticity and flexibility.


Applying the Principle with Finesse

When applying squash and stretch, it’s essential to be careful not to go overboard. The biggest challenge is striking the perfect balance between exaggeration and maintaining the object’s volume. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Test out different levels of squash and stretch to see what feels right for the object or character you’re animating. A rubber ball will require more extreme changes in shape than a heavy bowling ball.
  • Keep the object’s volume consistent. As it squashes, the sides should stretch out, and as it stretches, the sides should become narrower.
  • Pay attention to the timing of the squash and stretch. The effect should be applied smoothly and at the right moments to create a natural sense of motion.

Bringing Characters to Life

Squash and stretch isn’t just for bouncing balls – it’s a vital tool for animating characters as well. Here’s how I’ve used it to create more dynamic and expressive characters:

  • Apply squash and stretch to facial expressions. A character’s face can stretch in surprise or squash in anger, adding depth and emotion to their reactions.
  • Use the principle to exaggerate body movements. A character leaping into action might stretch their limbs for a more dramatic effect, while a heavy landing could cause them to squash momentarily.
  • Remember that different materials and body parts will have varying levels of flexibility. A character’s skin might stretch more than their clothing, and their limbs might have more elasticity than their torso.

Practice Makes Perfect

Mastering squash and stretch takes time, patience, and a lot of practice. Here are some exercises I’ve found helpful in honing my skills:

  • Animate a simple object, like a flour sack or a rubber ball, to get a feel for how squash and stretch can be applied to create a sense of weight and impact.
  • Experiment with different materials and objects to learn how the principle can be adapted to suit various levels of flexibility and elasticity.
  • Study the work of other animators and pay close attention to how they use squash and stretch to create more engaging and lifelike animations.

Mastering the Art of Squash and Stretch in Animation

Over the years, I’ve discovered that squash and stretch can be applied to almost any animation, whether it’s a character or an object. Here are some examples of how I’ve used squash and stretch in my work:

Character Jumps:
When a character leaps into the air, I’ll use squash to show the anticipation and build-up of energy before the jump, and stretch to emphasize the speed and height of the jump.

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Object Collisions:
When two objects collide, I’ll use squash to show the force of impact, and stretch to show the objects rebounding from each other.

Facial Expressions:
I’ve found that squash and stretch can be used to create more expressive and exaggerated facial expressions, making characters feel more alive and engaging.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

While squash and stretch can be a powerful tool in animation, it’s important to be aware of some common pitfalls:

Overusing Squash and Stretch:
It’s easy to get carried away with squash and stretch, but too much can make an animation feel chaotic and confusing. Remember to use it judiciously and in service of the story you’re trying to tell.

Ignoring Volume Conservation:
When applying squash and stretch, it’s crucial to maintain the overall volume of the object or character. If you squash something down, it should also widen to compensate, and vice versa. This helps maintain a sense of physicality and believability in your animation.

Forgetting About Timing:
Squash and stretch is most effective when used in conjunction with proper timing. Make sure to adjust the timing of your animation to emphasize the squash and stretch, and avoid any jarring or unnatural movements.

By keeping these tips in mind and practicing regularly, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of squash and stretch in animation.

The Art of Bouncing: Squash and Stretch in Ball Animation

As an animator, I’ve always been fascinated by the way objects move and interact with their environment. One of the most fundamental exercises in animation is bringing a simple bouncing ball to life. It may seem like a trivial task, but it’s actually a great way to learn and practice the principles of squash and stretch.

Flexibility and Elasticity: The Key to Realistic Bouncing

When animating a bouncing ball, it’s essential to consider the object’s flexibility and elasticity. These two factors play a significant role in how the ball deforms and reacts to the forces acting upon it. Here’s a quick rundown of how these factors come into play:

  • Flexibility: The ball’s ability to bend and change shape without breaking
  • Elasticity: The ball’s tendency to return to its original shape after being deformed

By understanding these properties, we can create a more believable and engaging animation.

Exaggeration and Deformation: The Essence of Squash and Stretch

In animation, exaggeration and deformation are the bread and butter of squash and stretch. As the ball bounces, it undergoes various changes in shape, which can be broken down into two main stages:

1. Squash: The ball compresses upon impact, giving the impression of force and weight
2. Stretch: The ball elongates as it accelerates, emphasizing its speed and movement

By exaggerating these deformations, we can create a more dynamic and visually appealing animation.

Applying the Principles of Squash and Stretch to a Bouncing Ball

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the practical application of squash and stretch in a bouncing ball animation:

  • Start with a simple ball shape and establish its flexibility and elasticity
  • As the ball falls, gradually stretch it vertically to emphasize acceleration
  • Upon impact, squash the ball horizontally to convey the force of the collision
  • As the ball rebounds, stretch it vertically once more to show its upward motion
  • Gradually return the ball to its original shape as it reaches the peak of its bounce

By following these steps and paying close attention to the principles of squash and stretch, we can create a lively and engaging bouncing ball animation that captures the essence of real-world physics.

The Art of Squash and Stretch in Facial Expressions

Let me tell you, as an animator, one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal is the ability to convey emotion through facial expressions. And squash and stretch is the key to unlocking that potential. By manipulating the shapes of the eyes, mouth, and other facial features, we can create a wide range of emotions in our characters.

I remember the first time I applied squash and stretch to a character’s face. I was working on a scene where the main character was completely surprised. I needed to make their eyes go wide and their mouth drop open. By squashing the eyes and stretching the mouth, I was able to produce a highly expressive and relatable reaction.

Flexibility and Elasticity in Cartoon Faces

In the world of animation, we’re not bound by the constraints of reality. Our characters can have a degree of flexibility and elasticity that real people simply don’t possess. This is where squash and stretch really shines.

For example, when animating a character giving a speech, I can use squash and stretch to emphasize certain words or phrases. By stretching the mouth and squashing the eyes, I can create the illusion of a character straining to get their point across.

Connecting Facial Movements to Body Motion

Squash and stretch isn’t just limited to the face, though. It’s important to remember that facial expressions are often connected to body movements. When a character jumps in surprise, their entire body might stretch, including their facial features.

I once worked on a scene where a character was bouncing a ball. As the ball hit the ground, it squashed and stretched, creating the illusion of impact. I decided to apply the same principle to the character’s face, squashing their cheeks and stretching their eyes as they followed the ball’s motion. The result was a more engaging and dynamic scene.


So, squash and stretch is a way of animating that allows you to create dynamic movements that feel natural and believable. 

It’s important to remember to use it judiciously, and to remember to apply it smoothly with proper timing. So, don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun with it!

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.