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Forty years ago, Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston shared the 12 animation principles, which Disney Studios followed to create astonishing lifelike effects and animations. To this day, the principles are considered the foundation of animation.

With Vyond, you can apply these 12 animation principles with little effort to create exceptional animations on your own. Learn more about these foundational principles and how to achieve them in your next video.

 

1. Squash and Stretch

The squash-and-stretch principle describes how changing an object’s shape from a squashed to a stretched position can convey movement, speed, and volume. By morphing an element for a few frames, you can make an object appear less stiff and mimic real-life movement.

To illustrate this principle in action, we created two animations of a bouncing ball. The animation on the left side follows the squash and stretch principle, making it look realistic and vivid. In contrast, the one on the right ignores the principle, making the ball look flat and uninteresting.

Example of squash and stretch

Without flexibility, movement is dull and distant from how it works in real life. The next time you animate, analyze the movements that seem robotic or unnatural and apply the squash-and-stretch principle to make them look more exciting and realistic. To achieve this in Vyond, you’ll use the continue scene feature alongside motion path to adjust the size and position of the ball in each scene as it moves. Rued Riis goes into more detail on this principle in his “Go Beyond Vyond” course.

 

2. Anticipation

Anticipation allows you to build intrigue and curiosity in a vital element or scene. You don’t just present an action—instead, you create tension toward what’s coming, making the eventual payoff more effective. Adding an extra step or scene helps viewers understand the scene better, too. Since it teases what’s coming, viewers grasp what’s happening instead of struggling to connect the dots.

Think about a baseball player preparing to hit the ball. Before swinging the bat, they could wink an eye at the crowd, or, as seen below with our Vyond character, bend their knees just before the primary action: hitting the ball.

GIF of an animated characters on a baseball field, ina baseball uniform, swinging a baseball bat

This anticipation principle builds tension for any activity that involves movement. In Vyond, anticipation is automatically built into many character actions (like this one), but next time you create a video, think about how your subject can prepare or tease the following action. While simple, this thought process means the difference between making a character fall and brilliantly delaying the action through a series of stumbles.

 

3. Staging

Avoiding confusion is the entire purpose of the staging principle. Its core message is that all elements and actions should have a clear intention or recognizable levels of importance.

In the book series Where’s Waldo?, every character from the page is competing for our attention. As a result, we struggle to find Waldo across the sea of random people, objects, and beings. Since confusing the reader is the books’ primary goal, this lack of character or action isolation is beneficial. However, in animation, simultaneously adding multiple characters, shapes, and stories will only increase the chances of overwhelming the viewer.

If we were to apply the staging principle to an animated version of Where’s Waldo?, we would outline Waldo’s body with a vibrant light while blurring the other characters to make our focus character instantly recognizable.

To properly implement the staging principle, ask yourself if your scene focuses on the main action and subject or if it’s suffering from undesired ambiguity that you can clarify.

 

4. Straight-Ahead and Pose-to-Pose

Straight-Ahead and Pose-to-Pose are two drawing techniques used in traditional animation where each frame is drawn to create a motion or action. In Pose-to-Pose, you draw the initial and last position of a moving element. Then, you start animating the transitional details between these extremes. In Straight-Ahead animation, you animate every frame until you finish the scene. Since the extremes don’t constrain you and you’re animating each frame, you can create more realistic and fluid animations than with Pose-to-Pose.

In Vyond, all of these actions and animations are already built-in, so you don’t even have to think about them. Instead of wondering if you should start with key poses or go straight into animating, you can click on any of our customizable characters and select from hundreds of ready-to-use actions.

Image of an animated character holding a guitar, facing forward, within Vyond's video editing studio

We’ve placed each action into categories so that you can quickly find one based on the story you’re telling.

 

5. Follow-through and overlapping action

Objects and living beings rarely go from movement to an utterly stiff position. After a subject stops moving, some parts follow through by bouncing or shifting positions—even though the object is mostly still. For example, while a horse can stop running after its jockey pulls on the reigns, it cannot prevent the saddle from bouncing forward after it stops moving.

Another principle based on the interaction between movements is the overlapping action principle. It points to how two moving actions can happen simultaneously but at different speeds or timing. For instance, if you were to animate a walking cat, you’d have to be mindful of the parts that would move: legs, ears, or tail. This animated prop from Vyond’s asset library shows how the tail and leg movement overlap.

Animated cat walking towards the camera with his tail wagging at the same time

Whenever you find yourself animating a moving character or object, remember that all its parts won’t move or stop at the same speed. Use the overlapping-action and follow-through principles to enhance the appeal of any scene where there’s motion. In Vyond, many character actions and animated props have this principle automatically applied.

 

6. Slow In and Slow Out (Easing)

Rockets, airplanes, and bullet trains don’t go from zero to hundreds of kilometers per hour in one second. Their movement is gradual—referred to as a slow in—and eventually accelerates to its peak. As they reach their destination, they reduce their speed—known as a slow out— to safely arrive at their target.

Yellow animated car moving slowly, quickly, and then slowly again

Let’s say you wanted to animate a car realistically. To do this, you’d first have to slow down its initial movement by increasing the number of drawings in the first frames. The process of reducing the acceleration speed is referred to as “slow in.” By adding more drawings, you are increasing the time it takes for the car to accelerate and reach a steady speed.

As the car gets closer to its target, you’d once again increase the number of drawings to extend the time it takes for the vehicle to stop. In this case, the process of reducing the stopping speed is what animators call a “slow out.”

Vyond simplifies this technique of slowing in and out with the option to add easing to a motion path. With “Ease In” you can slow a movement at the beginning of its path, and with “Ease Out” you can slow a motion at the end. With “Ease In Out” you can accomplish both at the same time. 

Screenshot of Vyond Studio where a car is selected and the Easing feature is displayed on the left

Whether you are animating a jogger or a moving car, be mindful of the movement speed at the beginning and end of a motion to add realism to your work.

 

7. Arc

In real life, movement rarely happens in a straight line. Instead, the actions of objects and living beings follow an arc or a somewhat circular path. The arc principle is derived from this idea.

A bouncing ball, for example, won’t jump straight in or straight out across the floor. Instead, it will follow a circular path across the room until it stops moving.

Bouncing basketball

Like the squash-and-stretch principle, arcs add expressiveness to what would otherwise be a robot-like motion. By looking critically at your animation, you can spot stiff actions and add a slight curve or arc—and life—to them.

Screenshot of Vyond Studio with a ball in the center and the motion path preset applied

Vyond offers various motion path presets to make achieving this principle a breeze. Some presets like “Bouncing Ball Horizontal” follow the arc principle and are a great way to show realistic movements.

 

8. Secondary Action

While a scene is often focused on a specific action, adding several minor secondary actions can add depth and interest to the primary one. Disney animators refer to this idea as the secondary-action principle.

The “Being Rejected” character action in Vyond’s library uses a withering flower as a secondary action to reinforce the act of being rejected. While the flower isn’t the center of attention, the scene wouldn’t be as intriguing without the falling petal. Similarly, the “Crossing Arms” action has a secondary action of shifting on the hip after the character folds her arms. 

Man offering woman a rose. She crosses her arms and shifts her weight without looking at him

Many character actions in Vyond have Secondary Action built-in, but you can also add them on your own. With a bit of imagination, you can come up with visuals to enhance your main movement: A dumbbell falling into the floor is great, but it’s not nearly as effective as one that drops and raises the dust around it.

Animated man lifting a weight, dropping it, and dust risesThe GIF above was created with a combination of the “weightlifting-fail” character action and the “smoke” dust animation. The timing of the “smoke” dust is set to appear right when the dumbbell falls to the ground. 

 

9. Timing

The timing in which you present an object or action influences how we perceive speed, emotion, and weight. The timing principle is nothing but a reminder for animators to be mindful of the pace and speed at which they present subjects.

An animation of a feather falling from the sky will have a consistently low speed. While predictable, it reminds us of the lightness of this object. Alternatively, a feather dropping to the ground at lightning speed will make us question (1) the weight of the feather and (2) if it was indeed a feather.

Two animated feathers falling slowly

In Vyond Studio, you can control the speed of any moving object or character depending on the weight and emotion you’re trying to convey. For example, you can use our set of tools to create slow-motion scenes to highlight critical moments of your animation.

 

10. Exaggeration

While great animation feeds from real life, exceptional animations cross into the unrealistic and absurd to heighten visual storytelling. The potential to intrigue viewers with the unimaginable is why animators ditch commonalities. They might create characters with nonsensical anatomy or that end up flat after being hit by a rubber hammer.

You can use the Exaggeration principle to emphasize a point, too. For example, in scenes where characters are fighting, you can drastically exaggerate how that fight is playing out in a cartoon-like manner.

If realism causes an animation to seem relatable, exaggeration surprises the viewer and sparks questions around what they are watching. Therefore, take poses, emotions, and expressions and brainstorm formats that you can only achieve through animation.

 

11. Solid Drawings

Solid Drawings refer to the drawings animators sketch to give 3D illusion to 2D assets. By making your elements seem three-dimensional, viewers will have a much better sense of how the object looks and compares to others.

Vyond’s Business Friendly style provides elements that follow 3D principles so that you can benefit from the advantages of three-dimensional animation without spending years learning how to draw or animate.

 

Animated man reading a book

In the GIF above you can see that the Business Friendly animation appears more 3D whereas the Contemporary style is more abstract without the Solid Drawings principle applied. 

 

12. Appeal

An overly simplistic scene can go from boring to decent if you follow Disney’s animation principles while adding motion to still elements. However, few will remember an uninteresting character or object. Appeal means making characters and objects memorable by adding unusual, charming, and engaging traits or details that people can remember.

For example, you can add a neon-colored turbine to the back of a car or make a bouncing ball stretch more than usual when it hits the wall to add interest to the scene. Similarly, you can play with your characters’ physical traits or fashion style to make them attractive and unforgettable.

A series of animated characters in different outfits

With the custom character creator in Vyond, you can generate memorable characters for your animations.

Use Vyond and Disney’s techniques to create expert-level animation

Nowadays, schools and events held by advanced animators refer to Disney’s 12 Animation Principles as the foundation of their craft. With Vyond, you don’t have to spend years in animation school to make dazzling animated videos. Regardless of experience or skill level, you can pair our tool with these principles to create realistic, engaging, and memorable animations.

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