Isqua Istari

The Wise Wizards

Principles of Animation

Posted in Articles by Ziggy Tuesday July 19, 2016 at 10:11

There are a classic set of “Twelve Principles of Animation” which some Disney guys came up with based on their experiences, and by all accounts they have held up fairly well. What I’d like to do here is explore the principles, draw out some patterns I’ve noticed, and then offer some guidelines of my own.

So, for reference, here’s the video that kicked off my drive to write this article. And here is the list of the 12 principles that he lists, and which I’ll be exploring:

  • Squash and Stretch
  • Anticipation
  • Staging
  • Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
  • Follow Through and Overlapping Action
  • Slow in, Slow out
  • Arcs
  • Secondary Action
  • Timing
  • Exaggeration
  • Solid Drawing
  • Appeal

So, that’s a lot of stuff to think about when you’re animating. I’m not going to go into detail on the meaning of each of these points (which is done well elsewhere by others). What I want you to notice is that twelve things is at the upper bounds of what a person can simultaneously hold in their mind at once. Most days you’d be lucky to remember seven or eight things at once! So let’s see if we can simplify this at all.

The first pattern that jumps out at me is the similarity between Follow-through, anticipation, and secondary action. Those three all have to do with things happening at the same time. Let’s call this quality Coincidence.

Next, there are a lot of points here about the nuts and bolts of animation. Solid drawing, timing, slow-in slow-out, pose to pose, those all have to do primarily with simply getting the animation down on paper in the right order, and having the images transition in a sensible way. So, another quality is Mechanics.

Finally, the rest of these aren’t really about the animation itself, but have more to do more with how the animation is perceived. Appeal is the obvious example, but exaggeration and staging are pretty clearly subjective as well. How about Style for this quality?

So, that gives us something like the following:

  • Mechanics
    • Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
    • Slow in, Slow out
    • Timing
    • Solid Drawing
  • Coincidence
    • Anticipation
    • Follow Through and Overlapping Action
    • Arcs
    • Secondary Action
  • Style
    • Squash and Stretch
    • Staging
    • Exaggeration
    • Appeal

Now, you could make a good case that arcs and staging belong in mechanics, and I’d agree with you, because after further pondering, I found that most of the twelve principles exhibit two or even three of the qualities! That’s a good sign that these guidelines are well thought out! They have strong common themes running through them! In fact, if these three qualities are true, we should be able to mix and match them to come up with a new set of principles of animation.

Let’s do that.

Let’s do it right now!

The Seven Principles of Animation

The seven principles (there are actually eight) are composed of various combinations of the three Qualities of Animation: Mechanics, Coincidence, and Style.

First, the three unary principles.

  • Execution: Mechanics. Animation often requires presentation of multiple images which portray a sensible scene and progress sequentially in a sensible order at a sensible speed.
  • Complexity: Coincidence. Animation of a sequence of events should layer the events over each other, with each anticipating the next, and reacting to the previous. Primary events should be caused by, and should cause, many secondary events (and so forth with tertiary events (for as many recursions as desired)). Connect motion elements within the animation using lines, arcs, and repeated motion.
  • Sympathy: Style. Animation must present a single unified aesthetic and presentation ideal. This ideal should be in reasonable accord with the ideals of your audience.

Then, the three binary principles.

  • Staggering: Mechanics and Coincidence. Provide sufficient spacing between events (even ones which are ostensibly simultaneous or separated by large amounts of time) to allow perception and recognition. Constrain the depth of layering to maintain the desired experiential pace.
  • Juxtaposition: Coincidence and Style. Associate like ideas with adjacent presentation. Create comedy by linking unlikely cause-effect chains. Create tragedy by foreshadowing expected negative causality, and heroism by foreshadowing expected positive causality.
  • Mood: Style and Mechanics. Limit jarring contrasts in abstraction and stylization to appropriate situations. Keep in mind the attention the audience can spare. Provide enough detail and nuance to engage without so much as to overwhelm. Start with stylization sufficiently familiar to allow audience recognition. If unfamiliar stylization is necessary, introduce it over the course of the work.

Finally, the ternary principle, with the coincident ternary un-principle.

  • Harmony: Mechanics, Coincidence, and Style. Balance and maximize sensibility, simultaneity, and idealization.
  • Freedom: Animate whatever you want, however you want to animate it.

This article is really more of a challenge to myself than anything else. I did something similar with writing, where I read a bunch of stuff about how to write stories and then I decided to develop my own ideas and test them out. I’m not trying to throw out everything we know so much as re-organize it in a way that makes more sense to me (and hopefully will make sense to you as well).

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