The 12 Principles of Animation

January 5, 2015 |

Animation is an art that’s been done since the early 1800’s. Since it’s start we’ve learned some techniques into making our animations more exciting and to tell better stories.

Here are the 12 principles of animation introduced to us by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

Squash and stretch.

Using squash and stretch means to make your animated object stretch in the middle of a movement and to squash at the end of it. The best example of this (and the one you’ll see millions of times if you study animation) is the ball bouncing. The ball stretches when its in the middle of it’s action because its going fast and then squashes when it hits the floor because the weight of the ball comes to a sudden stop.

Secondary animation.

You can use secondary animation by giving a secondary object of the main object movement to reflect the movement made by the main object. That may sound strange so it’s probably better to give an example. Think of dress, when a girl with a dress spins and stops immediately, what happens? The dress continues because of inertia.

Follow through

This is similar to secondary animation but is just the main object. The main object makes a fast movement and goes past the ending point of action again because of inertia. An example for this is a pitcher throwing a ball, when he releases the ball his arm keeps going and comes back to a stop. He would break his arm in a single pitch if his arm suddenly stopped as the ball released.

Ease in/ease out

To use ease in/ease out you simply need to have your animation accelerate then decelerate. Think of it like a car, a car takes time to get to the speed you want it to be and thankfully takes time to stop. momentum is not good to things that stop immediately.


Anticipation is to hint at a future movement before the actual movement. Lets use the example of someone jumping. A person doesn’t just suddenly levitate in the air like david blaine, they get low first in anticipation then spring upwards to make themselves lift off the ground.


Using arcs in your animation means to animate the movement of an object along a path that curves and is not straight. An example would be a child on a swing, they swing on an arc, not straight forward and back.


Staging is how you place your character or object in a scene. The same technique is used in acting as a few of the other principles are as well. For example, in most cases you don’t want your character to turn away from the camera. Staging also includes having good lighting and camera positioning.

Pose to pose

Pose to pose means to make clear key frames in between the motion. An example for this would be a person turning their head,  there are 2 main key frames that need to be made for the animation to work. The head pointing one way then pointing the other. You start by making those key frames and then then divide those frames and make that frame, then repeat as necessary.


Timing itself in animation is inevitable, what you need to do is use good timing and pacing to create a more dramatic effect and emotional connection with the viewer. An example would be pausing for a moment as the Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff and then takes a few seconds to reflect on his mistake before his fall.


Exaggeration is more of a stylistic choice but In most cases this makes for great animation. Exaggeration means to push movements farther in both movement and speed then they realistically would be. So instead of walking like a normal person you’d bob up really high and then really low, stretch your legs out farther and reach really far forward and back with your arms. Basically, everything Jim Carrey does in The Grinch.

Solid drawing

Having solid drawing is to give your character or object volume and make sure everything translates properly from each pose. You should try your best to give your character or object a feeling of a 3rd dimension.


To have appeal is to have charisma. The character or object has to be interesting or have reason. For example a character with giant glasses and a pocket protector is more interesting and tells a better story by itself than a character that doesn’t have any defining qualities.


You may think of these principles for just character animation but also keep them in mind for any type of animation including stop motion animation, titles, lower thirds or even UI HUD animations.

Be more interesting with everything you animate and push as far as you can.

It’s better to do that and have to dial it back than to never even try.

Here are a few simple animations that use the animation principles to create very expressive animations.


87 Seconds

Tell us what you think

Do you use the animation principles? Do you even think about it when animating?



Post Written by Matt Vojacek

Matt is the founder/art director of Zwelly Co. since 2010. Matt is also currently a motion design and web freelance artist in Columbus, OH. / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Linkedin