But the wonderful fluidity and putty-like quality that draws us to animation isn’t just for Saturday morning cartoons. Squash and stretch is a fundamental part of reality. It shows the interplay and reaction of objects to external forces like speed, gravity, and stress.
Every animator has drawn the “bouncing ball,” and for good reason. It’s the simplest way to see that changing the look of a shape (in this case a circle) is the easiest way to represent motion. Heck, Richard Williams covers the bouncing ball in chapter one of his Animator’s Survival Kit, so it’s gotta be important.
Squash and stretch gives weight and flexibility to animated objects of a fixed volume. This, in turn, breathes life into an animated character or object. Squash and stretch allows an animator to distort a shape to properly convey the impression of the forces acting upon it.
Like a ball compressing as it strikes the floor, and expanding at the apex of its arc as gravity wars against momentum, squash and stretch is a real part of the physical world. It’s just harder to see in real life.
Anyone who has seen an animated picture – whether a more cartoonish approach like an old Fleischer Brothers cartoon, or the more contemporary realism of Pixar – has surely witnessed countless examples of this technique without even realizing it.
And that’s a sign that this principle is being used well. As with any form of visual storytelling, the techniques tend to operate at a transparent level, and bring the story to life without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Look at an example from an explainer for Global English.
Building aren’t exactly known for their flexibility (at least they shouldn’t be), but notice how much more lifelike the building on the right appears as he squashes slightly before stretching to lean over and console the building on the left. Can you imagine how stiff the buildings would appear if they were to remain still the whole time?
You can also see squash and stretch at play with text – like in this Eastlink animated spot.
When the letters spring from the ground, they elongate to show the impression of speed. Conversely, the letters squash horizontally when they come into contact with the ground. This conveys a sense of weight in each letter.
Squash and stretch is an animator’s bread an butter. The faster you incorporate this technique, the sooner your animation will look and feel more lifelike. Best of luck!
Click here for the second of the 12 principles of animation: Anticipation