Animated Video Production

The 12 Principles of Animation in GIFs

Shawn Forno 02.15.2017

If you really want to understand animation, there’s really only one source—Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation.

Created by Disney’s “Nine Old Men” in the 1930’s, these legendary animators didn’t just “revolutionize” the then fledgling animation industry by outlining and defining the techniques and uses for their 12 principles of animation—they damn near created “animation” as a viable film style.

12 principles of animation

The best part about their principles and techniques is how relevant and impactful they are, even 100 years laters. All the advances with CGI, rendering, and a host of animation software, haven’t changed the fundamentals of animation one bit.

And that’s kind of great.

(Disney’s Original “Nine Old Men” — Les Clark, Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Frank Thomas )

These Disney animation legends are directly responsible for: Snow White, Dumbo, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Pinocchio, The Rescuers, Cinderella, and so many more. They wrote the book on animation–literally.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s 1981 book The Illusion of Life lays out the 12 Principles of Animation for every situation, but enough talking. The best way to understand animation is to see it in action. So here is a full collection of:

The 12 Principles of Animation in GIFs

Squash and Stretch

This technique gives the illusion of weight and dimension to an object or character as it moves.

12 Principles of Animation GIF


Anticipation gets the viewer ready for an action that’s about to happen. It builds expectation and suspense by “loading up the movement.” Think a cartoon pulling gathering their arms and legs before dashing into the distance at supersonic speeds.

12 principles of animation


Simply put, staging is presenting a clear idea. Clarity is essential in animation, particularly reality-bending fantasy. You don’t want to lose the audience with an unexpected action.

12 principles of animation

Straight Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose

Pose-to-pose animation works from key drawings set at intervals in a scene. It’s like a blueprint. Straight ahead animation starts at the first drawing and works its way through the action to the end of the scene. It’s all about animated video production style and technique.

12 principles of animation

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Nothing in the universe stops all at once, so the same goes for animation. When a character starts or stops certain parts of their body lag behind. Follow through and overlapping action depict that echo or delay to either create realism or enhance the action.

12 principles of animation

Ease In, Ease Out

Slow in or slow out as it’s also called is about emphasizing the beginning and end of an action. The beginning of an action requires more drawings—more animations per frame—as the character “revs” into an action. More drawings = faster, fewer drawings = slower.

12 principles of animation

Picture setting a timer to photograph a car driving away from a traffic light as it turns from red to green. The first few seconds of photos will capture more shots of the car—in a smaller distance—as it ramps up to top speed. Once the car accelerates, you’ll capture fewer pictures, spaced at a uniform distance. The same is true for when that car slows down.


Almost without exception, all actions in the real world move in arcs. Swinging your arms, walkings, gestures, etc. Arcs give animation an organic natural look. There’s a reason you have to take classes to move like a robot. Animation never moves in straight lines.

12 principles of animation

Secondary Action

Secondary action is just what it sounds like—extra action. Animating additional action of items and peripheral characters and scene elements reinforces the primary action, making the entire animation seem more real and life-like. If a character trips and falls on his face, his bowler hat shouldn’t stay glued to his head.

12 principles of animation


More drawings in between each pose slows down and smooths the action. Fewer drawings makes the action faster and more snappy. There’s an element of artistic choice with timing, but generally careful attention to timing makes an animated object appear to obey the laws of physics.

12 principles of animation


Animation relies on exaggeration to convey actions and tell a story. Use all the above techniques to convey weight and reality, but employ exaggeration to punctuate moments.

12 principles of animation

Solid Drawing

Every frame should give objects the proper dimensions in three-dimensional space. This gives animated objects the illusion of volume, weight, and most importantly, substance.

12 principles of animation


While a little harder to pinpoint than the rest of the 12 principles of animation, appeal is arguably the one that separates good animation from timeless animation. Appeal is the likeability, the charm, the ineffable lifelike…reality that certain characters embody.

12 principles of animation

The waltzing scene in Beauty and the Beast. The tiny moment in Spirited Away when the heroine Chihiro taps her toes on the ground as she puts on her shoes—these are the actions that appeal to us on a fundamental level and transform “characters” into living breathing “people.”

More 12 Principles of Animation Information

Click the links in each section for in-depth information on each of the 12 principles of animation, and read Richard Williams’ seminal work, The Animator’s Survival Kit for an updated look at animation from someone who studied directly under some of Disney’s Nine Old Men.

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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