12 tips to animate like a pro

AUTHOR:  
Published:  September 16, 2015
Maggie Hellyer

Ever wondered what it takes to bring life to your animations? I’m not sure about you but I can recall numerous times I’ve quite averagely attempted to draw figures and bestow upon them the gift of illusive motion, but in all honesty I can’t even produce a basic sketch of any of my favourite cartoon characters. My version of Bart Simpson often looks more like a squashed pineapple than Matt Groening’s infamous animated ten-year-old.

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Image courtesy of simpsons.wikia.com

Image courtesy of simpsons.wikia.com

Well guys and gals, if you’re anything like me then fear the art of animation no more because I’ve complied a list of the best tips and tricks to use when sketching and bringing to life your animations. Disney’s OG animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson published a book in 1981 titled The Illustration of Life: Disney Animation, which is basically the bible of modern animators. In the book Frank and Ollie stipulate that there are 12 Principles of Animation. More recently, artist Alan Becker created a series of YouTube tutorials to help portray these principles in a visual context. Well what are they you might ask? Here’s a quick summary for your perusal…

Image courtesy of antiqbook.com

Image courtesy of antiqbook.com

1. SQUASH & STRETCH

The more squash and stretch the softer the object. This principle is all about maintaining the volume of the object but changing its form by flattening and widening it, or increasing height and decreasing width.

2. ANTICIPATION

This refers to the small action that prepares the character for a major action. This could be a step backward and raising the knee to prepare the character to run forward with animated vigour.

Anticipation by Alan Becker

Anticipation by Alan Becker

3. STRAIGHT AHEAD ACTION & POSE TO POSE

Straight ahead means animating as you go. Pose to pose is when you draw the beginning and end of each main pose and go back later to fill in the drawings in between. Straight ahead can have its downsides as your little guy might end up getting smaller as you go or may not end up in the right place! Pose to pose is more effective in having control over the progress of your character.

4. SLOW IN & SLOW OUT

Drawing more actions in your sequence will soften the flow of movement. In effect it creates a more natural action sequence as most actions often begin slow, increase speed, and then slow down again when the action is completed.

5. ARC

Arcs are a natural human movement and a circular path lends your character better flow and realistic looking action. It’s a rule of thumb when creating actions that appear organic and natural.

Arcs by Alan Becker

Arcs by Alan Becker

6. SECONDARY ACTION

This is the subtle action after the main action. It’s a good reinforcing technique and will help to clearly communicate emotion and context. An example of this could be your character taking a bite out of a sandwich (primary action), and then close his eyes and smile afterwards to communicate enjoyment and pleasure (secondary action).

7. TIMING

Timing is important! This comes with practice and experimentation. Consider the use of fast and slow timing within actions to create texture throughout scenes.

8. SOLID DRAWING

This one is pretty obvious. Basic design principles such as form, weight, and volume solidity make characters three-dimensional.

Solid Drawing by Alan Becker

Solid Drawing by Alan Becker

9. APPEAL

Character development is key according to Frank and Ollie. Clear drawing of your character and using the right detail at the right times in frames will add dimension and help you build charisma.

10. EXAGGERATION

Use wisely! Exaggeration is a great tool to create interest and build your story and character development. Just don’t over do it!

11. STAGING

Staging helps tell the story though making use of different frames and angles and using strong poses or actions to clearly communicate what your character is up to.

Staging by Alan Becker

Staging by Alan Becker

12. FOLLOW THROUGH & OVERLAPPING

Think about time lapse. If you walk down the street on a windy day your coat or hair may swing behind you with a few seconds delay. The detail of delay in character garments and even limbs makes the action more realistic.

Well I’m going to go back to the drawing board (yes I did just use that cheesy pun), and put these principles to good use! Let us know if you have any other great tips and tricks for animation.

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