The 10 Basic Principles of Traditional Animation (For Newbie)

The 10 Basic Principles of Traditional Animation (For Newbie)

Every profession or trade requires basic rules or at least a common language to unify some criteria. In most cases, there is an elementary guide that allows the development of this activity, facilitating new generations. This guide, which has been shaped by those who experience, has allowed them to innovate and transmit that knowledge. Animation does not escape this. Although it is always sought to renew in this industry, it is essential to maintain some aspects and respect them. Whether we do traditional animation or a motion graphics company in Spain, we must know the principles governing our trade.

What are the 10 principles of animation?

Thus, in 1981, animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas from Walt Disney Animation Studio presented their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. In this work, they compiled the experience obtained in Disney studios since 1930. Since then, it has been considered one of the main lessons to be taught among animators who start their way in this fascinating world.

This great legacy has left us with 12 principles of animation that every animated story must follow, at least in its traditional conception, and that allows it to be adapted to 3D animation. Without further ado, let's look at each of these principles.

Stretch & Shrink / Compression & Stretch (Squash & stretch)

ste principle, the idea adds weight and flexibility. I was stretching and shrinking consists of deforming the animation object, increasing the sensation of movement. In turn, a more comic or dramatic effect is created.


Anticipation helps guide the viewer's gaze to where the action is about to occur. In other words, the observer is prepared for an act that makes the performance more realistic. So we have that, through this technique, we seek to keep the audience expectant.


Among the 12 principles of animation, this is to direct or define what is most important in the observer's field of vision. This can be done using lights, shadows, squares, among others. The objective is to clarify the idea of ​​what happens on stage.

Direct animation and pose to pose (Straight ahead & pose to pose)

They are two different animation techniques. Direct involves drawing a scene frame by frame from beginning to end. It creates an illusion of fluidity and dynamism in the movement; it allows for realistic sequences, although it is difficult to maintain precise proportions and perspectives.

While from pose to start, drawing the essential pictures or poses and then filling in the spaces.

Complementary and overlapping actions (Follow through & overlapping)

They are closely related animation techniques since they help give movement realism and provide the illusion that an object is moving, respecting the inertia principle.

With the complementary action, the object's separate pieces must continue their movement even after the object has stopped moving. While the superimposed action, it is applied when the different elements of the object move in different ways, depending on their relationship with the main object and the speed at which it moves.

Accelerate and decelerate / Slow in & slow out / Easy In - Easy Out

In reality, objects do not go from absolute rest to continuous motion in one step. Instead, it takes time to speed up or slow down. In this sense, a starting and braking effect must be created that gives more realism.

Arcs (Arcs) among the 10 principles of animation

In the real world, movements generally follow a circular path; very few things move in a straight line. The same should happen in an animated story. Without this element, the creation would feel rigid and mechanical. So they must create arcs in the movements of the characters.

Secondary action

The main action can be emphasized by adding additional moves. The secondary action should never be marked more than the dominant action so that the viewer is not distracted.

Synchronization (Timing)

It refers to the times when something happens in the animation. This element adds rhythm and excitement to work. It is directly related to the action's speed in the scene; that is, it determines the pace and duration in which a character acts. This technique allows you to create humor and emotions in essence.


The exaggeration presents the characters' characteristics and actions in a powerful way to achieve a comic or dramatic effect. With this resource, the emotional appeal is increased, and the narrative exalts. However, it is essential to maintain harmony between the elements using the technique with a specific objective.

Solid/solid drawing

It means representing shapes giving the illusion of volume and weight on a flat-screen. To achieve this, it is necessary to apply basic concepts such as perspective, volume, weight, balance, lighting, etc. Another aspect to consider is that the montage must maintain coherence and be consistent both in an individual pose and with all those that make up that animation.

Attractive (Appeal)

Finally, the last principle has to do with what the audience will remember at the end of the play. The characters that feel real, interesting, and attractive are remembered, it is what we would call the character's charisma. What is sought is for the public to connect with those characters. After all, the animator's job is to give a character life and soul. The appearance must also be solid and attractive.

So far, they have brought us these 12 principles of traditional animation, which every animator must follow to adapt it to their needs and what they seek to convey. This legacy, left by animation greats, should not be taken as unbreakable rules. On the contrary, they should be a guide that will allow you to obtain the best possible results. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that technology advances, and to that extent, it will be necessary to have an open mind to adapt and reinterpret these principles to the new times.