The Twelve Principles of Animation are a set or rules for animators as described by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their 1981 book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.
Based on the work of Disney’s leading animators from the 1930s onwards, the 12 Principles help and encourage animators to create the illusion of reality and emotional appeal through timing, staging and, crucially, by adhering to basic laws of physics.
Despite the great technological changes that have taken place in the animation industry since the 1930s, Johnson and Thomas’ book remains for many the ‘Bible of Animation’.
This is the addition of rubberised or elastic qualities to an object (but without altering its volume) in order to give dynamism and an illusion of life to an object or character.
Anticipation refers to the addition of minor action that suggests another greater action is about to take place. It prepares the viewer and draws them in. It is a very effective dramatic effect used in setting up a scene add for adding credibility.
Staging refers to the presentation of an idea, concept or character in a way that makes it
clear to the viewer what the focus of their attention should be. This is important visual information for understanding the narrative and so should be presented as one idea at a time.
A concept is normally presented in contrast to whatever is happening around it so that attention is focussed on it.
Straight ahead action refers to drawing a scene, frame by frame, from start to finish. This approach allows for very creative and spontaneous action and may feature a lot of detail. Maintaining proportions (using traditional tools at least) when creating it can be a challenge for the animator.
Pose to pose is a more planned process where timing is very important. Initially, the animator only draws the key frames from a scene such as one at the beginning, some in the middle and one the end and then ‘tweens’ or fills in the intervening frames later.
Follow through relates to the termination point of an action. It is based on the fact that actions rarely come to a complete and abrupt halt without some continuation beyond the termination point. Though often exaggerated, it helps make movement appear realistic
Overlapping refers to the start of one action before the previous action has ceased and is based on the fact that different parts of an object or a body move at different rates depending on their weight or volume.
Often referred to as easing in and easing out, this relates to a requirement for greater detail at the beginning and at the end of a movement or scene. A greater number of drawings at the beginning and the end of an action, mirrors and/or exaggerates human actions that characterised by acceleration initially and later slowing down.
An arc describes the visual path of action from one extreme to another. Curved arcs are used extensively in animation to convey a motion that is more expressive than if the action were conveyed along a straight line path. However, the faster an action, the flatter the arc becomes.
A secondary or supplementary action adds life to a scene or character but should not so much as to upstage or overshadow the main action. It helps imbue the character with more personality and depth.
Timing refers to the speed of an action and is conveyed by the number of frames used in depicting that particular action. The faster the action, the fewer the number of frames that are used; the slower the action the greater the number of frames used.
Timing is important for many reasons. It is important for maintaining a realistic narrative pace that keeps the viewer’s attention. It must also be considered in relation to the physical properties such as the mass and weight of an object; the heavier an object the more time it will take to accelerate.
Exaggeration is used to emphasise particular traits of an object or character by making them bigger, faster, greater, worse, etc. with a view to highlighting their significance in a scene or story. It generates interest while capturing and directing the attention of the viewer. In animation, a totally realistic portrayal may come across as being dull.
Exaggeration is often used for comic effect and hyperbole but may also be characteristic of a particular style or genre of animation.
The animator’s approach to exaggeration should be balanced as too many exaggerated actions in a scene is likely to be uncomfortable to watch.
Characters and objects need to look ‘realistic’. They need to look like they have three-dimensional qualities even though they have been created and are presented on a two-dimensional plane.
The core skills of the animator are required here. Knowing how to convey light, shadow and space and how to create shapes with weight and volume is crucial to being able to draw a character from every angle so they look real.
A cartoon character needs to appeal to viewers in order for it to be of interest to them. Creating appeal for a character relies on the ability of the animator to give personality to the character and to imbue it with human qualities that we identify with - whether good or bad. This is achieved in part through giving the character distinctive facial features and expressions but, as with humans, it also depends on body language and other qualities that, over time, allow for the character to be developed.
At the time of their inception, the 12 principles were considered to only apply to hand drawings. However, as cartoonists and artists have realised, these principles are fundamental to the drawing process, and have survived as a key guide in the digital age. And long may they last!
Have a look at this video for a more visual description of the 12 principles: The Illusion of Life.
And this tumblr page: http://the12principles.tumblr.com/