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12 Principles of Animation - Robbie character

Make Your Animation Imitate Life Using Disney’s 12 principles

Make Your Animation Imitate Life Using Disney’s 12 principles

Make Your Animation Imitate Life Using Disney’s 12 principles

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Animation is a series of pictures that tells a story with movement, but it takes a special skill to make us believe in an onscreen personality. Walt Disney understood this very well, and he had a unique formula to make his characters appear lifelike. He wisely instructed Disney animators using twelve principles of movement that he borrowed from the real world, astonishing viewers when his drawn characters sprang to life.

Let’s watch Robbie the Rich Media robot demonstrate the effectiveness of Disney’s 12 principles using Vine videos. Take it away Robbie!


Squash and Stretch

Watch Robbie’s torso as he jumps. Notice how it doesn’t stay perfectly rounded? It bends, squashes and stretches like a tennis ball striking a tennis court. This approach makes objects act as we’d expect so it doesn’t look like Pong.


Robbie doesn’t just zip forward. He winds up, leans back and uses his whole body to shoot forward like a sprinter blasting out of the starting blocks. Walt knew that without this anticipation, momentum and gravity appears off.


Front and center during his performance, Robbie waves and smiles to catch our attention. This staging approach uses a dramatic movement by the character or a prominent position in the frame to ensure that the audience’s eye stays focused on the most important character or activity.

Pose to Pose

Notice how Robbie pauses before swinging his arms? It emphasizes that move so when he switches to his next step we see him dance. Pose to pose helps call out key frames in a movement to show the character’s kinetic energy. It causes our minds recognize patterns in the movement.

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Watch Robbie sway back and forth as if blown by the wind. Notice how his antennas bounce and swing more wildly than his torso. Including these subtle speed differences captures a body in motion, showing the natural physics of a character’s ‘skeleton’ underneath.

Slow In and Slow Out

See Robbie fly back and forth with his movements blurred for emphasis. The mind anticipates the beginning and ending of an activity. To mirror this kind of action, an animator adds more frames at the beginning and the end with fewer key frames in between to give the illusion of speed or slow motion, giving dramatic emphasis to starting and stopping.


Robbie is swinging upside down like a monkey to show that bodies move in arcs. Notice how his arms follow a natural sweeping motion through the air. Without moving shoulders and elbows or arms and legs on an arc, animated movements would be jerky and mechanical instead of natural and smooth.

Secondary Action

Will Robbie keep the ball in the air or drop it? Watching his smile and balancing arms we see how hard he’s concentrating to keep it bouncing. Also notice that he’s blinking the odd time from the impact – all these subtle movements make for a richer animation experience. Disney made it clear: secondary action should enhance the primary activity, or it should be left out.


Just like people, each unique character should move in its own manner. See how Robbie floats gracefully through the air while another character might move in a clumsy fashion. Walt knew that timing shows that personality in action, and more important, tells us about that character too.


Boo! Did Robbie scare you? Big movements and changes in size and proportion help emphasize emotions and provoke an audience reaction. An adept animator can exploit exaggerations to create moments ranging from the poignantly serious to the wildly comical.

Solid Drawing

In this Vine video, Robbie shows how his solid form interacts with his blueprint. Clever Walt understood that it’s natural for the audience to look for the volume and the three dimensional wholeness of characters and objects in their world.


See Robbie transform his appearance to romance the audience. The subtle wardrobe change makes him immediately more appealing and likeable. A great animator will adjust the eyes and facial expressions to express subtle quirks and characteristics, creating a unique appeal for each character.

Disney’s twelve techniques transform static, choppy animation into life-like fluid movements eagerly anticipated by the human eye. Decades later, Disney’s animated features continue to engage audiences with the genius of its lifelike characters. Thanks Robbie! After that amazing demonstration, you’ll need a recharge.

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