Breaking Down the 12 Principles of Animation into Easy to Understand Groups

As an animator, you know the 12 principles of animation are your most important tools for creating great animations whether for 2D or 3D. At least that's what you have been told and heard probably a thousand times. But implementing the 12 principles into an animation is often easier said than done. Sure, there are a few principles you probably keep in mind like anticipation, arcs, squash and stretch, but where do the other 9 principles fall? It can be easy to forget about them and find yourself really only using four or five in your animations. This is a common problem among animators; actually implementing all 12 principles into a single shot can be extremely difficult. A principle like squash and stretch is relatively easy to add into an animation and is one of the simpler principles to understand, but what about things like secondary action, and solid drawing? With secondary action you may just throw in a head turn and call it good. Suddenly you fall into the trap of only implementing a few of the principles and tossing the others to the side. This is a trap you never want to get caught up in, because it can be hard to get out. Sure, you may still say the 12 principles of animation is your rule book for all your animations, but is it really the four or five principles of animation? In order to get out of this trap, there is actually a very simple technique you can use to help you understand where each principle should fall within your animation and to help you have a better understanding of each principle. There are four main groups that the principles should fall under, technique, motion, enhanced motion and aesthetics. Once you understand these groups you'll be able to work more productively and ensure you're taking advantage of all 12 principles. Let's go over the four separate groups so you can have a better understanding of when and where each group should be utilized.

Group #1 Technique - How You Do the Animation

Group 1 This first group is really the first principles you should be implementing, these are the technique principles - how you actually do the animation. So they should be considered during the rough stages of your shot. While the principle of solid drawing may be something you consider to only be important in 2D animation, this principle applies to 3D animation as well. Solid drawing in 3D animation can really be thought of as solid posing. Each pose you create for the animation should be completely readable and have solid weight, balance and silhouette. The principle of straight ahead and pose to pose basically refers to how you go about animating the shot. This principle should really be split off into two separate principles, the first being straight ahead, and the second being pose to pose. Straight ahead is the technique of animating your shot from start to finish, creating each pose in succession. A very basic example of this would be in a walk cycle. You would create the pose for the contact, and then create the down position next. Whereas with pose to pose you might create both contact positions first, go in and then create the passing position and so on. There is no right or wrong way to implement the technique principles, it simply comes down to how you prefer to animate.

Group #2 Motion - Establishing Realistic Motion

Group 2 The motion group is really where the animation comes alive; these principles determine how your character moves. As you're creating the animation the motion principles are the ones you should really be focused on. The motion principles are the ones you are likely most familiar with. Keeping just the motion group in mind as you're getting into the meat of your animation will help ensure that your character moves in a realistic way obeying how people move in the real-world.  

Group #3 Enhanced Motion - Pushing the Principles of Motion

Group 3 This group really builds off the previous group of motion.  The principles of motion are there to help you create movement that is fluid and grounded in realism, this group of principles allows you to take that movement even further and push it to create more readable and appealing animation. Both groups are important for creating realistic motion and are really two groups you need to consider at the same point in time during your animation process. However, you can think of this group as the principles you should incorporate when pushing and exaggerating your animation as well as establishing clarity.  

Group #4 Aesthetics - Giving the Audience Something Pleasing to Look At

Group 4 This last group is really about how your shot looks and is being presented to the audience. These two principles help to grab the audience's attention. Appeal can be something as simple as a pleasing character design or appeal in a pose. Staging can be setting up the proper camera angle, to the distance between two characters or the background elements.

Creating a List

List Keeping a sticky note of the 12 principle of animation on your desk at all times is a good way to remember them and refer back to them as you're animating, but simply having the list in no real order makes it very difficult for you to actually know when and where you should be incorporating a principle into your animation. Knowing what group each principle falls under will help you establish a game plan with your animation. Each group should be used at a certain stage in your animation, this allows you to work more logically and only focus on a few of the principles. Instead of simply having a list of all 12 principles make a list like the image above, so you can see which group the principles fall under as you're working. It's also a good idea to separate pose to pose into its own principle, just because those are two completely different techniques. As you're working on your animation think about what stage you're currently at in the process and figure out what group of principles you should be implementing. Obviously you'll be spending most of your time within the motion principles group, but by separating them it will allow you to focus on certain areas, because it's better to work in smaller chunks than try to make sense of all 12 principles at once. If you want to learn more about the 12 principles of animation check out The 12 Principles of Animation in Maya.