Research 2: The Illusion of Life

Began reading ‘The Illusion of Life’ written by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. It is considered one of the top animation books of all time, even referred to by some as ‘the Bible of animation’.


It gives a great history of Disney animation, though of particular interest are the 12 basic principles of animation the book introduces. These form the basis of Disney’s animation philosophy and have become very influential, being adopted by numerous animators and studios worldwide.

The 12 Principals of Animation:

    1. Squash and Stretch – Gives the illusion of weight, flexibility and volume to a character.
    2. Anticipation – The little movements that build up to an action, preparing the audience and giving the motion more realism. Eg. a character bending their knees as they are about to jump upwards.
    3. Staging – The composition and presentation of an idea so it is clear and easy to follow.
    4. Pose to Pose / Straight Ahead – Different methods of animating. The former involving creating keyframes and filling in the intervals later, the latter involving creating an animation in a linear fashion from beginning to end.
    5. Follow Through and Overlapping – Follow Through refers to the tendency when a character moves, certain parts (notably limbs, clothes, hair) take a bit longer to catch up, they ‘drag’ behind the main body. Nothing stops all at once. Overlapping action is when two actions intersect. For example when a character changes direction, his secondary parts (eg, limbs, hair, clothes) will drag a bit behind his main body (torso), overlapping the two movements.
    6. Slow in, Slow out – This involves creating more frames towards the beginning and end of movements, softening the action and making it more realistic. Fewer frames make actions feel faster and crisper, while more frames slow and smooth actions.
    7. Arcs – Natural movements tend to flow through a curved trajectory. Straight lines are rigid and create mechanical looking motion. (Perfect for machines)
    8. Secondary Action – Smaller movements and details that support the main action and add life to a scene. For example a character jumping for joy might also throw his hands in the air and laugh to emphasise his happiness.
    9. Timing – The speed of movements. Timing is everything!
    10. Exaggeration – Animation is perfect for depicting reality in a slightly caricatured manner, making it more interesting and expressive.
    11. Solid Forms – When drawing try to stay mindful of the 3D form of objects, their weight, volume, anatomy, balance, solidity, light and shadow, etc.
    12. Appeal – The quality of charm and charisma of the action. The personality development of a character, the potential for an animation to capture the audience’s imaginations, drawing their interest and inspiring empathy for the characters.

The illusion of life from cento lodigiani on Vimeo gives a lovely summary and illustration of the principals:

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