Animation is more than stringing actions together to make something move. Animation is about incorporating movement into your work intentionally to send the right message. The way you include motion into graphics can have a significant impact on how your story is perceived. The details in the movement are what bring something to life, and this is true for any motion—from animation sequences to marketing materials.
Let’s be honest… nobody understands animation better than Disney! They have proven time and again that imaginary worlds can feel so enchanting we believe them to be real. This week I learned about the 12 Principles of Animation from the book The Illusion of Life by legendary Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. These rules have been used by Disney for several decades to add layers of realism and interest to their work. The 12 principles are: squash and stretch; anticipation; staging; straight ahead/pose to pose; follow through and overlapping action; slow in and slow out; arcs; secondary action; timing; exaggeration; solid drawing; and appeal.
I found this video to be helpful in explaining and visualizing the 12 principles clearly. Once you learn about these principles, you can’t help but notice them all over. In the examples I share below, I may emphasize a specific concept for each video, but if you look closely, you’ll see plenty of the rules working harmoniously in each one.
Adding a secondary action to a character can give the scene more life. For example, a person walking might also be whistling or putting their hands in their pockets. Secondary actions should support the character’s personality, but not take away from the main action.
Throughout this introductory scene, Fry, the main character, engages in several secondary actions that add personality and mood to his character and progress the story forward. From scratching his butt while standing in the elevator, to popping open a beer or blowing the kazoo while sitting in a chair killing time.
Appeal is a character’s charisma and can be applied to both heroes and villains and any character in between. It is what makes them interesting to watch.
I think Wall-E is an excellent example of how appeal creates so much personality that we the audience can’t help but enjoy watching them on screen. In this scene, for example, appeal gives Wall-E that adoring, childlike, innocent personality that is emphasized by his trembling movements, droopy eyes, and hunched body. Eve comes off as confident, intimidating and reactive with her quick reactions, but fun to watch nonetheless. We realize she isn’t evil when she opens up her hand to the insect she nearly destroyed a second prior. Even the roach has appeal. He is friendly, curious, and braver than Wall-E with his willingness to approach Eve directly. These aren’t just fictitious characters anymore—they are personalities and emotions, and characteristic traits we either relate to, fear or admire.
Exaggeration is taking typical actions and emphasizing them to add more personality to the story and the character. Exaggeration is a vital part of animations, as it separates a “realistic” scene from something imaginary, inventive and exciting.
In this scene of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the couple is sneaking around a village trying to get to the pigeon coop. But, they don’t just crawl slowly underneath the windows. They cartwheel, swing on the hanging laundry, and do handstand back-flips over a fence. They’ve taken an ordinary scene and exaggerated it with style, acrobatics, and dance-like motions.
Anticipation prepares the audience for an action, and makes the action seem more realistic. For example, when characters like Darth Vader or the Jedi in Star Wars are preparing to fight, they pull their lightsabers in a backward motion before striking forward. This backward motion prepares the audience for the potential battle that is about to begin. It also makes their movements seem more realistic. The backward motion is what propels their strength forward. Without this, the scene would lack velocity and force, and feel weaker and more unrealistic.
Ashoka is one of my favorite Star Wars characters, and one of her most identifying characteristic traits are her fight poses—not necessarily when she is in battle, but her stance and body language before the fight.
Movement generally happens in an arced trajectory versus a straight line. For example, if you moved a pointed finger from left to right, you’ll notice is actually does so in an arc’ed fashion. Incorporating this type of motion into animation also creates a more impactful and realistic effect to your character’s movements.
When Buzz Lightyear jumps off the bed and flies through the room, you can see his movements are following an arc trajectory.
Designing Animated Brands
All of this animation talk made me excited about the idea of making something myself. So, I decided to try and animate one of my logos for the first time. Recently I designed an app for the city of Shanghai called The Shanghai Source. Shanghai is an energetic and vibrant city that I always describe as a perfect mixture of so many different things.
I had several ideas for how to animate this logo but decided to start with my most simple concept since I am new to After Effects and animation. I’m glad I decided to take my time working on something achievable because I did encounter a learning curve with the program. My goal for this iteration was to convey the idea of different elements coming together to be a part of one thing.
I’d still like to make the motion appear smoother in the design, but I think it landed in a good place for my first attempt. Going through this process has made me realize the vast potential that After Effects provides in bringing brands to life, and how valuable of a tool it is for the type of work that I do. I hope to go deeper into AE in the future and continue using it to bring brands to life in unique and compelling ways.