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Principles of 2D Animation

The Walt Disney Company’s first full-length feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” released in 1937, was a groundbreaking achievement that showcased the application of the 12 principles of animation.

2D animation has enchanted audiences for decades, bringing characters and stories to life with its fluid motion and captivating charm. At the core of this magic are the 12 principles of 2D animation, established by Disney animators in the 1930s. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into each principle, provide real-world examples, and uncover the profound impact these principles have had on animation.

“Animation can explain whatever man’s mind can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.” – Walt Disney

Animation can explain whatever man’s mind can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.Walt Disney

1. Squash and Stretch: Breathing Life into Characters

The principle of squash and stretch adds weight and flexibility to characters, making their movements more dynamic and believable. When a character jumps, their body stretches in the air, and when they land, their form squashes upon impact.

Example: Think of a bouncing ball. As it hits the ground, it squashes, then stretches as it rebounds. This principle is not limited to objects; characters also exhibit squash and stretch, conveying realism and expressiveness.

2. Anticipation: Building Momentum

Anticipation prepares the audience for what’s about to happen. Characters perform subtle actions before executing a larger movement, allowing viewers to anticipate the action and make it more impactful.

Example: A character lifting a heavy object will first crouch down slightly, creating anticipation before the lifting motion, adding a sense of weight and realism.

3. Staging: Guiding Attention

Staging involves presenting an idea clearly to an audience. It’s about arranging elements in a frame to focus attention on the most relevant information.

Example: In a dialogue scene, a character’s facial expressions, and gestures might be emphasized while the background remains less detailed. This is to ensure the viewer focuses on the character’s emotions.

4. Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose: Approaches to Animation

As a general rule, animation involves drawing each frame sequentially, creating a fluid and spontaneous feel. Pose-to-pose animation, on the other hand, focuses on key poses and fills in the in-between frames.

Example: Straight-ahead animation might be used for a character’s natural movement, like walking, while pose-to-pose might be more effective for controlled and deliberate actions, like a complex dance routine.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action: Realistic Movement

Follow-through refers to the secondary movement that occurs after the main action stops while overlapping action is the delayed response of different parts of a character’s body to a motion.

Example: After a character stops suddenly, their hair or clothing may continue moving due to inertia, adding realism to the animation.

6. Slow In and Slow Out: Easing into and out of Movement

Slow in and slow out involve gradually accelerating or decelerating characters’ or objects’ movements to make them appear more natural.

Example: When a character starts running, they may begin at a slower pace and gradually build up speed. Similarly, when they stop, the movement slows down before stopping completely.

7. Arcs: Mimicking Real-life Movement

Arcs follow natural motion curves, which is how real-life movement tends to occur. Animating characters along arcs adds fluidity and realism to their actions.

Example: When a character waves their hand, the motion follows a slight arc rather than a rigid straight line, mimicking human joints.

The principles continue to be taught in animation schools and are considered the foundation for creating compelling and engaging animations.

8. Secondary Action: Enhancing Character Depth

Secondary actions complement the main action and provide additional layers of movement that enhance the character’s personality and emotions.

Example: While a character delivers a line of dialogue, their subtle facial expressions or gestures might convey underlying emotions, enriching the scene.

9. Timing: Pacing and Rhythm

Timing dictates the speed of actions, influencing the mood and impact of a scene. Fast actions create excitement, while slower actions evoke contemplation.

Example: A comedic scene might use fast timing for slapstick humor, while a dramatic scene might use slower timing to build tension.

10. Exaggeration: Amplifying Expressions

Exaggeration emphasizes certain aspects of movement, expression, or actions to convey emotions more vividly, making them easily readable to the audience.

Example: In a shock reaction, a character’s eyes might pop out comically, adding emphasis and humor to the scene.

11. Solid Drawing: A Three-Dimensional Illusion

Solid drawing involves understanding three-dimensional forms and translating them onto a two-dimensional surface. This principle creates the illusion of depth and volume in 2D animation.

Example: To animate a rotating object, the animator needs to consider how the object would look from different angles, maintaining its consistency and belief.

12. Appeal: Captivating Characters

Appeal refers to the visual attractiveness and uniqueness of characters and their movements. Appealing characters are memorable and draw attention.

Example: Characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are appealing due to their distinctive designs and relatable personalities.


Although technology has expanded what is considered possible in animation, the following principles still guide 2D animation everywhere.
1. Squash and stretch.
2. Anticipation.
3. Staging.
4. Straight ahead and pose-to-pose action.
5. Follow through and overlapping action.
Slow in and slow out.
6. Arc.
7. Secondary action.
9. Timing
10. Exaggeration
11. Solid drawing
12. Appeal
The 12 principles of animation, established by Walt Disney Studios, are the fundamental concepts of traditional animation that still guide the work of 2D animators today. These principles focus on creating a sense of appeal, weight, timing, and other aspects of animation that help to create a believable and solid drawing.
As of Jul 29, 2023, the average hourly pay for a 2D Animator in the United States is $49.33 an hour. While ZipRecruiter sees hourly wages as high as $68.99 and as low as $13.94, the majority of 2D Animator wages currently range between $34.86 (25th percentile) and $66.35 (75th percentile) across the United States.
Learning to animate at a professional level takes months or even years, though students can shorten this process differently. Students with prior experience in digital design or a background in animation theory will find the tools and techniques of the process come to them faster. To become a professional 2D animator, students should focus on mastering the fundamentals of animation principles, techniques, and tools. They should also practice creating short animations and refine their technical skills in order to create high-quality animations.
You can control the animation speed by repeating the frames. The repeated frames will last longer and slow down the motion. FPS (frames per second) is important for animation, as it determines how smooth the animation looks. A higher FPS will make the animation appear smoother, but the animation will also run faster. By repeating frames, you can control the speed of the animation and make it run at the desired speed. You can also alter the FPS (frames per second). By default, FPS 24 is the standard in animation production, but FPS 12 can be a pretty good start for hand-drawn animation.
While not all animators adhere strictly to each principle in every frame, the principles provide a framework that helps create more believable and engaging animations. Animators often adapt and combine principles to suit specific project needs.
While the core principles remain unchanged, technological advancements have enabled animators to apply them in creative and innovative ways. CGI and digital tools have expanded animation possibilities while keeping principles relevant.


The 12 principles of animation are the building blocks of captivating and memorable animations. These guidelines, established by Disney animators decades ago, continue to shape the world of animation. They influence artists and filmmakers to create animations that evoke emotions, tell stories, and transport audiences into fantastical worlds. By understanding and mastering these principles, animators unlock the power to breathe life into characters and bring imagination to life on the screen.

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