The 12 Rules of Animation

5. Motivation

The main character’s face tells us something unpleasant is about to happen

Somewhat linked to staging and anticipation, motivation occurs when one action clearly shows that another action is about to take place. Imagine that you are animating a car speeding off from a crime scene. When the engine starts, the car shudders. You can exaggerate this movement to let the viewer know that the car is ready to zoom off the screen.

6. Secondary action

Secondary actions reinforce the main action: here the character reacts after the telephone gives him an electric shock

A secondary action is any action that results from the main action. Examples could include your character’s tummy wobbling after he has jumped from a great height or an exaggerated facial expression of agony after Tom has been hit on the toe by Jerry.

Like anticipation, secondary actions can be used to help to strengthen the idea or feeling you are trying to portray. One thing to avoid is making the secondary action more prominent than the main action, since it can then distract the viewer and detract from your intended message.

7. Overlap

In this scenes from the forthcoming Cars 2, a focus on the characters’s expressions tells you more about the danger they are in than the explosion behind them

Overlap is when one action overlaps another. Imagine you are sitting at the breakfast table; you take a bite of your toast and then have a sip of tea. You may still be putting the toast back down on your plate with one hand while putting the cup of tea to your lips with the other. These are overlapping actions.

It’s very important to apply this rule to make your animations flow nicely and have a natural rhythm. In real life, very seldom does one action finish completely before another starts.

If you are new to animation, it may seem natural for you to animate actions in sequence, one after the other. You should avoid doing this because it can make your animations look rigid and unnatural if you don’t overlap the actions. This will take some practice, but a good tip is to animate the actions individually first and then try overlapping them by adjusting groups of keyframes along the timeline. With this technique, you don’t have to get the timing right the first time.

8. Follow-through

What is the most important thing to Scrat in the Ice Age series of films? His facial expression leaves no room for doubt

Follow-through is, again, something that occurs in nature and is often exaggerated in animation. Think of a golfer taking a swing at a ball. The golf club doesn’t stop suddenly when it comes into contact with the ball; it follows through and then gradually comes to a halt.

Another kind of follow-through is when a cat flicks its tail. After the cat has flicked the base of the tail, a wave of action will follow through to the tip of the tail, even though the base has stopped moving. This wave action can be observed everywhere in nature. Think of the way fish flip their tails and bodies to swim. People show this kind of wave action in their movement as well, although not always as elegantly as a cat or fish.

The human body sways as it steps from foot to foot when walking. When you are using natural elements like water, plants, people and animals in your animations, you should try your best to create fluid waves of movement.

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