April 8, 2022

Top 5 Essential Animation Concepts to Get Started in Animation

animation concepts

Find out the uses of animation concepts in marketing and its advantages.

animation concepts

It is fairly common that people automatically think of Disney movies and cartoon characters whenever they hear the word “animation”. Not surprising though since animation often reminds us of childhood cartoons and the lighthearted times while watching drawings come to life. But more than as reminders of fun and youth, the use of animation has evolved in a lot of ways, not only in the world of entertainment but more in the business industry.   

Interesting animation concepts are widely used for advertising because it has been proven to be effective at improving marketing campaigns. Businessmen and marketers integrate animation into their marketing plans with the goal to grab and keep the attention of the audience.

Like other design concepts, an animation starts with an idea that grows and keeps on getting bigger and better. There are infinite uses of animation in marketing and it would be an advantage to know everything about it. But first, you need to find out about essential animation concepts before getting started in animation.  

5 Animation Concepts

Nowadays, if you can imagine it, there is a fair chance that you can create it and breathe life into it through animation. But did you know that there are different types of animation? These are:

1. Traditional 

As the oldest form of animation, the traditional type used to be the most dominant medium for animation productions.  It is kind of similar to the flipbook concept but it involves drawing objects on celluloid translucent paper. Every frame must be drawn to create movement. Although you need to have exceptional drawing skills to do this type of animation, the advantage is that you have unlimited creative freedom to create whatever you can imagine.

2. 2D

The same principle of drawing frame by frame is used for 2D animation. The key difference is that you are using software to digitally draw the characters. It is a simplified process than drawing using pencil and paper. It is faster to create movement thus saving both time and money during production.

animation concepts

3. 3D

Undoubtedly the most popular type, 3D animation uses advanced 3D animation resources to create characters and objects and then manipulate them to move. The main advantage of using 3D is that everything can be animated with the right software.

4. Motion Graphics

With this animation type, pieces of digital graphics are used to create an illusion of motion. It is often used to create multimedia projects where motion graphics are added with sound. Advertisers can play around with motion graphics better compared to other types of animations because there is no need to humanize different graphic elements, like shapes and text. This is why you can often see it on animated logos, explainer videos, and other types of promotional videos.

5. Stop Motion

The same mechanics of traditional animation are also applied to stop motion but instead of drawings, physical objects are used to create movements. The objects are adjusted in small increments and a photo is taken for each frame. This is repeatedly done until all frames in a scene are completed. It is like a flipbook but photos are used to animate the characters and objects.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all types of animation. Traditional and stop motion, for example, are labor-intensive but it gives the most organic and naturally-appealing results. It seems easier to use computer programs to create 2D and 3D animations but it requires having the ability to use different software and tools.

It takes more than a good imagination and brilliant drawing skills to create animations. You also have to be familiar with different tools of the trade to ensure excellent quality output. At the end of the day, it is a must to pick a medium that you have read up, researched, and found comfortable to work with to execute the animations perfectly.

12 Animation Principles

In a nutshell, the animation is a process by which figures are manipulated to portray movements. Technology has drastically improved the traditional methods of animation but what remains are the 12 principles of animation that underpin all motion work.

Animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, first discussed 1981 the 12 principles of animation in their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. These principles were derived from what they have observed in the work of Disney animators.

As the basis of all animation work, you need to understand each of these animation principles so that you can elevate your motion work to the next level:

1. Squash and stretch

Considered to be the most important principle, squash and stretch is the flexibility of objects to add appeal to a movement by exaggeration. It provides the illusion of gravity, weight, mass, and flexibility to characters as you convey the physical properties as they move and react to other characters and the surroundings. 

A great example of this principle is a bouncing ball where it gets squished as it hits the ground and stretches as it bounces up. By applying squash and stretch, the natural bouncing motion of the ball to the ground gets exaggerated, making the movement look more alive. Take note that you have to keep the volume of the object consistent as it squishes and stretches. So, with the ball, it must get wider as it touches the ground and then gets thinner as it is tossed up. 

animation concepts

2. Anticipation

This motion prepares the viewer for what will happen next to the character. For an action to look real, it must contain anticipation, not only to increase momentum but also to give the audience an idea of the movement. For instance, the character has to leap from the ground. Bending the knees before springing into action is anticipation. It would look too unrealistic or comical if the character leaps right up without bending the knees first.  

Showing a progression of actions can help sell believable movements. With anticipation, the animator is able to tell a complete story that is distinctly rich. The effect makes for realistic actions as opposed to without anticipation where actions look bland and awkward. 

3. Staging

Much like creating the artwork composition, staging is the setting up of the scene. It involves deciding where to place the characters, choosing the background and foreground, the angle of the camera, lighting, shadows, etc. It should also demonstrate the exact reaction or attitude of the character in relation to all other details in the frame. Suffice to say that staging ensures that each element complements the others to create unity in the course of storytelling. 

Paying close attention to all details in the scene is what staging is all about. The viewer, for example, will be able to have a good sense of the physical layout of the character’s environment while it moves. It is like crafting the geography of the frame where you are guiding the viewer to look at the most important parts of the frame. It helps direct the focus on what is happening so that the audience effectively understands the story. 

Since you are deliberately keeping the attention of the viewer where you want it, you need to also keep distractions to a minimum. This means that the background or other stage elements must not be distracting. The character’s actions should stand out so avoid having too many simultaneous actions. A clear action at a time is more effective at conveying an idea. 

4. Straight-ahead action and pose-to-pose

When creating an animation, you need to make a technical decision of whether you create movement with many in-between poses together with the main poses or do it methodically with limited poses. 

In the pose to pose method, you need to prepare key pictures or poses to map out the whole scene. A beginning and end frame will have a few keyframes in between to create a dramatic motion effect. This is used when an action has no neat delineations that will break a sequence into portions. The keyframes are usually done by senior or head animators. The assistants will then have to fill in the blanks so that the beginning and end frames are connected and produce action. 

Meanwhile, in the straight-ahead method, the motion is drawn frame-by-frame. The action is revealed one after another which allows for more fluid and realistic movements. Unlike in pose to pose where you can see where the character is at the beginning and the end, straight-ahead gives room for improvisation. You can add as many frames as you want to revitalize the movements and make them seem more real. 

animation concepts

5. Follow through and overlapping action

This is the idea that nothing comes to a stop all at the same time. Let us have a running girl as an example. In following through, some parts of the body, like hair and the dress, continue to move even when the character has already come to rest. It continues to move for a few frames more before it comes to a full stop. As with overlapping action, the arms, legs, and the head may not be moving at the same rate. 

Follow through and overlapping actions are added flourishes that refrain the character from looking rigid and lifeless. In reality, hair is lighter than the rest of the body so it naturally floats in the air for a bit before settling to a stop. The limbs are also loosely associated with the trunk so it is natural to see that the pair of arms and legs move one after the other and not together at once. 

6. Slow in and slow out

Otherwise called ease-in and ease-out, this principle is about having acceleration and deceleration of movement. There must be some kind of transition in-between frames to emphasize the keyframes.  

A movement becomes more fluid and realistic when you carefully control the changing of speed. It is like when you start and stop a car. You start by moving slowly and try to gain momentum before actually speeding up to drive. As you brake, the reverse happens and you slow down before coming to a stop.

This principle is applied by adding more frames at both the beginning and end of the action sequence.

7. Arc

By gravity, all objects follow a path when they are moving. This is how physics works and it would be best to stick with this law when doing animation. Instead of creating motion in straight lines, and arc helps smooth the animation and complete the action in a more realistic manner. 

Take for example the movement of the pendulum. It forms a perfect arc as it swings. The arm also moves along in an arc when throwing a ball. Without an arc motion, the action will look like a straight stick is throwing the ball which is both unnatural and unappealing. 

8. Secondary action

To intensify an action, there should be other sets of actions that will emphasize or support the main action. A secondary action aims to add dimension to the scene and gives the characters more depth, solidity, and appeal. It enriches the animation and provides an insight into the character’s thoughts or personality. 

A secondary action may be gestures, emotional cues, or any subtle movements such as fidgeting, facial expressions, and the movement of hair as the character walks. Another example is when two characters are talking and the other one is scratching his head in confusion. These secondary actions are all indicators of how the character is feeling during a particular scene. 

9. Timing

The number of frames in between poses to demonstrate movement will tell how fast or slow the motion is going to be. Sharp and quick motions result from using fewer frames while having more frames would give you a smooth and slow animation. 

Developing a good sense of effective timing will give a believable effect. It would help you control the mood and reactions to make them appropriate according to the story. You can use a variety of quick and slow timing but the ultimate rule is to be consistent with how an object moves in the real world unless you are creating an imaginary world. 

10.  Exaggeration

Although the point of animation is to mimic real-life movements, too much realism can actually make it look static and boring. You can make the action more appealing by pushing the movement further or exaggerating. 

With exaggeration, you can apply greater expression, add dynamic poses, and be more precise with the character’s traits, behavior, and motions. It can either be for a dramatic or comedic effect but the goal is to enhance the storytelling so that the audience will be entertained. 

In most instances, the facial features are usually exaggerated to help get the point across. The feeling of bewilderment, for example, will not be effective with only a small gasp. Stretching the eyes wide open or having the jaw fall to the floor will not only be funnier but also validate the comedic concept of the story. 

11. Solid drawing

The technical ability to keep the accuracy of volume, weight, balance, and anatomy of characters is significant in effectively conveying action. The drawings should be clear, expressive, and consistent. 

In order to achieve this principle, it is a must that you learn the basics of drawing. Understand the form and anatomy of a human, and how lights and shadows affect how weight and volume appear on the screen. It is crucial that the perspective and foreshortening are consistent the frame to frame or things will fall apart. 

12.  Appeal

The character’s charisma or relatability can influence how the viewer accepts and understands the animation. You need to have characters that look real, interesting, and engaging. Make them attractive by playing around with a variety of shapes and proportions. You can highlight the defining features of a character to give it more personality. Take note that starting with a strong character development will help you tell a solid story through animation.

Being a good animator does not happen overnight. A truly great artist has to practice earnestly before starting to create the best work. The sooner you start practicing, the better you are going to be with animation. Learning about the 12 animation principles is an awesome place to start as a beginner. Consider them as your ultimate guide for creating splendid and realistic animations.

Skills of a Good Animator

animation concepts

Animation stirs the imagination and inspires a designer to create. Although technology has improved the animation process so much that the results are more lifelike, nothing beats having a set of skills that must be innate to every animator.

1. Creative Thinking

There are plenty of animation resources to help you out but you need to stock on a lot of creative juices to make any project stand out. You must be able to have unique animation concepts to keep the audience interested in your work.

2. Attention to Detail

In order to mimic real-life details, an animator should have very good attention to detail. Adding some depth by paying particular attention to the tiniest details is the key to having breathtaking animations. 

3. Knowledgeable and Skilled

animation concepts

This pertains to the ability of an animator to use different software, tools, and techniques in the animation industry. Animation technology moves so fast and you need to be adept at learning new trends in order to stay relevant and stay on top of the game.

4. Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills are important in any industry bust most especially for animators. Different clients and projects require a variety of requirements and guidelines. Communication plays a huge role in fully understanding what a client wants in order to deliver the most satisfactory output.

5. Time Management Skills

You must be efficient and deliver on time with every project. You can only meet the deadlines if you are able to manage your time well across all stages of the animation process. It is also a skill that you need to have if you want to keep a good work-life balance as an animator.

All tricks and tools of the trade can be learned along the way but these skills plus a passion to create and resilience to adapt to developing technology are what will make you an exceptional storyteller using the art of animation.

animation concepts


Animation is an art that requires not only passion but also a lot of patience and practice. Passion can’t be fake but most of the time, it is all hard work.

Like every professional animator, you need to start by mastering the fundamentals and learn about all animation tips. Do not stop at knowing the meaning and purpose of the 12 animation principles. Once you have pinned them down, it is necessary that you spend more time practicing your skills and familiarizing the different tools and software. Implement these principles and you will be sure to create stunning animations. The more time you practice, the better animator you will become in the future.