The Magic Behind Disney Animation


 Apart from theme parks, Disney is known for their brilliant animated movies. In fact, that is where Walt Disney started: animation! His love for drawing carried him to great heights where he came up with the beloved Mickey Mouse. Walt had not only mastered the art of animation but he transformed it.

 The real question is: how did Walt create such magnificent animations? What makes Disney’s animated films unlike any other out there? Well it all has to do with something animators call the 12 Principles of Animation! These 12 principles are the guidelines of how to successfully master animation. Walt knew mastering these steps truly makes drawings come to life.

 What are the 12 principles of animation and who came up with them? Well when animation first blossomed in the late 1800’s, these principles were not set in stone. A lot of experimenting went on and Disney was one of the first to master these. The 12 principles of animation were first introduced by the Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (1981). They based their book on the leading Disney animators of the 1930’s onward, and their effort to create more realistic animations.

   Now we get down to these 12 guidelines:



1)    Squash and Stretch: Known to be the most important principle, the purpose of this is to give a sense of weight and flexibility to

 drawn objects. It can be applied to simple and complex drawings.

2)    Anticipation: This is used to prepare the audience for an action, and to make the action appear more realistic.

3)    Staging: Very similar to its usage in theatre and film. Its purpose is to direct the audience’s attention, and make it clear what is happening and going to happen in a scene.

4)    Straight ahead action and Pose to pose: These are two different approaches to the actual drawing process. “Straight ahead action” means drawing out a scene frame by frame (drawing by drawing) from beginning to end. “Pose to pose” involves starting with drawing a few key frames (the important drawings that are needed to tell the story) and then filling in the intervals later. Straight ahead action creates a more fluid and dynamic illusion of movement while pose to pose works better for dramatic and emotional scenes.Screenshot_2013-06-22-21-00-10

5)    Follow through and overlapping action: These two closely related techniques which help to render movement more realistically. “Follow through” means that separate parts of a body will continue moving

 after the character has stopped. “Overlapping action” is the tendency for parts of the body to move at different rates.

6)    Slow in and slow out: This principle is used to accelerate and slow down.

7)    Arcs: Most natural action tends to follow an arch or curve, and animation should adhere to this principle by following implied “arcs” for greater realism.

8)    Secondary Action: Gives more life to the main action and scene. The important thing about secondary actions is that they emphasize, rather than take attention away from the main action.

9)    Timing: Refers to the number of drawings or frames for a given action, which translates to the speed of the action on the film.

10)    Exaggeration: An effect especially useful for animation. It is to make things realistic by presenting it in a wilder, more extreme form.

11)    Solid Drawing: Taking into account forms in three-dimensional space, giving them volume and weight.


 12)    Appeal: It is what we call charisma in an actor. The important thing is that the viewer feels the character is real and interesting.

Well there you have it! Now you know why Disney’s animated films stand out more than any other. Next time you watch a Disney animated film, show, or short, be sure to see if you can find these 12 principles!

 walt disney animator

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


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