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7 Powerful Animation Basics Every Beginner Must Know

7 Powerful Animation Basics Every Beginner Must Know


Animation has been captivating audiences for over a century, from the earliest hand-drawn sketches to the sophisticated digital creations we see today. But what are the core principles that make animations so compelling? Whether you’re a budding animator or just curious about the magic behind your favorite animated films, understanding the animation basics is crucial. Let’s embark on this enlightening journey together.

History of Animation

Evolution Over the Years

Animation has come a long way since its inception. The earliest forms of animation can be traced back to paleolithic cave paintings, where sequences of drawings depicted motion. Fast forward to the 20th century, and we witnessed the birth of celluloid animation, which paved the way for iconic characters like Mickey Mouse. Today, with the advent of computer-generated imagery (CGI), the possibilities are limitless.

Pioneers in the Field

Many visionaries have shaped the world of animation. Legends like Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki, and Chuck Jones have left indelible marks, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and inspiring countless others to follow in their footsteps.

7 Powerful Animation Basics Every Beginner Must Know

Types of Animation

Traditional Animation

Often referred to as cel animation, this method involves drawing each frame by hand. It’s a labor-intensive process but offers a unique charm and fluidity that’s hard to replicate.

Computer Animation

This digital approach uses software to create characters and scenes. It can be 2D, resembling traditional animation, or 3D, offering depth and realism.

Stop Motion

A technique where physical objects are moved incrementally and photographed. When played back, it creates the illusion of movement. Think of classics like “Wallace and Gromit.”

Motion Graphics

Primarily used for commercial and promotional purposes, motion graphics animate text, logos, and abstract shapes to convey information or branding.

Tools and Software

Traditional Tools

Before the digital age, animators relied on pencils, lightboxes, and celluloid sheets. These tools allowed them to sketch, ink, and paint each frame meticulously.

Modern Software Solutions

Today, software like Adobe Animate, Blender, and Maya dominate the scene. They offer a plethora of tools and features, streamlining the animation process and offering unparalleled precision.

Principles of Animation

These are the foundational concepts that every animator should internalize. They were introduced by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas and remain relevant to this day.

  • Squash and Stretch

This principle gives weight and flexibility to objects. For instance, a bouncing ball squashes when it hits the ground and stretches as it rebounds.

  • Anticipation

Before any significant action, a small opposite movement occurs. It prepares the viewer for the main action, like a golfer’s wind-up before a swing.

  • Staging

It’s all about presenting an idea clearly. Whether it’s through character positioning, camera angles, or lighting, the main focus should be unmistakable.

  • Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose

Two distinct approaches to animation. Straight ahead involves drawing frame by frame from start to finish, while pose to pose involves drawing key frames and filling in the intervals later.

  • Follow Through and Overlapping Action

When a character stops, not all parts stop simultaneously. This principle captures that delay and overlap, adding realism.

  • Slow In and Slow Out

Movements start slowly, accelerate, and then slow down again. This principle adds weight and realism to sequences.

  • Arcs

Most natural actions follow an arc or a curved path. This principle ensures smoothness and fluidity in movement.

  • Secondary Action

These are supplementary actions that support the main action, enhancing character and emotion. For example, a character might walk (primary) while whistling (secondary).

  • Timing

It refers to the number of frames used in an action, influencing the perception of speed and weight.

  • Exaggeration

It’s about pushing actions to the extreme to convey clear emotions and messages.

  • Solid Drawing

Even in 3D animation, understanding the basics of three-dimensional shapes, weight, and volume is crucial.

  • Appeal

Characters, whether heroes or villains, should have charisma. It’s what makes them relatable and memorable.

Career in Animation

  • Job Roles

From storyboard artists to rigging specialists, the animation industry offers a plethora of roles catering to various skill sets.

  • Industry Expectations

Animation isn’t just about drawing. It’s about storytelling, problem-solving, and continuous learning. Adaptability and a keen eye for detail are paramount.

  • Building a Portfolio

A strong portfolio showcases your best work, versatility, and unique style. It’s your ticket to landing coveted roles in top studios.

Future of Animation

Technological Advancements

With the rise of virtual reality, augmented reality, and AI, the animation landscape is poised for revolutionary changes.

Emerging Trends

From hyper-realistic animations to abstract and experimental narratives, the future holds exciting prospects for animators and audiences alike.

Using Animation For

  1. Entertainment: This is the most obvious use. Animated movies, TV shows, and web series, from classics like “The Lion King” to series like “Rick and Morty,” entertain millions globally.
  2. Education: Animation is used in e-learning platforms and educational videos to explain complex concepts, making them more understandable and engaging. For instance, platforms like Khan Academy and CrashCourse use animations to teach various subjects.
  3. Video Games: Almost every video game, whether 2D or 3D, uses animation to bring characters, environments, and actions to life.
  4. Advertising: Many commercials use animation to grab attention, explain a product, or create memorable characters and stories.
  5. Medical Training: Animations are used to illustrate complex biological processes, surgeries, and the mechanism of action of drugs, helping medical students and professionals understand intricate details.
  6. Website and App Design: Animated UI/UX elements, such as buttons, loading screens, and transitions, enhance user experience by making interactions more intuitive and engaging.
  7. Architecture and Real Estate: 3D animated walkthroughs allow potential buyers or stakeholders to experience a property or space before it’s built.
  8. News and Reporting: News channels often use animations to recreate events, explain complex issues, or visualize data in an easily digestible format.
  9. Simulation and Training: In fields like aviation, military, and heavy machinery operation, animations are used in simulators to train individuals in a safe environment.
  10. Scientific Visualization: Animations help scientists and researchers visualize phenomena that are too small, too large, too fast, or too slow to observe in real life, such as molecular interactions or the movement of galaxies.

7 Powerful Animation Basics Every Beginner Must Know


What is the difference between 2D and 3D animation?

2D animation deals with flat, two-dimensional characters and scenes, while 3D animation involves characters and environments with depth and volume.

Why are the principles of animation important?

They serve as the foundation for creating fluid, realistic, and emotionally resonant animations, ensuring consistency and quality.

Is traditional animation dead?

While digital methods dominate today’s industry, traditional animation is still cherished for its unique charm and is used in specific niches.

How long does it take to produce a minute of animation?

It varies based on the complexity, style, and method. A minute of high-quality 3D animation can take weeks or even months.

Which software is best for beginners?

Software like Adobe Animate or Toon Boom Harmony is user-friendly and ideal for those starting their animation journey.

Can I pursue a career in animation without formal education? While formal education can be beneficial, many animators are self-taught. A strong portfolio and continuous learning are key.


Animation is a blend of art and science, passion and precision. Whether you’re an aspiring animator or an avid fan, understanding the animation basics enriches your appreciation for this dynamic medium. As technology evolves, so will animation, but its core principles will remain timeless.