12 Principles and Character Design…


As our main assignment for our Life Drawing classes, we were asked to design a character based on Appeal (the 12th Principle of Animation).

In doing so, we were asked to look into the 12 Principles and briefly describe them.

Finally, we are to conclude our year of Life Drawing into a 500-word reflective essay.

Understanding “The 12 Principles Of Animation”

The 12 Principles of Animation were discussed in Frank Thomas’ and Ollie Johnston’s book, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life (1981). These principles function for both traditional and computer animation. The Principles have been created by condensing Animations Theory into 12 steps to help portray realistic and believable motion and movements that bring characters to life.

Disney Animation - The Illusion Of Life
Disney Animation: The Illusion Of Life – Image sourced from Wikipedia.Com

1. Squash and Stretch

Description – Squash and Stretch is used to show the mass of an object. The softer the object, the more it will be affected by Squash and Stretch. Squash and Stretch are used to help create the illusion of movement. It emphasizes an object’s speed, weight, and force, giving it mass and making it look more realistic.

Below is the first of a twelve-part series of videos made by Alan Becker. They are based upon the 12 Principles of Animation discussed in Disney Animation: The Illusion Of Life.

2. Anticipation

Description – Anticipation is used to create more realistic movement. Firstly, Anticipation is used to prepare the audience for an action. Secondly, to make a realistic movement, it is necessary for the character to build up enough force to fulfill the action.

For example, the run-up before the leap… If the character just leaps without building up the speed (momentum) it will most likely look unrealistic and risk confusing the audience (as they have not been prepared for the action).

3. Staging

Description – Staging is mainly about controlling the audience’s eye, making them focus where you want them to focus, see what you want them to see. Staging is used to make the point extremely and “unmistakably” clear to the audience. Staging is applied to a number of factors including – Acting, Timing, Camera, and Setting. The main action needs to be kept very clear, often utilizing the well known “Rule of Thirds” to frame the action properly.

4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

Description – This covers the process in which an animation is made. Straight Ahead action is drawing each position in the sequence that they come. However, Pose to Pose is drawing the key poses for the animation and filling in the gaps afterward. Generally, Pose to Pose is a better process, as you can check that the early key frames of the animation work, before filling in all the breakdowns. Straight Ahead animation is better for more unpredictable animation such as fire.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Description – This principle focuses on the external body parts and features that drag behind the rest of the body, continuing to move when the body stops.

For example, whenever a character jumps, the arms move once the body lands to balance out the mass (it also covers items such as clothing and hair moving as well).

Follow through – The continued motion of parts of the body after the body stops.

Overlapping action – The offset of the action between the main body and its other parts.

Drag – Delayed movements of body parts in comparison to the main body.

These can also impact the mass of the object, an object with more follow through and drag will look softer/lighter. This is similar to how Squash and Stretch works.

6. Slow In and Slow Out

Description – Slow In and Out can be thought of similar to acceleration and deceleration. This is a key principle in replicating life-like motion instead of mechanical motion. Movement looks more realistic when it starts slow, speeds up and then finishes slowly again. In 2D the frames are more condensed and closer together at the beginning and end to portray this. However, in 3D it is altered within the graph editor, making it a spline rather than linear graph and giving it a steeper curve in the middle.

7. Arc

Description – Adding Arcs within a movement adds more realism. Making a movement follow an arc makes it seem less robotic and often adds more character/expression to the movement. Mainly because organic movements follow a more circular path (or arc). This is a simple yet necessary step to creating organic life-like motion.

8. Secondary Action

Description – The secondary action helps display the primary action by adding more character and dimension to it. Basically, the secondary actions are the small gestures or other actions that the character makes to help express what they are doing. These often can be as important as the primary action when conveying realism.

The examples in the video below are very useful for understanding this.

9. Timing

Description – This principle states that “the personality and nature of an animation is greatly affected by the number of frames inserted between each main action”.

This basically means that the timing is everything… If the audience isn’t given enough time or is given too much time to view a movement or action it can completely change its meaning, causing it to lose it’s effect/impact.

Note: The standard frame rate for movies is 24 fps (drawing on ones). However, it is also common to work in 12 fps (drawing on twos). Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

10. Exaggeration

Description – Exaggeration is key to creating more realistic animation. This involves making the movement more clear through amplification of the action, almost by making it look less realistic (more exaggerated) it increases its believability. The shorter the animation (a few frames long), the more exaggerated the motion may have to be to make it noticeable (as the eye may not perceive it). Often by taking the exaggeration level too far, you can judge what is enough/appropriate, as you have seen the whole range.

11. Solid Drawing

Description – Solid Drawing is the principle that makes the character/animation feel like they are in a 3D space rather than just flat and boring. This is done by adding a sense of volume, weight, and balance to the character. This also includes being able to draw the character/object from all angles in a 3D environment. This can be done by considering basic solid shapes, vanishing points, contour lines and so on.

Overlap must also be considered within solid drawing to bring your characters and objects out into the 3-Dimensional Space. It shows where parts of the body recede (without it, everything feels flat).

12. Appeal

This is the principle that we have been asked specifically to focus our character design upon.

Description – This principle covers the audience’s opinion of a character. Any character within an animation should be somewhat pleasing to the eye. This is applicable to all the characters, it doesn’t always mean that they have to “good looking”, they just need something within their design that makes them unique, cool or interesting to look at.

There are many ways of going about this, first of which is by giving it a dynamic design. Using a combination of shapes, changing/exaggerating proportions (the defining aspects) and finally keeping it simple (at least initially, as it will need re-drawn many times).

The vast majority of these principles can be paired together with one or more of the other principles. However, they are all key in the creation of a life-like animation.

Character Design

I initially struggled to settle on a character, I designed a number of characters based on appeal.

I considered the ‘appeal’ attribute from a number of perspectives. I considered exaggerating the appealing aspect through –

Making the character cute and likable… (I drew a couple of stylized Baby Groots from Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in there also).

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I tried making the character more sympathetic in most of my drawings (above and below)… As well as making the character with more extreme proportions and exaggerated features…


I even thought about designing a villain type character based on appeal. It possibly would have been more unique and interesting, at least when comparing it to a typical fluffy cute character.

From my initial designs and research, I had settled on a few key attributes I wanted to keep within my character design, they were…

  • Head Size/Shape – Large and Horizontally Oval Shaped
  • Ears – Large and capable of portraying emotion/feeling
  • Bone Structure – Skinny/Frail
  • Height – ≤ 3 Heads High (Less than or Equal to symbol)

I settled on these attributes as they would give the character a sympathetic feel to it. They also were in some of my favorite designs that I both looked at and drew.

However, I also intended on making the character in the role of a mentor. This may have stemmed from the mentor being one of my favorite of the archetypes. Then again, it may have been just from reading and studying the Mentor section in Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey. Therefore, I needed him to inspire/demand respect through his design. He needed to look tough, wise and experienced. The sort of take-no-nonsense type of character. However, I still wanted him to have some sympathetic aspects to him (as most great mentors do).

I began researching further into how I wanted my character to look. My research led me back to the gaming side of the animation industry. Mainly because I wanted my character to function in this type of environment.


Below are some of my influences… As you will hopefully see, they share many/all the attributes that I previously mentioned that I wanted to keep within my characters design.

They are mainly examples of games characters, most of which I grew up with and personally find to be very appealing.

Ratchet And Clank – Insomniac Games

This was one of my favorite games series whenever I was younger, so no wonder it influenced my designs now. This game series has stood the test of time thus far, and it’s character and environment designs are stunning in my opinion.

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Even within the pictures above, we see clear examples of the 12 principles in action. Therefore, I feel that this was an excellent reference to work from.

Early Ratchet Designs – Image sourced from InsomniacGames.Com

I was considering making my character a wise old mechanic or engineer. Possibly with a robotic leg or arm to further exaggerate this profession.

Engineers/Mechanics from Ratchet and Clank – Image sourced from InsomniacGames.Com

Jak and Daxter – Naughty Dog

This game series is another childhood favorite of mine. It also adheres to a number of attributes and characteristics that I would like to replicate within my design.

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However, the mentor from Jak and Daxter was the main character I wanted to focus on. It was on the back of my mind when researching/designing this character. Even whenever I was reading Vogler’s book and his theories behind the mentor archetype.

Samos Hagai – Image sourced from JakAndDaxter.Wikia.Com

In the game, Hagai (above) was a very wise and noble mentor. He was a mentor that took no-nonsense but yet you still felt sympathetic towards. This may have been due to his height, proportions, stilts or the walking stick. Many of these sympathetic qualities shown in Hagai I would like to replicate within my own character design.

Dobby – Harry Potter

Talking about a character that fits the attributes I previously mentioned… Dobby is a perfect example, as he has a large horizontally oval head shape, large ears that help show his emotions, a skinny/frail bone structure and he is small (around 3 heads high)…

Therefore, I felt he deserved a mention as he is a very likable and appealing character.

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Whenever Dobby died it was a very key emotional moment within the film and for many fans. I feel this was mainly due to Dobby being such an appealing and likable character.


Dobby’s Gravestone – Image sourced from HarryPotter.Wikia.Com

Vogler – The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey
Image sourced from TheWritersJourney.Com

I considered many mentor qualities that I wanted my character to have. These were based on Vogler’s book and my previous post on the Mentor chapter within it. Click here to view it… [Pre-Warning: It is quite a long post]

Bolt – The Space-Specialised Engineering Mentor

Here is my initial design for Bolt that went on to further inspire my character rotation of him. Hopefully, my research into game characters makes more sense now…


I drew this rough character rotation in a neutral pose for our Life Drawing class to get some critique on it.


Overall, I feel it went quite successfully, I understand that I drew the character with some incorrect proportions as the rotation went along. However, all in all, I think most people that I asked found the character appealing.

In an attempt to fix the positions of body parts and shapes, I took the character back down to his silhouette and tried to make some adjustments to him.


I quickly made a rough digital version of the back view as I forgot to include it on my previous character rotation…


Testing the Principles…

I made a short animatic of a movement of my character (‘Bolt’)… I was trying to find a movement in which I could make use of multiple principles at the same time.

After Effects Screenshot

Apologies about the slight jumpiness, the After Effects file looks smooth but while rendering it out it became a bit jumpy.

Since Bolt is intended to be aged, slightly slower and reasonably realistic. I didn’t want to really exaggerate all the principles. However, I attempted to cover them all…

Squash and Stretch/Exaggeration/Secondary Action

I showed squash and stretch within his goggles and face (here are the frames below). The goggles and arms gave a nice amount of stretch, and the main source of squash was in the single frame of the goggles sucking into his face after the release.

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I think we can agree that the equipping goggles action is very exaggerated. This was intended to build a slight bit of humor and impact. This was actually intended to be a secondary action. I liked it so much that I tried to prioritize it more, However, I have still tried to leave it as a Secondary Action (the Primary Action being him taking a look at the out of place subject, which could be a loose nail or something).

Anticipation, Timing and Staging

The Anticipation was in the quick glances that Bolt gives the camera, alongside the action of reaching for the goggles. I made Bolt walk in from the side at the beginning to help with the staging and to build the anticipation. Bolt then sees something in a glance (like a loose screw) and then reaches for his goggles for a better look. I also used the rule of thirds, to stray away from everything being completely central. As well as to allow me to easily bring in the hammer/mallet in order to complete/conclude the movement.

Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

It’s hard to show how I drew it. However, since it is more of an animatic, I used a mixture of Pose to Pose and Straight Ahead Action. However, I leaned more towards the Pose to Pose drawing style. It helped that I kept him at the same angle, so I could just move the drawing ahead slightly and work from the previous one.


Arcs/Follow Through and Overlapping Action

I tried to make his movements follow Arcs, even though I didn’t make it 24 fps. I feel it is still visible enough within the majority of his movements. (Paying attention to his arms in the frames below).

The Follow Through and Overlapping Action is shown again in the arms, head and ears. They all shoot back when the goggles are released, showing their follow through with the force build up in the goggles.

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Slow in and Out

I didn’t prioritize this principle much. However, there is slow in and out vaguely shown within the realisation of the out of place object, and again in the goggle stretch and release. (The tension is built up in the goggles and then released in the face squash.)

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Solid Drawing and Appeal

I attempted to draw in solid shapes, I broke him down into his basic shapes. This helped me to learn his shape better and more accurately, it could also be used as a reference for me if I couldn’t draw a movement correctly.


I feel Bolts looks appealing both with his goggles on and off. I don’t know if he looks appealing like a Hero or Villain (nor was he really intended too). Instead, I aimed his appeal towards the Mentor category, an often secondary (yet key) character to the story.


I gave him several interesting qualities and characteristics to make him more likable and visually interesting. Such as his robotic leg, his cane and his general hunched over shape and exaggerated (fantasy-based) proportions.

All these features add appeal and show experience, either through age, his knowledge of his profession (building himself a complex robotic leg). Even the very fact that he has a robotic leg, suggests he made a mistake and has learned from it (possibly referring back to his own Hero’s Journey)…


As you can hopefully see, many of the principles pair together very well and can be shown reasonably clearly through an action or movement. Obviously, some of the Principles aren’t shown as well as others. However, I have attempted to show all of them in one way or another.

Overall, I really enjoyed working on this task. I have attempted to input both my Life Drawing and general knowledge into this character, and I feel it has been successful. I have learned a large amount from this task, I would have liked to be able to devote more time to it and develop Bolt further (possibly recreating, rigging and texturing him in Maya). This may develop into a summer project for me.


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