12 Principles – Character Design

The Twelve *Gods Principles of Animation!

*Skyrim Reference*

Numero Uno – Squash and Stretch

Squash and Stretch is used to apply a sense of gravity to a character, or to show collision. It is done by “squashing and stretching” the character proportionally to the force it is experience, for example if an object had fallen a great height and landed on the ground, he would squash quite a bit. The style of the animation also controls this attribute, as it is important to decide whether or not you want things like metal to squash/stretch. One of the key things about making squash and stretch believable is to attempt to maintain a sense of volume in the character, so ensure that their squashing and stretching is proportional to the parts of them that are squashing and stretching.

Number Two – Anticipation

Anticipation is the build up to an action. If a character is about to throw a punch, they might wind up their fist before hand, perhaps lean back before lunging forward. Anticipation makes an action flow more naturally as opposed to just happening. It takes away that jarring sudden motion and adds an element of realism to the action while also directing the viewer’s eye and where to look on-screen. It allows the viewer to “anticipate” the next action.

*On a side note, the above gif  from Popeye uses DryBrush smear animation which I remember Mike had posted about on the facebook wall before of Elmer Fudd thrashing Buggs Bunny. Interesting technique to show motion blur.*

Numéro Trois – Staging

Staging is the presentation of an idea to make that idea clear to the audience. This can be an action, character, mood or anything that the director is trying to portray. This takes a number of factors in to consideration, such as camera placement, object movement (or lack there of), camera movement, silhouette of the action etc. Staging also works with anticipation in guiding the audience’s eye to allow the scene to flow more clearly.

4. – Straight Ahead and Pose-to-Pose

Straight ahead action is drawing each frame right after one another. It is best used to create realistic motion due to its precise nature. Pose-to-Pose is when key poses are filled in first and then the remainder is filled in at a later point. It is best used when trying to capture more dramatic scenes with more advanced camera movement.

E) – Follow Through and Overlapping Action

This section is two different parts that work together. Follow through is considering how an object behaves once it has moved and performed its main action. It is the termination stage of the action. When a wire antenna on a car is travelling with the car it is curved backwards to imply drag, but is rooted to the car. When the car suddenly stops, the antenna continues to move, bending forward and backwards decreasing its oscillations exponentially over time until it too comes to a halt. The speed at which it does this can indicate things such as the speed it was moving, the abruptness of the stop and the mass of the antenna.

Overlapping action is simply the beginning of one action whilst another is ongoing/finishing. It is used to keep the flow of the actions more natural and keep the audience interested.

VI) – Slow In and Slow Out

Slow In/Slow out is in reference to how an object behaves with motion. For example, a ball rolling to a destination is more believable if the ball slows down over time rather than travelling at a constant speed and then halting. This is an important attribute to consider when attempting to portray the impact a motion might have. This is controlled in Maya through Velocity/Time graphs in the Graph Editor.

(I’m gonna be a nerd here real quick)

Velocity is the speed of an object in a particular direction. When using Maya’s Velocity/Time graphs it is important to understand that Velocity and Speed are different things, as well as Distance and Displacement. Velocity and Displacement are the vector equivalents to Speed and Distance. A vector depends on relative distance.

This means that if I start at a point and walk 5m to the right and then come back to my original starting position, I have travelled a total of 10m, but my displacement from my original position is 0m. Using the same example, if I walk at 2.5m per second to the destination and the same speed back, my speed was a constant 2.5/mps. However, my velocity would change halfway, from 2.5/ms to -2.5/ms showing that I am moving in the opposite direction. This is an important idea to grasp when understanding the Velocity/Time Graphs in Maya and mastering “Slow In, Slow Out.”

七 – Arcs

Arcs reference the natural path an object should follow in order to appear normal. This can range from anything such as a ball being thrown and following a parabolic arc, to the motion of a hand waving. The curve of the arc tells things such as the speed of the object, for example a fast moving ball would travel in more of a straight line over a short distance, in comparison to a slow ball over a long distance which would arc more. If an object moves outside of its motion arc too much then it will appear erratic/unnatural.

∞ – Secondary Action

Adding a secondary action helps add meaning and emphasis to an initial action. For example, a character looking for the source of a delicious smell would swivel his head while looking; to bolster this you can have the character lick his lips and perhaps drool to show how desperate he is to find it. It is important to remember to not overshadow the main action with a secondary action, and also to not add secondary actions where they will not be seen. For example, do not add a “wink” when the character is turning their head fast.

Nein – Timing

Timing is used for two key reasons. The first is to attempt to elicit and emotional response from the audience in how a scene is timed. A character’s death, for example, should have more screen-time and build-up than a character throwing an apple in the bin. The other use is portraying the properties of an object and how they obey physics. For example, a 100 ton weight will fall extremely quickly compared to a feather. Timing is ensuring you don’t lose the audience’s attention.

Decem – Exaggeration

Exaggeration covers a broad range of areas but in its essence it is used to exaggerate an action or idea. For example, in this scene from Tom and Jerry the artist has exaggerated the point that Tom is a “jackass” by literally transforming his reflection in to an ass. This robs some realism from the short, but it was never intended to be strictly real.


((6^2)-25) – Solid Drawing

This is in reference to the skill of the classic animator. It involves being able to understand proportion, physics, depth, 3D Space, perspective and a range of other things that boil down to being able to understand how to draw something as you intend it to be viewed. In John Lasseter’s interpretation of the Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation he has chosen to omit this section due to the technology that has replaced it. This may be true when it comes to actually animating, but I feel that other fields such as storyboard art, concept art and more that this section is incredibly important when attempting to portray an idea or concept.

High Noon – Appeal

Appeal is the broadest area on this list. Appeal does not need to necessarily be a positive thing. For example, an evil person can be appealing as a villain, the audience needs to feel the character belongs in that role by the character’s actions, voice, design and pretty much everything else. Appeal, when it comes to character design, is the same reason why Hugo Weaving usually plays bad guys, or why Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is consistently playing comedic characters. In Hugo Weaving’s case, he looks like a bad guy. His stern face and arched brow just scream “villain”. Whereas with the Rock, it’s a juxta-position to his past career as a professional wrestler and large, muscular body (paired with his charming smile) that allow him to be cast in these roles and fit.


The Design



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