What You Can Learn from Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation (With Examples)

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios are known for creating hyperreal animated films. But this year, the studios broke their own records of creativity with Turning Red.

Turning Red follows a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who turns into a giant red panda whenever she experiences intense emotions. The reception towards the film was highly positive, with the audience and critics singling out the animation as the best part of the movie.

That begs the question, how on earth do Disney and Pixar continue raising the bar for animated films year after year?

Is there a magic wand that they swoosh to make jaw-dropping animated films?

Well, it’s not exactly a wand (or magic, for that matter), but rather a scroll: 12 Principles of Animation.

Developed by the late animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the principles serve as guidelines for animators even today. And not just for the studio’s own employees but for anyone who wishes to create enthralling animated videos.

Since not everyone knows what those principles are, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to handle the task.

Let’s discuss each of them in detail so you know how Disney and Pixar changed the industry forever.

Squash and Stretch

The name ‘Squash and Stretch’ is self-explanatory.

Using this principle, animators give the illusion of weight, flexibility, and mass to objects or characters and keep them as close to reality as possible.

Source: GIPHY

The bottom part of baby Rapunzel’s face flattening when she places it on her hands is an example of Squash and Stretch



Do you remember the famous shower scene from the film Psycho?

It was a masterclass in building anticipation, which is what Disney’s second principle is about: use your video to help viewers prepare for what’s to come.

Take the following gif of The Sword in the Stone as an example.

As a viewer, you hope that the boy – Arthur – will remove the stone from the sword, and that’s what he does.

Source: GIPHY



When you’re making an animated video, several things happen at once. You use ‘Staging’ to draw the viewers’ attention toward a specific character or object.

This principle helps eliminate the clutter in the background, allowing you to focus on the primary scene.

An example of staging can be seen in the following gif. The animators made Dory the central focus, even though she’s passing through a herd of coral reefs.

Source: GIPHY

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Straight Ahead Action & Pose to Pose

Although the ‘Straight Ahead Action & Pose to Pose’ is one principle, it is made of two parts: the straight-ahead method means following a sequence, like Geppetto, Pinocchio, and Figaro, from Disney’s Pinocchio.

The characters are walking in a straight direction.

Source: GIPHY

In the second part – pose to pose – you draw the initial, central, and last keyframes and fill out the rest later. This gives you a clear direction of where your video is headed.


Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Simply put, the ‘Follow Through and Overlapping Action’ principle ensures that the objects in your video follow the laws of physics.

In this gif, Mei Lees’ hair becomes stationary when she makes the pose; that’s how it would happen in real life too.

Source: GIPHY


Ease In and Ease Out (Also knowns as Slow In and Slow Out)

When a person starts running, initially, their speed is slow. Then, after a few seconds, they pick up the pace.

To achieve this in a video, animators add more frames at the beginning and end.

Source: GIPHY

Elsa begins slow but eventually gains momentum to freeze the incoming wave.



Every object in real life follows an arc when it’s moving, like when you release an arrow. After reaching a certain point, it’ll fall on the ground due to gravity.

That’s what animators are recommended to do; make a character or an object follow an arc to display realism in their videos.

Source: GIPHY

Notice Micky Mouse waving his hand in an arc movement.


Secondary Action

The purpose of Secondary Action is to support the primary frame in a scene. Doing so adds more dimension to your objects or characters.

It doesn’t draw away the focus from the central part of the video but rather makes it more prominent.

Source: GIPHY

Even though Pocahontas is the primary character in the video above, her natural hair flow adds more to the scene.



In ‘Timing,’ animators consider how long it takes for something to move and for how long it stays there. You have to really stick the landing with your video timings because neither too late nor too early would work in your favor.



Of Disney’s all principles, this is the only one that doesn’t ask you to follow real life. Instead, you’re given a free hand to exaggerate the situation as much as possible.

It’s typically used to make a video funny or dramatic.

Source: GIPHY

Have you ever seen a meerkat dance?

No, but that doesn’t stop Timon from wearing a lei and pa’u and bursting out some moves.


Solid Drawing

‘Solid Drawing’ has to do more with the pre-production process than the actual animation-creation procedure.

You have to sketch three-dimensional (3D) objects, taking into account their light, weight, balance, and shadow.

In addition, if you’re drawing characters, they should be able to communicate their feelings effectively. And that can only be achieved if you pay attention to details during sketching.



Dozens of studios make animated films other than Disney and Pixar.

But why do these two studios take all the limelight?

It’s because they make their characters, objects, and backgrounds appealing.

And we’re not just talking about the visual element.

Each character has a backstory, whether a villain or a hero. They have a certain charisma, making viewers love or hate them.

Source: GIPHY

There are hundreds of animated baby characters, but Boo from Monsters Inc. tops the list of ‘Most Adorable Animated Characters.’

Her pink ponytails and effervescent personality are a part of her appeal.


Start Creating Awe-Inspiring Animated Videos Today

Making amazing animated videos isn’t exactly rocket science. Still, it does require a steady hand, expertise, and the ability to understand viewers’ psyche – something Disney’s animators have perfected their grasp on.

Thankfully, they were willing to share their 12 Principles of Animation, which can prove instrumental in helping you create the perfect videos.

And if you can’t do it, we’ve got a better alternative – AnimationProLabs.

Whether it’s a simple whiteboard video or a complex 3D animated video, we promise to surpass your expectations every single time.