Animation is a mesmerizing medium that brings stories and ideas to life in visually captivating ways. Whether it's the enchanting tales from Disney or the lively characters from our favorite apps and websites, animation is everywhere. And if you're aspiring to embark on a journey into the realm of animation, it's pivotal to grasp certain foundational concepts.

However, before diving deep into creating your own animations, let's take a walk through some of the essential concepts that form the bedrock of the animation world.

1. The 12 Principles of Animation

Disney's 12 principles of animation, crafted by animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, are pivotal for creating lifelike and compelling animations. They include concepts such as "Squash and Stretch" for weight portrayal, "Anticipation" to foreshadow actions, and "Staging" to guide viewer attention.

Techniques like "Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose" determine animation flow, while principles like "Follow Through" and "Overlapping Action" lend realism by simulating natural motion. "Slow In and Slow Out" smoothens motion, "Arcs" add fluidity, and "Secondary Action" enriches scenes. The importance of pacing is stressed in "Timing," while "Exaggeration" amplifies emotion. Lastly, "Solid Drawing" and "Appeal" ensure characters feel tangible and engaging. Together, these principles form the bedrock for captivating animation.

You can also check out our blog post Mastering Animation: Explore Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation to read an in-depth guide on each principle.

2. Timeline and Keyframes

The timeline is essentially the animator's workspace, acting like a film strip that displays frames in sequence. On this timeline, keyframes are set to define pivotal moments in the animation.

These are typically where actions initiate or conclude. Adjusting the position or properties of these keyframes allows animators to modify the duration and nature of animated sequences. This provides direct control over an object's movement and transformation over time.

  • Example: Imagine animating a sunrise. On the timeline, a keyframe at the start might show the sun at the horizon, and a keyframe a few seconds later might show it fully risen. The transition between these keyframes depicts the sun's rising motion.

3. Tweening (Inbetweening)

Tweening, or inbetweening, is the art of creating intermediate frames between two keyframes. This ensures fluid transitions in animations.

By automating this process, animators can generate a series of frames that depict gradual change, producing smooth movement and transformations without manually drawing every single frame.

  • Example: In a classic bouncing ball animation, the keyframes might depict the ball at its highest and lowest points. Tweening would generate the frames where the ball is in mid-air or just making contact with the ground.

4. Easing

Easing brings natural acceleration and deceleration to animations, making them feel more realistic. It moves away from robotic, linear movements to more life-like motions that adhere to the laws of physics.

This concept is vital for imbuing animations with a sense of weight, gravity, and authenticity.

  • Example: If you were animating a pendulum swinging, instead of it moving at a constant speed from left to right, easing would make it start slow, swing fast in the middle, and slow down again at the end of each swing.

5. Storyboarding

A storyboard is like a comic strip for your animation, visually plotting out the major scenes and transitions.

By creating this roadmap, animators can experiment with narrative flow, scene composition, and pacing. This ensures that the entire team has a shared vision for the final product.

  • Example: Before creating the full animation of a chase scene, a storyboard might be used to sketch the key moments: the initial confrontation, the chase through different environments, and the final capture or escape.

6. Rigging and Skinning

Rigging introduces a virtual skeleton to a character. This framework provides pivot points, allowing for controlled movements.

Skinning, conversely, is about binding a character's visual representation (the mesh) to this skeleton. With these processes combined, characters can move in intricate, realistic ways, with their outer appearance responding naturally to the underlying skeletal motion.

  • Example: For a 3D animated human character, rigging would involve creating a skeletal structure of bones (for limbs, spine, etc.), while skinning would ensure that when you move the hand bone, the skin of the hand and fingers moves naturally with it.

7. Morphing

Morphing allows for one image or shape to smoothly transition into another. Remember Michael Jackson's iconic "Black or White" video? The faces seamlessly transforming into one another is a classic example of morphing.

Morphing is a mesmerizing technique where one image gradually transforms into another. Each pixel or vertex of the starting image is animated to shift seamlessly to a position in the ending image. This results in a fluid transformation, often used for visual effects and artistic transitions.

  • Example: In a fantasy animation, a character might morph from a human form into a werewolf. The transformation would show the gradual shift in facial features, posture, and fur growth.

8. Masking

Masking involves hiding certain parts of an animation layer, letting the layers beneath it shine through. This technique is particularly handy for creating sophisticated transitions or revealing elements in a controlled manner.

Masking is the digital equivalent of placing a stencil over a canvas. It allows animators to conceal specific portions of a layer, revealing what's underneath.

  • Example: In a title sequence, you might have a character walk across the screen, with text appearing only in their silhouette as they move. This effect can be achieved using masking.

9. Walk Cycles

Walking is a common action in animations. But it's tricky to get right! A walk cycle is a sequence of frames showing a character walking. By looping this sequence, you can make a character walk seamlessly across a scene.

A walk cycle encapsulates the motion of walking in a repeatable sequence. By capturing the nuances of weight shifts, foot placements, and body sway in this cycle, animators can loop the sequence to depict continuous walking. Mastering this can bring a natural gait to animated characters, enhancing realism.

  • Example: Think of a video game character. Instead of animating every single step they take throughout the game, a looped walk cycle is used, allowing the character to walk continuously as long as the player commands it.

10. Rendering

Once you've created your masterpiece, it's time to convert it into a video format. This process, known as rendering, can be time-consuming, but it's the final step before your animation is ready for the world to see!

Rendering transforms the individual elements, animations, and effects into a cohesive visual product. Think of it as "baking" all your ingredients into a final dish. It translates the digital workspace into a viewable format, ready for distribution or display.

  • Example: After animating a complex scene with a dragon breathing fire amidst a battle, rendering processes all the textures, shadows, flames, and movements into a smooth, final video that can be played back or integrated into a larger film.

Ready to get started?

Animation is a world teeming with creativity, imagination, and, most importantly, endless learning. Like any art form, it requires dedication, practice, and patience. But, equipped with these foundational concepts, you're well on your way to crafting animations that captivate and inspire.

Also, don’t forget to check out the LottieFiles platform! This gives you easy access to create, edit, test, collaborate and ship lightweight Lottie animations. If you’re wondering what is a Lottie animation - check out our page that details What is a Lottie?

With that, we wish you all the best in kicking off your animation journey!