If you’re just getting started learning how to animate, it can feel overwhelming to say the least. There are so many pieces that have to come together to create a great animation, from illustration skills to creating realistic movement to getting up to speed with animation software. 

The good news is, there are a lot of tips, tricks, and tactics that can help accelerate your animation abilities. Read on for the most important animation basics to master, plus easy ways to start practicing your animation skills today. 

Emanuele Colombo lays out the 12 principles of animation.

The 12 Animation Tips and Tricks to Master

Undoubtedly the best place to start when you’re learning how to animate is mastering the classic 12 principles, which are often referred to as “the Bible of animation.” If you see a bad animation, there’s a good chance it’s not following these principles. 

Learn about the history of the principles and how to incorporate them into your work.

1. Use Squash & Stretch to Avoid Stiff Movement

animated ball
An example of squash and stretch in animation.

Squashing and stretching an object as it moves can create the illusion of flexibility and life. It can also give the viewer information about how hard or soft the object is (softer objects should squash and stretch more). If your animations are looking too rigid, try adding squash and stretch to the movement and see how that improves things.

2. Add Anticipation to Your Movement

animated ball
An example of anticipation in animation.

An object rarely just starts moving forward—there’s usually some sort of preparatory movement in the opposite direction. Think of throwing a ball: You pull your arm back before thrusting it forward. Adding anticipation gives the viewer a hint of what’s to come and prevents your movement from feeling like it’s coming out of nowhere. 

3. Make Sure All Movement Has Follow Through

animated rectangle
An example of follow through in animation.

Anticipation is all about how you start your movement—follow through is about ending it. When an object stops, it doesn’t usually stop all at once, so adding small movement after the main action ends will create a more realistic look.

4. Add Arcs to Create Natural Movement

bouncing circle
An example of arcs in animation.

Pretty much nothing in nature moves in a straight line—try waving your hand or moving your arm, and you’ll notice there’s an arc to the movement, even if it’s a subtle one. If you feel like your animations are looking off, try softening the path of the movement with some arcs.

5. Ease In and Out of Your Movement

animated circle
An example of slow in and slow out in animation.

When an object moves, it doesn’t immediately start at the fastest speed, or stay the same speed the whole time, but a lot of bad animation will do just that. That’s why, according to the animation principle of slow in and slow out, you want to make sure all of your movement has a natural acceleration and deceleration. You can incorporate this into your own animations by adding more frames at the start of a movement, fewer in the middle, and more at the end. 

6. Use Your Frames to Create Intentional Timing

animated circle
An example of timing in animation.

If you’re wondering how to animate smoothly, pay close attention to the animation principle of timing. Timing relates to how many frames your action takes, and how closely those frames are placed together. By editing the number of frames, you can adjust the perceived speed, weight, and smoothness of an animation. Generally, you want to include a mix of timing in an animation to make it feel more interesting and realistic.

7. Make Use of Secondary Action

animated squares
An example of secondary action in animation.

Secondary actions are any movements that aren’t essential to the scene, but help support the main movement and add more dimension to the scene. If your animations are feeling flat, try adding some secondary action to them. 

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Exaggerate Your Movement

square eating other square
An example of exaggeration in animation.

While a lot of animation is about creating believable movement, what often makes a good animation great is adding exaggeration. Actions that are too subtle could easily be missed by the audience, so—especially when you want to highlight something or add dramatic effect—try pushing the animation outside the bounds of real movement.

9. Visually Highlight the Most Important Elements

spotlight animation
An example of staging in animation.

Staging is all about directing the audience’s attention towards the most important elements in a scene. If you feel like it’s hard to know what to focus on in your animation, add small movements or other visual highlights to draw the viewer’s eye. 

10. Choose the Right Animation Strategy for Your Scene

circle animation
An example of straight ahead and pose to pose in animation.

There are different techniques for animating frame-by-frame: straight ahead, where you start at the beginning and animate scene by scene, and pose to pose, where you animate the beginning and end of your movement and then start to fill in the gaps to get there. 

You’ll want to practice choosing which is best for the animation you’re doing. According to Skillshare teacher and animator Johannes Fast, straight ahead is “great for organic movement, like smoke and fire, because it makes your animation more dynamic and random,” whereas pose to pose is “great for character animation where you had to hit specific key poses throughout the scene.”

11. Be Sure Your Drawings Look Realistic in Space

animated cube
An example of solid drawing in animation.

Solid drawings is one of the most important 2D animations tips. It’s a reminder that, even though you’re only representing objects in two dimensions, they need to feel like they are in a three-dimensional space. Practice your 3D drawing skills, and make sure to pay close attention that the volume, weight, and balance of all the items in your animation feel true to life.

12. Make Sure Your Animations Are Appealing

animated cube
An example of appeal in animation.

When you’re starting to animate, it can be easy to get lost in the technical aspects, which is why the final principal is here: to remind you to ensure you’re creating something interesting for the audience by adding beauty, variety, or even some fun to your work.

Practice the Principles in Action

Principles of Animation: The Art of Appealing Motion for Beginners

9 Ways to Get Better at Animating

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this and wondering how you can get better at animation, worry not! There are lots of simple and fun ways to start improving your skills. 

  1. Study real movement: If you’re having trouble figuring out how to make your animation look just right, study how it would happen in the real world. You can do this by searching for YouTube videos, recording yourself doing an action, or just paying attention to how different people, animals, or objects move.
  2. Practice classic exercises: Simple exercises like animating a bouncing object or a walk cycle are great ways to start learning the basics without getting caught up in too many details.
  3. Study other animations: Watch other animations closely, and pay attention to how they work. (Pro tip: You can slow down the play speed on YouTube, or even pause the video and then press the period key to go forward frame-by-frame.)
  4. Copy other animations: Take this even further by trying to recreate what other animators do. While obviously you don’t want to pass this off as your own work, it can be a powerful way to improve your skills.
  5. Find a software that won’t get in your way: After Effects can have a steep learning curve, so try and find a good animation software for beginners that will allow you to practice the fundamentals while you get your Adobe After Effects skills up to snuff.
  6. Start with a GIF: Animated GIFs are usually only a few frames long, so creating your own GIF can be a great way to dip your toes into the world of animation. 
  7. Learn to design for animation: If you’re hoping to animate your own illustrations, make your life easier by learning how to create illustrations that are ideal for animating.
  8. Follow other animators: By following animators on Instagram or other online platforms, you can ensure you have a steady stream of inspiration and new ideas for how to push your work. 
  9. Let yourself fail: Animation isn’t easy, and you’re bound to create some bad animations at the start. Remember that all the greats started where you are, see what you can learn from your mistakes, and just keep practicing!

Learn Adobe After Effects

The Beginner's Guide to After Effects

Written By

Erin Greenawald

  • Click here to share on Twitter
  • Click here to share on Facebook
  • Click here to share on LinkedIn
  • Click here to share on Pinterest