On animation


I should begin by saying that I’m primarily a digital painter – an illustrator – and not a professional pixel artist, let alone animator. However, during the process of making TSP I’ve learnt a thing or two in this field, some tricks of the trade that I wish to share with you, blog reader.

I’ve established some key principles of animation. I don’t know if the general animation community agrees on these principles, but hey, this is my blog.

The principle of simultaneous movement

A cardinal error beginners make is to focus only on the purpose of the activity, and isolate the body part doing that activity. A beginner drawing a snake biting might first let the snake extend to its full length, and then open its jaws to bite. In reality, a snake will probably open its jaws and reach for its target in one combined motion.

I don’t know how many animations I’ve seen of a character picking up something from the floor, where they 1. bend down 2. extend their arm and 3. reach for the object. As if they were a robot with only one processor.


(Sorry for the blurriness – I was too lazy to enlarge it in PS with nearest neighbour)

See how several things happen to Freja at the same time – the arms start to swing forward; the knees bend, her upper body folds, her head tilts forward.

The principle of speed

In a frame by frame animation, you don’t control speed by changing the speed of the loop – you do it by skipping a certain amount of movement and let the eye fill in the rest.

Let’s say we want to draw someone throwing a punch. A logical first step might be to imagine the extent of the animation – from where the fist is still to where it’s landed on the chin of the evil super villain – and divide that distance evenly into the number of frames we want in the loop. Here’s the error: You’re not supposed to divide the distance into equal segments, but the time. A natural-looking 10-frame animation of a someone punching would spend maybe 5 frames preparing the punch, then only 1 frame where the fist actually travels, and then some 4 frames easing out the loop.


Animation students will often begin their training by studying a bouncing ball, or a pendulum swinging. By doing this, they will find that it takes ten times as many frames describing the ball reaching its top and starting its descent, than it does representing the bounce. Just like a pendulum will need many frames showing the turn, but only one or two showing the swing. A quick trip from A to B needn’t be drawn – our brains will pretend the motion is there.

Actually, in the example above, there’s also the first principle clearly illustrated – how Freja doesn’t just let her fist swing around on its own; there is the hip turning, the upper body rotating, the shoulder propelling the arm and fist into motion. To people studying the art of throwing punches (they do exist), this is known as kinetic linking. Try punching without moving the rest of the body at all, and you will look weak and limp instead of the hay-maker-swinging Zangief-copy you surely picture yourself like.

The principle of balance, or counter motion

Here’s a do-it-yourself experiment (I know you need it by now). Stand up. Now sit down. How did your body start preparing itself for sitting fown? By just letting your butt descend rapidly onto the office chair? No, you start by bending forward. A bit counter-intuitively perhaps, but this is because your body must retain its balance.

Is your character reaching for an object high up on a shelf? Don’t just let his arm shoot out from the body like some kind of pneumatic piston. His torso will turn, and his other arm will perform a compensatory motion backward, to maintain the balance.

Next time, the walk cycle

Stay tuned. Also, feel free to ask questions or demand more explanation.


1 Comment

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One response to “On animation

  1. Thank you for this very nice update! While reading it, everything you say makes complete sense and it seems so logical that I can’t help but wonder how anyone could ever do this wrong. But on the other hand – if I had tried animations myself I probably would have made at least some of the mistakes you mention before understand the true nature of movement. Very educational, and also very entertaining. Thanks again! And keep on the nice work, looking forward to the game 🙂

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