The 12 Basic Principles of Animation Reimagined

The 12 Basic Principles of Animation, from the book The Illusion of Life, are reimagined with the help of motion graphics animator, Cento Lodigiani.

The Illusion of life was written by Disney’s legendary cel animators, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. Although the book was intended to apply to traditional hand-drawn animation, the principles still hold up in the world of motion graphics.


Cento Lodigiani – Reimagined Disney’s 12 Basic Principles of Animation

I first discovered Cento’s take on the 12 Principles, when I walked into our art director’s office. He was teaching an intern After Effects – specifically, how to animate with keyframes and the graph editor by watching Cento’s 12 Principles. I interrupted and said, “I need to talk with whoever created this video.”

Cento kindly took time off from his vacation in Italy to talk about how he created this hit video.

Why do you think ‘The Illusion of Life’ got such a big response?

I have no idea. I thought the subject was just interesting to people in my field. It went viral and I wasn’t expecting that. At one point, it had hundreds of thousands of views. It was incredible. I even had animation professors get in touch with me.

What made you want to create this short video?

I was rearranging my room and I found my copy of The Illusion of Life. I flipped through the pages and found the 12 basic principles of animation. I realize now, after many years of working in animation, that I apply these principles every day.

Before I started, I checked online to see if it had ever been done. I found something, but it wasn’t very clear. I thought it would be useful to create a piece that was super minimal.

SQUASH & STRETCH gives the sense of weight and flexibility to drawn objects


ANTICIPATION is used to prepare the audience for an action


STAGING - Johnston and Thomas defined staging as "the presentation of any idea so that it is completely and unmistakably clear"


STRAIGHT AHEAD ACTION means mapping out a scene frame by frame from beginning to end, while "pose to pose" involves starting with a few key frames, then filling in the intervals later.


How long have you been doing art and animation?

I didn’t study animation in school. I studied industrial design. I’m a good example of a person who learned by working rather than studying. I’ve always been into drawing, but I can’t say I’m a great artist. I’ve been drawing all my life, but I’m not one of those people with the gift.

I remember as a kid, I didn’t have a dream of becoming an animator because I didn’t know that it was a job. I watched cartoons and didn’t even realize that someone’s job is to animate these characters. I remember watching a Disney movie and my dad said, ‘Those are amazing drawings.’ That was the moment I realized that animations are just a bunch of drawings.

Did you start “12 Principles” on Paper? Or was it all digital?

I rarely start off on paper.  I always draw in Photoshop and Illustrator, and I do a lot of the frame by frame animations in After Effects. Sometimes it’s almost easier for me to get it done in one software.

FOLLOW THROUGH & OVERLAPPING gives the impression that characters follow the laws of physics


SLOW IN & SLOW OUT creates the illusion that objects need time to accelerate and slow down


ARCS - Most natural movements follow an arc pattern


SECONDARY ACTION gives the scene more life and supports the main action


Do you create a reference for the cel animation then draw over it or do you freestyle it?

It makes a lot of sense to create a reference first… I’m just not a Cinema 4D person. So many of my friends make fun of me. They tell me it’s ridiculous to approach a project like this. It could be much easier. I should really learn.

Why do you think cel animation is popular again?

I think there’s a fascination for it because it’s old fashion. It’s still beautiful. You can do more incredible things with 3D but cel animation has something that’s not easy to replace. It creates so many emotions. It’s also really hard to do.

Check out Cento’s portfolio page for other great cel animations. Also, I’d love to see your work. Send me a link to your cel animations and tell me how you created it.

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TIMING correct timing makes objects appear to obey the laws of physics


EXAGGERATION, as explained by the Disney gods, is to remain true to reality, just presenting it in a wilder, more extreme form


SOLID DRAWINGS gives characters volume and weight


APPEAL gives the character charisma


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