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12 rules of animation: All about Exaggeration

12 Principles of Animation - The Illusion Of Life

In the 1930s, as pioneers in their field, Walt Disney and his associates (Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and others) developed a list of 12 principles of animation. This is what has laid the foundation and the core direction of the animation industry throughout its nearly century-long history, as published in the book "The Illusion Of Life".

exaggeration - 12 Principles of Animation - The Illusion Of Life

Being a pioneer with great enthusiasm and passion, Disney did not invent these 12 principles out of the blue. Instead, it was the result of a lengthy process of comprehending, analyzing, and summarizing a myriad of Walt Disney Studios’ experiments.

Disney wanted to find ways to create “real” and “soulful” motions, and even convey the essence as well as the character’s personality through them – a truly ambitious vision especially during the infant stage of the animation industry.

Although nearly 100 years have passed, we still view these 12 principles of animation as a "bible" for animation enthusiasts. Throughout that time, all the animation that we have seen, including every iconic film and character, were built based on Walt Disney’s framework.

exaggeration - 12 Principles of Animation - The Illusion Of Life

Even nowadays, those principles have all been so fully instilled by the animators in the training process that there is no need to explain “anticipation” or “follow-through” in a discussion. Thus, it seems like the 12 principles of animation have subconsciously become a common language among animators.

With the next article series in “The Animation Study”, DeeDee Animation Studio will offer an overview of what has laid the foundation for the animation industry as known today – the 12 fundamental principles of animation.

If you find it useful, please follow DeeDee's website to learn more! If you are a beginner, we recommend you should start with squash and stretch; anticipation; staging; straight ahead & pose to pose; follow through & overlapping action; slow in & slow out; arcs; secondary action; timing & spacing. Now, let's start with the next principle: Exaggeration.

Principles of animation: Exaggeration

In the early days, Disney animators were often confused because Walt told them to add more realism to their works. However, when they took a realistic approach, Walt criticized the finished product as not exaggerated enough. In Walt's mind, what he wanted to convey was not much different from the original. So what is the correct answer to the above situation? Let's find out with DeeDee Animation studio in the article below!

What is ‘Exaggeration’?

According to Oxford Dictionary, ‘exaggeration’ refers to the act of making something seem larger, better, worse, or more important than it is.

exaggeration - Principles of animation: Exaggeration
Illustrating exaggeration (Source: Creative Blog)

This meaning is not far from the word’s meaning when applied in animation. Take the situation Walt presented to his animators as a telling example, his idea of making things look “more real” is making the idea and action’s nature more appealing and vivid instead of applying essential realism into those characters, actions, and events.

exaggeration - Principles of animation: Exaggeration
(Source: Timing for Animation, Whitaker & Halas)

Exaggeration’s application in animation

An example of the application of exaggeration can be seen with animating the character expressions. If the character is sad, make the character look more sorrowful. If the character is having fun, make the character look brighter. If the character is nervous, make the character look shakier. Likewise, with other expressions, you need to make them more intense and nuanced. Exaggeration does not make the action less believable, it instead makes the action look more convincing.

exaggeration - Exaggeration’s application in animation
(Source: giphy)

It's interesting when you can always incorporate the exaggeration element into your animation. For example, out of 2 actions with the same nature, the one with exaggeration will look much more visually appealing. By contrast, the other one looks less powerful even though we have previously assumed the action was over.

exaggeration - Exaggeration’s application in animation
(Source: Alan Becker Tutorial)

In the case where the movement is fast, the exaggeration element needs to become more noticeable for the audience. When the frame is still, the drawing looks too exaggerated to be realistic. However, when you put it in motion, the drawing looks more realistic. This is because, in that sequence, the normal number of frames is higher than the number of frames using exaggeration, so making your eyes take in it all in a short time will create the above feeling. Thus, to increase the presence of frames containing the exaggeration element, you need to make the frame appear on-screen longer or make the frame more exaggerated & stylized.

exaggeration - Exaggeration’s application in animation
(Source: Totoro)

It is hard to tell you how much exaggeration is needed to be used; however, you can use the following tip: First, you push the exaggeration level until it becomes too much, and then rewind until you reach the satisfactory level. In this way, you can take a look at the whole process instead of just and drawing without any clue or control.


If the animation lacked the element of exaggeration, it would make it difficult for many fans to consider it a true animated film. It can be said that the Exaggeration factor is the attraction of motion, making every movement clear and convincing.

Above is everything you need to know about the 10th of 12 principles of animation: exaggeration. To continue learning more about the rest, let's look at the 11th principle with DeeDee Animation Studio: solid drawing.


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