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12 principles of animation: Anticipation

12 principles of animation - The illusion of life

During the 30s of the last century, as pioneers in their field, Walt Disney and his associates (Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and others) created and developed a list – 12 principles of animation. Published in the book "The Illusions Of Life", this is what has laid the foundation and core direction of the animation industry throughout its nearly century-long history.

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

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 course, all the animation that we have ever seen, including every iconic film and movie character, were built based on Walt Disney’s framework.

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

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

With the next series of articles in “The Animation Study”, DeeDee Animation Studio will show you an overview of what laid the foundation for the animation industry as we know it today. If you're a beginner, please start with the first rule: Squash and stretch. After that, let’s dive into the second principle: Anticipation.

Principle of Animation - Anticipation

What is “Anticipation”?

Of the 12 principles of animation discovered and synthesized by Walt Disney and his associates, anticipation is the second principle mentioned after squash and stretch. According to the Oxford dictionary, anticipation means the expectation that something is about to happen. Meanwhile, for Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, in "The Illusion of Life" (where the 12 principles were first summed up), anticipation was meant to signal to the audience to prepare for the next movement, even before that movement is made.

Take a look at an example of anticipation (in picture 2) in the following image:

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

Anticipation, in short, is the subtle signal that something “new” is about to happen. And to discover what that is, you have to continue to watch. That’s why anticipation is crucial in the 12 principles of animation. However, anticipation is often forgotten as animators can be too focus on character building, timing, or animating, v….v…. If anticipation is not used, the movement of the object can be unnatural.

Some examples of anticipation in animation include:

  • The body getting momentum before jumping

  • The character’s heel pressed down before a step

  • The character’s mouth slightly tightened before opening to speak

  • A wink before the character turns around

As can be seen from the above examples, the application of anticipation can be realized in animation in many forms. Forms of anticipation for movement in animation can be very subtle, yet effective.

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

The image above is Richard Williams' example of the cartoon character's anticipation when he stoops down to get ready to jump.

Why do we need “anticipation” in animation?

Anticipation is not a concept that animators come up with on their own. It is a factor summed up by animators by observing actual movements in reality.

Before there is any movement (usually rapid or decisive movements), the object will have anticipatory motion as a preparation step. The anticipation step plays the role of storing energy to stimulate movement.

Imagine a spring being compressed (anticipation) before bouncing up and stretching (movement). The spring is compressed as a preparation step to bounce more logically, and smoother in the eyes of the viewer. The example of the character stooping down to jump mentioned above is also a similar case.

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

With the example of the anticipation principle in the image above, take a guess what is the Bugs Bunny about to do?

By applying the principle of anticipation in animation, animators can infuse the "soul", the vitality of the character, and the movement. The movement is thereby fully expressed (and sometimes amplified) in an attractive, eye-catching yet completely logical manner.

In many cases, anticipation can be combined with squash and stretch (the first principles that DeeDee has mentioned) to animate objects.

In this following example of a bouncing ball, you can see how anticipation and squash and stretch are combined:

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

Anticipation is a very easy but effective way to signal to your audience that something is about to happen. This can make the experience of watching animation more enjoyable.

However, anticipation is not at all to break the "surprise" of the movement, but instead, to make the movement more interesting. It can be seen as a way to increase the suspense (for the action that is about to happen). The audience watching the animation will therefore pay more attention to the action instead of missing it.

The classical method of anticipation is to move in the opposite direction first. If the character is about to move to the left, it will be a natural movement for the character to first lean slightly to the right.

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

The application of anticipation in Tom & Jerry

However, the method of "moving to the opposite side" is not so new in anticipation. Sometimes, animators need to be flexible in their application of anticipation. In the following example, it makes more sense for the character to blink slightly before turning their head instead of doing it immediately.

What do we need to keep in mind when applying anticipation?

From a physical perspective, the principle of anticipation can express the preparation of the motion, and the storing of kinetic energy before the object starts to move (as in the examples mentioned above).

However, some of the essential factors while applying anticipation animators need to pay attention to are timing, dynamics, velocity/acceleration, and the shape of the movement. The anticipation and the movement need to match the above factors – so that the movement looks real in the eyes of the viewer.

This flaw in animation can be pointed out in many animated films, especially superhero movies. To make superheroes look like they have superpowers, animators often want them to be "faster" and "stronger". This is completely understandable. However, during the animation process, if we use anticipation unreasonably, the character's movement will lose its natural logic. This often happens when the anticipation is too short or insignificant in the cartoons.

12 principles of animation: Anticipation

One way animators can check the anticipation of their own work is by…rewinding the action. Anticipation will then become follow-through. If the movement is unnatural and unreasonable, it is a sign that the anticipation of the movement needs correction.


Anticipation is an important principle of motion in general and animation in particular. DeeDee Animation Studio hopes that this article has brought you the necessary knowledge in the application of 12 animation principles.

Next time, DeeDee Animation will take a closer look at the next principle: Staging.


DeeDee Animation Studio


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