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12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

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".

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

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 on the basis of Walt Disney’s framework.

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

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! Now, let's start with the first principle: Squash and Stretch.

Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

What is “Squash and Stretch”?

Squash and Stretch (S&S for short) is the animation principle of applying a contrasting change of shape to give a sense of flexibility and life in animation. Otherwise, the absence of squash and stretch could cause rigidity or stiffness to the motion. The transition from a proper Squash pose to a Stretch pose, or vice versa, breaks the perfect solidity that CG animation often gives to everything.

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

The application of Squash and Stretch in animation

The application of the Squash and Stretch principle can be best illustrated with the classic Bouncing Ball animation.

When the ball falls (with gravity and acceleration) and makes contact with the ground, the ball will be in a Squash pose to create an effect of motion and flexibility before bouncing up. In addition, just before and after the ball makes contact with the ground (while falling or bouncing in the air), the ball will be stretched in the movement direction to create the necessary contrast for the movement.

Thanks to S&S, the ball falling and bouncing has a touch of flexibility. The following Squash and Stretch animation example shows how this principle directly changes the object’s shape in motion (left: without Squash and Stretch, right: with Squash and Stretch):

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

Even a subtle amount of Stretch and Squash can make a big difference to movement by adding a little elasticity to the object's material. Therefore, the object does not look stiff like a rock-hard ball.

Besides giving flexibility and life into an object's movement, Squash and Stretch's power goes even further. In fact, using this principle, the animator can also convey the material of the object. With the bouncing ball case, when S&S is absent, the ball seems to be of a harder material (e.g. bowling ball, ping-pong ball). By contrast, the ball animated with S&S feels more elastic (like a rubber ball).

Hence, the application of Squash and Stretch also requires animators to be knowledgeable about the object material. Thus, they can depict poses and movements as realistically as possible (thereby not overdoing or underdoing the principle).

Watch the comparison of an animation scene with and without S&S:

Why do we need Squash and Stretch?

The application of Squash and Stretch in animation is very important because it has the power to give inanimate characters or objects a lively and flexible quality. Stretch and Squash can be applied to individual body parts (eyeballs, fingers, arms, etc.) or even poses of the characters.

Thus, the knowledge and the use of S&S in the poses of characters and objects is a must for every animator. That is also the reason why every animator in training must take the flour sack test to learn how to bring a feeling of life to any movements and objects.

Squash and Stretch. Link: Flour sack animation.

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

Character structure

However, animators still need to be careful not to overdo the Squash and Stretch effect, as this is one of the biggest errors for beginners.

S&S is one the most important and useful tools to many inexperienced animators normally do. However, if it is overdone, the S&S effect will backfire as the audience no longer feels the connection with the character.

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

A common saying for a lot of animators is to treat Squash and Stretch with a “feel it, but don't see it” approach. The idea being, you should apply S&S just enough to induce a genuine “feeling” at a glance, but not to the point where you “see it with your own eyes”. In case of too obvious an effect, the animators may have overdone it or timed the motion too long.

To both use broad S&S and achieve the ‘feel it, not see it’ result, the animators need to make the object or character recover out of the extreme squashes/ stretched states quickly (transition back to the neutral shape). As a result, the movements have a "bounce" and smoothness, helping the audience “feel it” without directly seeing the poses for too long.

Maintain the volume of the object

Another important factor in applying Squash and Stretch is "maintaining volume".

Animators should note: when squashing and stretching an object's shape, you should follow the "neither created nor destroyed" rule. If the animation viewers feel that the object begins to squash or stretch so much that it starts gaining or losing mass and size, that is a result of the animators’ fail to preserve the volume correctly

12 Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

With S&S, the object will not only be stretched in one direction but also be squashed in a perpendicular way to maintain the movement’s realism.


Among the 12 principles of animation established by Walt Disney and his associates, Squash and Stretch are the most important for animators to understand (and master).

When applied correctly to the movement of an object or character, Stretch and Squash have a "superpower" that breathes life into the image, making it feel more flexible and lively.

However, as with everything else in life, more does not mean better. If the animators use S&S excessively, the effects may backfire. Therefore, to create a vivid feeling for the viewer without being too obvious, animators must deeply understand the movement of the object and use Squash and Stretch skillfully.

Above is everything you need to know about the first of 12 principles of animation: Squash and Stretch. To continue learning more about the rest, let's look at the second principle with DeeDee Animation Studio: anticipation.


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