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12 principles of animation: All you need to know about Staging in story design and layout

Staging in story design and layout12 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: staging animation

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: staging animation

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 and anticipation. After that, let’s dive into the third principle: Staging

Principle of Animation: Staging

What is Staging?

Of the 12 principles of animation discovered and synthesized by Walt Disney and his associates, staging is the third principle mentioned after squash & stretch and anticipation. In the animation production process, staging is a general principle that requires in-depth cinematic knowledge. Therefore, staging is not only applied in animation but also film production.

12 principles of animation: staging animation

Staging is the principle that refers to expressing an action (or a movie idea) in a clear, coherent, and understandable way to the viewers.

Staging requires the animators to convey the emotions, attitudes, expressions of a character or scene in a way that speaks to audiences. Animators have to put themselves in the audience's shoes to understand the flow of the scenes.

To practice the staging rule, animators need to pay attention to some factors, including acting, timing, camera angle and position, settings, and set-up.

Some factors need to consider with Staging:

1. Acting

Acting in animation requires two main elements: pose and action.

Nearly a century ago, animators at Walt Disney were only able to work with two colors: black (character) and white (background). Thus, they tried hard to draw the poses and actions of the characters in a way that people understand easily.

12 principles of animation: staging animation

An example of powerful poses, shapes, and movements is in the animated film "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse".

Therefore, when describing poses and actions, artists need to show them clearly to both sides (interacting with the frame) instead of front and back (not much change in silhouettes).

Walt Disney supported this idea because of the shortage of technology (in the early days of 20th-century animation) and the efficiency of showing poses and actions in silhouettes.

12 principles of animation: staging animation

Nowadays, artists and animators still apply silhouettes to represent the actions, even in 3D animated products.

To better understand the use of silhouettes to describe actions, you can refer to the video below by Dsource:

2. Timing

Timing is probably one of the most indispensable elements in the animation process.

Animators have to understand the flow of the scenes to design and adjust the action to draw the audiences' attention. The simplest way to understand timing in staging is a set of movements in a movie scene.

Actions in the same scene need to be clearly separated and long enough for the viewer to follow and understand the flow. Two movements happening in parallel in one frame can distract audiences from the actions of the characters.

12 principles of animation: staging animation

It is necessary to link actions, expressions, and interactions of characters coherently and understandably. Especially in some funny situations, the right timing will be a decisive factor in making the audience laugh. This factor is called "comedic timing".

3. Camera

The arrangement of the viewing angle (camera) also has a crucial role in appealing to audiences.

An essential element of camera angle selection that animators and live-action film directors need to pay attention to is the composition of the frame.

Composition of frames links to choosing a near or far shot (for example, a wide shot shows actions in full scope, but a close-up clearly shows their expressions). The combination of the two types needs to be aligned appropriately by the layout editor.

Animators should also focus on “the rule of thirds” when it comes to the scene composition. The position we place our characters affects the way the audience understands their role in that scene.

12 principles of animation: staging animation

If the main elements of the scene are composited logically and intelligently, the audience will understand the focus of the frame (direction and highlights).

You can find more about composition in cinema in Interakt Films' analytical album.

4. Settings

The last element of the staging principle refers to settings (set-up, environment, etc.). This element emphasizes other details in the frame (besides the main character/element).

12 principles of animation: staging animation

If animators cannot highlight main characters, it will be impossible to establish a main-sub relationship in a frame with other details.

On the contrary, if a scene has too many extra details, it can reduce the focus of the main characters.

Besides, the arrangement of minor details reasonably and effectively can focus on the main elements in the scene and portrays the personality, emotions, and state of the actor, main character/episode that gives the viewer a clearer perception.


Staging is an important principle as it directly leads the viewer's attention and conveys the film's flow logically and understandably. Therefore, staging is important for animation in particular and cinema in general.

Moreover, staging is also essential to maximize the effectiveness of messages in the films.

DeeDee Animation Studio hopes this article will bring you the necessary knowledge of 12 basic principles for animators. In the next article, DeeDee Animation will take a closer look at Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose.


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