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This article is an overview of my online animation course called “Introduction to Animation Principles using Adobe Animate.” It’s an 8h self-study training course introducing the practicalities and theory behind the animation principles applied in a 2D medium.

How do you get started with 2D Animation? What are the animation principles? What animation exercises you should do as a beginner? How long does it take you to get familiar with the animation principles and workflows?

This animation course answers all these questions and more. Let’s get started!

About this course on animation principles

This course is the net result of the university teaching that I’ve been doing since 2012 in terms of how to effectively present the principles of animation in a way that is really intuitive to understand. After taking this course the animation principles will really stick with you.

I created this course for anyone interested in having a strong and inspiring start with 2D animation.

  • Course Level: beginner, no prerequisites regarding animation theory and software
  • Course Duration: 8 hours on-demand video
  • Course Software: Adobe Animate
  • Course Files: 35 downloadable resources, FLA files, MP4 files, PDF notes, JPG animation planning sheets
  • Real time animation workflow and explanations, from start to finish
  • Course enrollment through Udemy, with lifetime access

What you’ll learn in this animation course?

  • Basics of the 2D animation
  • Animation principles applied to a ball-character
  • Adobe Animate tools and pipelines
  • Real time animation workflow in multiple stages, from a planning sheet to the final sequence
  • Hands-on experience in creating alive animation in 3 animation exercises
  • How to read a given planning sheet
  • How to analyze a video reference
  • How to plan your own animation
Enrol on Udemy

The teaching software is Adobe Animate since it is quite handy in getting it and also comfortable when it comes to the interface. Even so, the exact same animation exercises and workflows can be applied with any animation software, either 2D or 3D.

Role of the character animator

Before showcasing the exercises from my animation course, I want to emphasize that the role of a character animator is to give life to characters and to create the illusion of life. As a beginner you have to keep reminding yourself that isn’t about the complexity of the character nor the complexity of the animation itself.

It’s all about the spark of life or the illusion of live using simple visual graphics.

The character can be anything in terms of physical appearance, from an object to an animal, to a human or a creature. It doesn’t really matter as long as the animator makes the character feel alive and the audience thinks that the character is real in terms of movement and emotions.

To understand and practice character animation you have to learn the visual language of communication. And you start doing this by learning the fundamentals of visual storytelling which in this case are the Animation Principles.

Once you understand the overall approach of the animation principles, you’ll gain quite a boost of artistic confidence.

Think of it as constructing a high-rise building. You need a structural system, a strong underground foundation before you can start adding multiple levels of that building, one on top of the other.

This course gives you strong fundamentals that will transform an absolute beginner into a confident junior character animator.

Start Lecture: Animation Principles and Physics Principles

The course opens up with a lecture in two parts. The 1st part presents the general path or journey in learning character animation like a brief progressive steps.

Then, we are looking at the animation principles in connection to physics principles. I talk about key elements of real physics such as mass and volume, type of materials, elasticity, trajectory rhythm and opposite forces.

Check out below a 15 min course sample with both the theory and practice.

So for example. The 12 Animation Principles are a set of artistic guidelines that we are using in order to “bring life” into a character. But at a beginner level all these principles are in fact laws of physical motion, with an artistic touch of course.

The 12 Animation Principles and their associated Physics Principles are:

  1. Timing Principle – associated with Rhythm or Tempo
  2. Spacing Principle – associated with Velocity and Acceleration
  3. Squash and Stretch Principle – associated with type of Material, Mass and Elasticity
  4. Arc of a Motion Principle – associated with Trajectory
  5. Anticipation Principle – associated with Momentum
  6. Overshoot Principle – associated with Inertia
  7. Secondary Action Principle – associated with Driver vs Driven Actions
  8. Follow-through Principle – associated with Delayed Loose Parts such as cloth, hair
  9. Overlapping Actions – associated with Delayed Body Parts
  10. Line of Action Principle – associated with Motion Flow
  11. Silhouette Principle – associated with Motion Shapes
  12. Exaggeration Principle – pushing the physics with everything
  13. Solid drawing Principle (only applied in 2D animation as consistent volume))

The key is to get started with learning the animation principles by experimenting with a basic character, a Ball Character and giving it the maximum of aliveness (motion and emotions).

You don’t need powerful graphics in order to create the illusion of life into an inanimate object!

The second part of the lecture presents the progression and the workflow of the 3 exercises executed during the course. I explain the complexity level within each exercise and the applied animation principles per that exercise.

Animation Exercise 1. Bouncing ball on place, loop cycle.

Everyone who is a totally new beginner into character animation (2D and 3D) must start with this animation exercise, Bouncing Ball on Place. This exercise is perfect for introducing any animation software, in this case Adobe Animate interface. But also applies the first animation principles such as Timing, Spacing, Squash and Stretch.

an animated GIF image showing the animation exercise 1/3

From real physics point of view, we look into impact forces during a free fall and opposite forces during a flight.

We start with just an inanimate ball (no environment at all) but at the end of the exercise, our ball character is being transformed. We’re gonna add to it eyes and wings so it can jump continuously on an elastic board, just like a playful little creature. The purpose is to experiment with recoil forces and elasticity during a loop cycle. So we keep things nice and simple since this is your first time working in a 24 frame rate and across a timeline.

Animation Exercise 2. Bouncing ball in space, with attenuation.

The second animation exercise is called Bouncing Ball in Space with Attenuation. It introduces a new key animation principle called Arc of a Motion and it brings the workflow of animating in multiple passes such as: Blocking – Refining – Polishing. This is the most effective animation workflow used both in 2D and 3D pipelines.

an animated GIF image showing the animation exercise 2/3

And again, from a real physics point of view, we look into non-linear motion in terms of speed and trajectory and diminution (consume) of energy over time and space.

At the end of this exercise, we’ll add something extra, an alive obstacle for the ball to interact. The purpose is to experiment with the transfer of energy and recoil between two elements.

Animation Exercise 3. Bouncing ball with tail, sliding in space.

The 3rd animation exercise from the course is being divided into two parts.

The first part, the Bouncing Ball with Tail as a Loop Cycle, introduces new animation principles such as Line of Action and Secondary Actions. But from a technical point we need to create a new character rig using Adobe Animate Hierarchy System. Is basically Exercise Number  1 but now we are adding a rigged tail to the ball.

an animated GIF image showing the animation exercise 3/3 part 1

The second part, Ball with Tail Sliding in Space introduces more principles such as Anticipation and Overshoot. We add more on the technical workflow like animating in 3 passes such as:

  • Pass 1. Blocking the main action (the body only)
  • Pass 2. Blocking the secondary action (the tail only)
  • Pass 3. Refining everything in the same time (both the body and the tail)
an animated GIF image showing the animation exercise 3/3 part 2

So this time our Ball Character doesn’t act like a ball during a free fall or a ball which is being dropped from a certain height. It acts like a Character that feels excited and it builds up its own energy necessary for making a fast and happy slide.

From a technical point of view, we’ll have a close look into troubleshooting the “motion noise” using the Motion Graphs. And we’ll use Adobe Animate Graph’s Editor in order to create a subtle settlement.

End Lecture and what’s next

The course ends with a demonstration on what you should do after completing this course.

This presentation is a 3-part demonstration that shows how to apply everything you’ve learned on your own, here’s some how to’s that I’ll explain

  • Frame by frame analysis of a life reference for identifying the animation principles
  • Drawing your own planning sheet in multiple versions or scenarios
  • Estimating the overall timing of an animated sequence

I also discuss how to just look at your own work and how to give yourself good and honest feedback.

From a technical point of view, we introduce a very handy tool called Sync Sketch for analyzing video reference or an animation clip, a free online review tool dedicated for animators.

Questions and Answers

This course is really the outcome of my teaching years because it brings the creative and practical approach of the animation principles. This approach is the one I’m using in my real-time classes.

If you really have the curiosity in getting started with 2D character animation, then I really recommend taking this course. All the exercises are progressive as theory and technical.

What are the Animation Principles?

Animation Principles also known as the 12 Animation Principles are a set of guidelines and rules of visual storytelling. These principles represent in fact real-life laws in relation to motion, locomotion, psychology, and acting.

Check out my article Where Character Animation Meets Human Behavior Sciences. I discuss how character animation merges with sciences such as Bio-mechanics, Personality Behavior, Kinesics, and Phonetics. The purpose is to understand certain details more deeply by simply incorporating new learning perspectives.

I’m a total beginner, how can I get started with animation, 2D or 3D?

Start simple and engaging at the same time. The technical medium doesn’t count too much at this level, except for the software’s tools of course. The general workflow is the same.

  • Step 1. Start with a very basic character such as a Ball with Eyes and/or Ball with Tail, definitely no limbs at all.
  • Step 2. Study the animation principles by finding the connection with natural laws of motion such as time, space, speed, mass, momentum, inertia, opposite forces. You do so by looking at real life references for example, sport balls being dropped or thrown.
  • Step 3. Increase the complexity in a progressive manner, the scenario, the character and the environment of the scene.
  • Step 4. Persist in this practice until you realize that your Ball Character can be and act like anything your mind can conceive.

What are the 3 best animation exercises that I should do as a beginner?

Exactly like I presented in this article.

  • Exercise 1. Ball Bouncing on Spot, so that you get familiar with the timeline and with the feeling of a frame rate.
  • Exercise 2. Ball Bouncing in Space, gives you a feeling of a motion with attenuation over time. The motion now happens on both axes (X and Y) at the same time.
  • Exercise 3. Ball Interacting with an environment, gives you the creative approach of interacting with different obstacles, in different manners.
  • Exercise 4. Ball with Tail jumping and sliding, gives the opportunity to really push the feeling of aliveness.

Check out my students’ work!

Have a look over my students’ animation reels, introductory courses in 2D Animation under the Department of Game Design with Uppsala University from Sweden, 2020/21. All students were totally new beginners in both animation theory and software. The teaching software was Adobe Animate however, students were allowed to choose any preferred software.

I taught this course via Zoom (due to the Pandemic) and all the presented material was created during 20 teaching weeks, with 6h/week class time. However, I started within the same type of the animation exercises which I explain in my Udemy course and as I’ve said it created a strong base  for this type of animation work.

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

I teach digital art courses online and on-location. My mission is to challenge students to reach their maximum potential for creativity and authenticity.

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