Best Practices in Animation

Best practices in animation can make your life as an animator productive and efficient! In fact, bringing animation to life can be a painstakingly tedious endeavor. Even with animation software a short clip can take hours of work and require at least a basic knowledge of how the software works which can be overwhelming for someone who is new to the animation game.

Newbies look at complex and beautifully animated movies done by Pixar and DreamWorks and wish that they could share in some of that talent.

But like many things animating isn’t just about the level of talent a person has nor is it always necessarily based on an esoteric knowledge bestowed upon someone by some learning institution. To become a successful animator one should follow a certain number of practices that many serious animators adhere to.

Image for post
Image for post

Best Practices in Animation

Practice Makes Perfect

The first best practice in animation is to, well, practice. Animating isn’t something that someone can tell you how to do like microwaving popcorn or installing car batteries and you sure aren’t going to find any tutorials online that will instantly make you a pro. Back in the early days of Disney animated movies, those people didn’t have online tutorials or YouTube videos that they could rely on in order to create movies like Snow White and the Little Mermaid which found their way into millions of homes throughout the world.

Basics of Animation

No, those animators had to put in the time and effort to make such art. A good way to practice is to start off with something simple. For example, when someone wants to make their first animation they will begin with a simple shape like a ball and they will learn to move it across the screen. They might make it bounce or roll but the idea is to keep it basic.

The basics are very important and are the foundation for what the rest of your future animations will be. To step it up a notch one might practice making a character perform simple movements such as jumping or standing up from a seated position which allows the animator to make small adjustments in the character’s body that give the illusion that the character is in motion.


When an animator becomes familiar with making simple movements they might take it to the next level and make a clip of a more intricate series of movements. An animation of a close-up of a hand picking up a small object requires strong attention to detail and multiple objects moving at once. In this example, you would likely want to pay attention to the way that each finger moves around the objects and bends them to get a grip. You’d probably also want to show how the skin wrinkles around each knuckle if you were doing a more detailed animation.

Doing these types of exercises may seem mundane at first but you wouldn’t want to jump right into a big project if you didn’t have any experience animating. If you could learn to have fun practicing basic animations, you will undoubtedly become better. Also, maybe even great which will show when you put your mind to an important project.

Practice Correctly

Best practice in animation makes perfect but only if you practice correctly. When learning how to make objects move you want to be able to make them move in a realistic way, even if moderately exaggerated for a comic effect. Seek out real-world references. In order to make animation seem lifelike, you ought to study the way a body goes through certain motions.


Watch how people walk through the streets and how they look around or lead with their eyes. Typically, a person will look in the direction in which they want to move, and then their head points to that direction followed by the neck, the shoulders, and so on until the whole body is oriented to move towards wherever the eyes lead them. When animating a face the animator will often make a recording of a voice-over artist’s face as they lay down the audio for a character.

The animator will use this video as a reference guide when trying to express emotions in the animation. A good way to make a reference guide for character movements to film yourself and use that to capture expressions for your work. When you’ve got a good idea of how you want your character to move it’s best to form key poses first.

Express Emotions

Trying to express emotion in animation is important when it comes to timing your character’s movements. For example, when trying to give a character a happy or excited appearance you’d want to give it quick and sharp movements. Or if your character was depressed, for example, Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, you’d give him a slow or sluggish motion.

When making animations you also want them to appear balanced. If you were to make your character stand on his/her right foot while holding a bowling ball in the left hand you’d want to have the character lean to their right side in order to counterbalance the weight of the ball. Otherwise, this just looks weird and unnatural. This is another good opportunity to use real-world references.

If you were to watch a snowboarder hit a jump you would first notice the rider getting centered on the board as they approached the jump while bending their knees. When they hit the lip of the jump their knees will straighten out quickly to give them a boost in height as they become airborne. They will then sail through the air and come in for a landing at which point their knees will bend again and they will slide away. These parts can be described as anticipation, action, and reaction.

These three stages are the main parts of every major movement and can be very useful when figuring out how to animate a character.

When animating a character who is speaking it might seem like an alien is talking if you were to try to form every letter in the character’s speech. If you watch someone talk you will notice that they don’t physically form each letter with their lips. Instead, you would see a more generalized movement through their face.

Also, if you watched someone say the word ‘slow’ you would notice that their teeth come together with lips slightly open as they start the ‘s’ sound and follow up with an open mouth that forms the ‘low’ at the end. In fact, it’s kind of like reading a word. When you read you don’t say every letter rather the letters come together to make a unique sound.

Story Boards

When animating a big project, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of work and attention to detail involved. Even in a short clip, you might have several scenes and multiple layers working together to illustrate a story. Because there is a lot of work involved and many components to keep track of it is important to stay organized and there are a few ways to do this.

It is very common for animators to use storyboards to bring their animations to life. Storyboards were developed by Walt Disney Productions during the 1930s and have been widely used ever since. Generally, storyboards are a series of basic drawings designed to deliver the gist of the story. Each drawing represents a scene and should immediately give you an idea of what is going on at that point in the animation. The best storyboards are simple- don’t waste time making your storyboard look pretty and well-illustrated.

Just draw an image or two to represent each scene and then focus on each scene one by one as you begin your animation. When you are able to focus on each individual scene then you can start working out all the details.

Also, when you do start to focus on each scene take the time needed to really think them through. Right from when will each scene start and end. Also, what characters are going to be present, and what backgrounds will be needed? It is also a good time to figure out how to use special effects like sound to convey the feeling that you want the viewer to experience.


Timing can play a big part in conveying feelings of realism. It is important that you map out your timing. For example, if you have a soccer player kicking a ball you want to calculate how many frames it will take for the kicker’s foot to swing and make contact with the ball and then how many frames the ball will fly through the air. Too many frames and the ball will seem like it’s filled with helium, too few frames will give the viewer the impression that the kicker has never kicked a ball before and will likely be kicked from the team.

Recycling basic animations is also a good way to stay organized and to save time. If you say you wanted to make a crowd of people walking around it would be a huge waste of time to animate each individual person in the crowd from scratch.

Instead make a bare-bones, minimally detailed character walk and then save the animation in a file that you won’t manipulate. Then copy that basic animated character and paste it throughout your scene. Once you have multiple copies included in your scene you can go in and add finer detail like clothing, facial features, and hair or even change the gait of individuals in the scene. This will save you a boatload of time and should give you a good idea of other ways to recycle animations.

Keep it Simple

Possibly one of the biggest ways to enhance your animations is to keep things simple. It is far too easy to get flustered when making animations and trying to include as much detail as possible only compounds the problem. If you watch a good animation you may notice that the animators are trying to focus the attention on one part of the animation. To do that they don’t allow for any extra movements or detail around the fringes of each scene.

Characters make simple movements and are not shown to be flexing every muscle in their bodies as might be required in real life. Backgrounds and foregrounds are fairly basic and aren’t attention-grabbing. This is especially important for instructional or informational videos where the purpose of the animation is to teach a person about something. If you intend to teach someone via an animated movie, why would you overwhelm them with beautiful animations that are distracting and time-consuming? Keep it simple and focus on the content of the story that you are trying to convey.

Animating can be a fun and very rewarding activity or profession but it is important to understand that it is a skill developed over time, and basic best practices in animation are one area. No one has ever been a master animator right off the bat nor is it likely that any of them have ever required guidance. All good animators share in a few of the core practices detailed above and all have spent many, many hours practicing their art.

Creativity through Animation

Image for post
Image for post

Creativity through animation grants you the ability to breathe life into artwork, fueling your own creativity in the process. This is especially prevalent in young children, as explored in the April 6, 2016, article Harnessing Young People’s Creativity Through Animation, by Stephanie Bryant. In it, the piece tackles the informal ‘status quo’ so-to-speak, that only people in cities and those well-off in life are successful in the field of film making, art, etc.

Proving that those not as fortunate as the rest of us in terms of living arrangements can be just as successful when given the appropriate tools. “Animation provides lots of opportunities for learning.

The animation itself is not limited to the two-dimensional form of art on a screen since as stated above, not everyone has the tools necessary for that. Another avenue of the art is that of stop-motion, with clay as a medium. Something explored in the article Clay Animation, by the Children’s Creativity Museum.

The Role of Animation

Animation role is widespread and found in entertainment as well as on the web. Most of the time, when people think of animation, they associate it with video games. Of course, this is the main use of animation. However, many other industries use the technology and convenience of animation, and for various uses and benefits. There are different industries that use animation frequently.

  • Medical field.
  • Education.
  • Entertainment.
  • The video game industry.
  • Architectural uses.

Medical Field

Animation’s role in such a field plays a key role in diagnosis as well as research. Medical conditions and general health at times may be difficult to convey from a doctor’s viewpoint. Obviously, the doctor has much experience, so it is easy for him or her to understand what is happening inside someone’s body. The patient, on the other hand, more than likely has no medical experience, so it may be challenging for the doctor to put what they need to say in layman’s terms. This is where the animation comes in. The animation team is able to create animations that convey the basic ideas and processes of the body or medical conditions so that the patient knows exactly what is going on.

For example, the patient may have cancer somewhere in their body. If the doctor wants to show them how cancer may affect their internal health, the animation team would be able to create a video that shows its growth and possible effects over time. This way, the patient knows where in the body the cancer is and how it would look and act at different stages.


Animation’s role in education is always changing as it morphs into new teaching and learning practices. Such methods change in order to educate better. Children in school and college students are keeping with the times, and learn in different and new ways. Thus, there always has to be a new method to teach so that it stays fresh in the mind of the student.

Animation may be used in a PowerPoint presentation, or just by itself. As mentioned previously, the animation is useful in health, so medical students could greatly benefit and learn specific concepts better from its use. Also, for young students, it takes a significant amount of action for them to be entertained. Therefore, for basic core subjects like math or science, animation can easily show possible outcomes and solutions to problems. This method can also continue on to high school for students, where classes get more subject-specific, like chemistry, forensics, or geometry.

Now, the general benefits of using animation for education are that these will instill the concepts needed into the students. Everyone is instinctively more receptive to visual aids, and comprehension improves when students learn something both audibly and visually. The natural openness to this method is very beneficial as well.

Students will listen and learn more from an in-depth, direct application animation, than from a single teacher or instructor sitting in front of the class, talking the whole time. Another use of animation in education is that if it is readily available for students, they may be better able to express themselves, whether it be in a presentation, an assignment, or as some sort of clarification.

Entertainment & Video Games

While video games may not be absolutely necessary for survival, they have become a huge part of our culture. Animation in video games is interactive with the user, the person playing the video game allows the game to continue.

Besides just looking good and timing interactivity must be able to work well for the user. Modern-day animation allows for, “complex rigs giving animators much more control over the characters.”. This means it takes more work and more time to complete animation in video games, but the outcome is worth it. In the ’80s arcades were all the rage, simple animation in Pac man, and donkey kong, which seemed like to most amazing thing.

Then Mario came along and so did 3D which was even more amazing than before. Xbox and Playstation followed allowing for the user to play more complicated video games. At the rate, the animation is moving it won’t be long before we are amazed by the next advancement of animation.

Image for post
Image for post


It can be created on a computer and showcased on various devices making it easily accessible. Also, it is important for clients to see the building or house plan in order to decide whether they want to buy it or not. No matter what area animation is being used interactivity is present, that’s why it has become useful in so many other areas than just for entertainment purposes.

Animation has become a key role in architecture and design. It is very useful and important in architecture. A 3D animation of a construction project can always be used in presentations by architects, developers, and urban planners to showcase the project to buyers. Not only can you see a 3D plan of a construction project but advancements in animation allow for it.

3D animations are flexible to customization, specifications, creativity, materials, photos, and floor plans. It is used as a marketing tool for architecture and companies.

In conclusion, the animations’ role has evolved and is no longer just used for entertainment purposes. It is used in many areas including, education, the medical field, architecture, and of course video games. The animation is a way of interaction and creativity that serves our society and makes our lives easier. Whether it’s contemplating buying a house, or understanding a medical issue, or learning in school, or playing a game, the animation is a useful tool and will only continue to grow in our society.

A Seattle web design and online marketing agency that delivers high-end websites. A passion for web development and SEO.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store