12 Principals of Animation

12 Principals of Animation – Character Design

Based mainly on the principal of appeal, we were tasked to create a character design that not only reflected the 12 principals of animation, but make sure that the character itself was “appealing.” Without appeal, it can be difficult to sell a character’s personality to an audience, we base our opinions and first impressions of a character on what we see first, their appearance. If a villain for example, doesn’t have any indication that they are evil be it in their expression or what they wear, it won’t effectively show their purpose in the narrative. The character must also feel compelling enough for the audience to want to watch and engage with them or else it could lead them to quickly lose interest, memorability is key. According to Disney animator John Lounsbery (1976) he claimed ” Spectators enjoy watching something that is appealing to them, whether an expression, a character, a movement, or a whole story situation. While the live actor has charisma, the animated drawing has appeal.”

Giving a character purpose is not an element that can easily be over looked in the animation industry as it really carries the narrative, all components must be there to make a good story. It is one of the main reasons why character design is such a tedious task, because it involves many different revisions of similar designs until it can fit the character’s motif. I find what makes characters most appealing is the elements you see in them that you can identify with yourself, relate-ability can allow audiences to feel a closer connection to the story and your characters.

When I thought about characters that I find appealing, my mind immediately referred to the incredible diversity of the characters in Overwatch. Although at first they may seem visually complex, their overall character and form can be simplified into a number of simple shapes. I delved more into this ideology after delving into a post I had seen from artist TATO online. They had characterised these shapes and deconstructed the characters, defining

  • Round = charismatic, harmless, endearing
  • Box = reliable, uniform, traditional
  • Triangle = cunning, dynamic, competent (downward pointing more aggressive

((Art by TATO – https://wingza.tumblr.com/post/154791597753/character-design-tips ))

I decided to make my character design personal to me and my love of mecha and machinery whilst still making sure that my character can be simplified into it’s basic form and can be easy to animate. As much as I would have liked to have included numerous details, I didn’t want to get too lost in the design, deciding that the underlying structure for my character should be the most important component to allow it to be animated. One of the main shapes I wanted to focus on as mentioned above where, “box” and “round” and the personality traits these reflected. At this point I had no real idea where the character design would take me, so I made a page of rough drafts and possible design ideas until I had settled upon something I found appealing. Refering back to shape was also reminiscent of previous lessons in regards to life drawing, especially the deconstruction of characters using shape, much like the cast design of the Disney film Aladdin.

(( Image Source – https://sites.google.com/a/kcdm.info/actiondrawing/shape-drawing00

The story I found, seemed to come to mind after seeing the character and basing the narrative from their appearance. In my case this was a spunky young girl and an aspiring mechanic, who makes up for her lack of physical ability in her all powerful mech that amplifies her strength. In playing with the pun of her being quite small, but be able to control such a a powerful robot, I decided to name my character ‘Pocket Rocket’ as it further accentuates her forward and strong personality despite her evident weaknesses without her robot.

After a process of defining my character’s structure, I began to think about what feature I thought would capture the audiences’s attention other than the characters’ shape, and that was the face. I began experimenting and drawing multiple faces for my character through thumbnails in a similar process to coming up with the character’s silhouette, I then decided upon the one I thought was most aesthetically pleasing as well as being quite endearing and playful. I wanted to play on the idea of opposites within my character design, mainly by making the pilot of my mech differentiate in strength compared to the robot. One element of the design I used to emphasise this was the fact that ‘Pocket Rocket’ relies more upon her robot physically than herself, hence the reason why she uses the giant metal hands to manoeuvre about more so than her little legs that are dangling out of the robot.

During the character design process, I had actually learned a new approach that I could contribute to my drawings in future, especially as a brief note when drawing hair. Rather than try to draw hair shapes in strands, I’m going to separate the hair into shapes, especially when it comes to the stylistic approach to drawing anime hair. In order to understand my character in a more 3D environment so I could draw her from different angles, I made a character rotation of her. In this I mainly focused on the front view, side view and 3/4 rotation, this surprisingly was a method that helped me more with redrawing this character multiple times than I had originally anticipated. When you draw something more than once, it allows you to take visual notes and give you the knowledge to repeat drawing that character.

Once I had gained a better understanding of my character’s finalised design, it was then time to carry out the task of applying four principals out of the twelve I had discussed earlier, and see if my design could represent them successfully.


  1. Anticipation

With this principal, the best way I thought I could reflect ‘Pocket Rocket’s’ actions and an example of anticipation would be by making a brief sequence of three images. That way I could break down her punch into anticipating the action, preparing for it before creating an impact with the attack. That way I could reflect how powerful the character is, especially within the fighting context that I imagined her in. As well as the anticipation for the punch, the sheer force of the impact would knock her back, causing the floor beneath her supporting hand to crack and her human legs would fly back. This provides a more natural look to my character’s combat skill, as I have mentioned previously, preparing for an action through anticipation shows the character has a thinking conscience. Rather than just diving into the movement and…excuse the pun, make the mech’s movements seem robotic.

2. Exaggeration

In addition to ‘Pocket Rocket’s” punch, I decided to put a closeup of the action in order to reflect upon the principal of exaggeration. In order to improve the intensity of the shot, I made a closeup of Pocket’s expression, with gritted teeth and shrunken pupils, you can see how dramatic and aggressive the force behind the attack really is. Another note I had referred to earlier was how much I adored with the exaggerated movements presented in anime I had grown up with, distorting limbs just to emphasise an action that can sometimes defy physics. I briefly tried to represent this by showing the clenched fist of pocket’s hand in the distance more so than just her intense expression, to give more substance to the exaggeration.

3. Squash and Stretch

In this example, I wanted to show how something like a giant robot can still have organic movements so principals like squash and stretch can still be applied. It was a challenge figuring out how to distort my initial character’s design to fit the principal, until I realised that I can just visualise it as the shapes I had deconstructed my character too previously, rather than focusing on the possibilities of bending metal. I treated the material of the mech like rubber, especially in a jumping or launching sequence, emphasised by the flames of the rockets on the back of the robot. In order to help me understand the flow of the launch, I had also drawn a distorted circle next to it, indicating the shape of the top part of the mech as well as the implication of squash and stretch.

4. Solid Drawing

With this principal, I believed it was important to show that each component of my character can perform in a 3D environment, allowing better visualisation for movement. Each part of my character from the face to the giant mechanical hands are constructed from shapes in order to give Pocket Rocket form. As I have discussed in my previous post surrounding the topic of the twelve principals, it is important to consider shapes as 3D objects, for example transforming squares and circles into cubes and spheres. Life drawing has helped me in particular with solid drawings, I wanted to put what I have learned into practice, from the basic head shape and one of the key features of my design, the hands. This is because, before life drawing, I had struggled immensely with drawing hands, it still can cause problems for me now, but if I tackle the issue head on, it won’t stifle me when trying to draw them in future.


  • “Character Design Tips”. TATO. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
  • “Disney Principles 4 – Appeal 1 -“. Johnkstuff.blogspot.co.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
  • “Shape Drawing – Action Drawing For Character Design”. Sites.google.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
  • Thomas, Frank, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas. The Illusion Of Life. New York: Hyperion, 1995. Print.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s