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Understanding the Principles of Anticipation

Rachel Reid

The principles of animation are shared across a number of artistic disciplines. Let's learn about ... wait for it ... Anticipation!

There are 12 Principles of Animation that guide professional animators, each observed directly from natural movements in life. Of all these principles, Anticipation is a vital key in adding nuance and life to our work. What’s great is that it is a fairly simple principle to grasp and can be applied to both simple and complex animations.


Anticipation adds life to your movement. It helps imply weight and momentum, begins crucial animations, and leads to a more complete motion. Once you master anticipation, you'll find that ever line, shape, and character you animate moves with a purpose.

In this tutorial, you'll learn:

  • What is Anticipation?
  • Simple and Complex examples of anticipation
  • When NOT to use anticipation

If you want to learn more about how anticipation affects character takes, check out this great exploration by School of Motion instructor Morgan Williams! And see more of Rachel's work on her site.

Principles of Animation - Anticipation

What is Anticipation?

Anticipation is the energy or driving force behind any action.  Isaac Newton said it best, stating that “every object will remain at rest or in motion unless compelled by an external force.”

This Law of Inertia applies to everything in nature.

Here’s an example of anticipation using a simple shape: a bouncing ball.

The ball anticipates down by squashing, building up energy before it is able to jump off the ground. That build up of energy is the force that brings this object to motion from its stagnant state. With anticipation, the ball feels motivated to jump, which makes it feel alive.

Let’s look at the same example but without anticipation.

Without the initial anticipation, the ball looks like it’s being pulled by some outside force, rather than pushing off the ground by its own energy and purpose. Without the ball setting up for the action, it feels unnatural; lacking weight and strength.  

Let's apply this principle to a more complex character.

Again, the character crouches down, building up momentum before releasing the energy through his legs to his hips, driving him upward.  Same principle.  Nine times out of ten, the anticipation will be in the opposite direction of the main action.

In this same example without anticipation, the movement is mechanical, leaving the character feeling as if he didn’t DECIDE to jump, but merely levitated.  Anticipation gives a feeling of purpose behind an action, thus a purpose behind the character or object you are animating.  

Let’s say you are animating a shape/ character moving forward.

With Anticipation

Without Anticipation

Naturally, your character will anticipate backward before moving forward.  The ball cannot just move forward without the energy to do so. If so, it’ll feel like it’s being dragged by something outside its control. The same is true with a walk cycle. Not only is the anticipation necessary for building up inertia, it's also a part of basic body mechanics.  By shifting his weight over his left leg, he’s able to free up his right leg to take a step. Without the anticipation, your character will end up face down! To further grasp this concept, try filming video reference of yourself.  

With Anticipation

Without Anticipation

The bigger the anticipation, the bigger the action.  The smaller the anticipation, the smaller the action. The amount of energy you build up, large or small, will reflect in the movement.   Anticipation can be so subtle that even a blink can serve as set up for an action. But that's a more advanced look into anticipation.

Anticipation in Action - The Dojo

Let’s look at anticipation in a more complex example. In School of Motion’s The Dojo, you can see here that the character comes up, building inertia before pushing his arms forward.


Same here when he shifts his weight over to the left before moving to the right.


Here, the character drops down before skipping up and forward.


And once again, here...before he jumps and spins.


When watching this piece in real time, the antics are small and subtle.  Ideally, for such big actions, more time would be spent on the antics. Nevertheless, you can FEEL the energy behind the characters. Without the anticipation, they’d look like lifeless puppets.

When NOT to Use Anticipation

Are there any examples of when NOT to use anticipation?  YES! There’s no need for anticipation if you are animating objects reacting to external forces.  Any object that doesn’t have a character cannot anticipate anything.  For example of this could be a glass tipping over or hair blowing in the wind.  These objects are not governed by their own will, thus cannot anticipate an external force.

I see you shiver with antici...........pation

And that’s anticipation!  I hope that you incorporate this important principle into your work!  If you need any more clarification on this topic, I suggest reading the Illusion of Life by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, as well as Richard Williams’s The Animator’s Survival Kit.

If you want to learn more about the basics of animation, check out Animation Bootcamp!

Animation Bootcamp teaches you the art of beautiful movement. In this course, you'll learn the principles behind great animation, and how to apply them in After Effects.

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