Animation Storytelling

10 Animation Storytelling Principles (Expert References): Part 2

In Part 1 of our epic animation storytelling saga, we delved into the fundamental principles that weave the heart and soul of all good narratives.

Now, in Part 2, we’ll venture into the realm of execution. We’re ready to pull back the curtain and reveal visual animation storytelling principles that can transform a story into a charming final piece.

Just like part 1, this edit is inspired by the words of animation gurus, pages of animation bibles, and books written by masters of the craft.


Second – Bring Stories to Animated Life

The final five principles – Visual Clarity and Simplicity, Timing and Rhythm, Exaggeration and Appeal, Appeal to the Senses, and Cinematic Storytelling Techniques – serve as the artist’s toolkit. Once mastered, the audience’s senses are yours for the taking.

It is then that you can:

  • Translate emotions and ideas into 2D and 3D animation
  • Convey feelings through movements and expressions
  • Emphasize key moments with exaggeration
  • Take advantage of cinematic techniques to guide the viewer’s attention
  • Create a truly immersive experience.

Animation has the potential to transcend mere entertainment and become a powerful force for storytelling, education, and social change. But only if creators dare to wield it!

Remember that your work has the power to shape minds, inspire hearts, and challenge perceptions. When that potential is squandered, you’re doing a disservice not only to the art form but to the audience who could have been enriched by it as well.

So keep your eyes peeled as we explore the 5 principles of animation storytelling that can breathe life into narratives.

Principle 6: Visual Clarity and Simplicity

Source: “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

“In the art of animation, you can achieve much more by simplicity than by complexity. The more you leave out, the more the audience will see.”
“The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation”

In the animation world, the temptation to make jaw-dropping, over-the-top animated scenes and characters is always there. And don’t take this wrong, no one’s telling you to ignore those temptations. But animation’s visual prowess hinges on clarity and simplicity.

That’s why you should use clear visual language to effectively convey the right emotions, actions, and characters’ intentions. After all, animation does have the power to manipulate time and space, and it’d be a waste to miss out on them because of, say a cluttered setting.

Think of it like this:

If your animation fails to convey the story’s message clearly enough, it’s not much different from a mere spectacle. Sure, it might still look “entertaining”, but what good would that do if your viewer can’t follow the story?

7 Tips for Clear Visual Storytelling

Here are a few factors to help you achieve that clarity as said by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston:

1. Let Lines Speak: Lines are the building blocks for any 2D or 3D being. Use them expressively and you can show characters’ form, movements, and emotions like a pro.

2. Pop Those Silhouettes: especially if you want all eyes on them no matter how crowded the setting gets. Following narratives is smoother once silhouettes become visual nicknames.

3. Master the Mood with Color & Shades: Color and shading are your tools to set the stage, establish atmosphere, and evoke emotions. Use them wisely.

4. Economy of Movement: Make movements simple and avoid unnecessary complexities.

5. Exaggerate that Punch: Exaggerate impacts but in a controlled way (and remember, a little exaggeration goes a long way).

6. Staging and Composition: Carefully arrange characters and elements inside the frame to guide the viewer’s eye and emphasize key moments in the story.

7. Slow-In, Slow-Out: Slow down for moments of tension, drama, or emotional intensity, and let the animation linger for a more noticeable impression.

By avoiding over-complication in visuals, you’re allowing the core elements of the story to breathe. But that doesn’t mean that your animated creations should be bland or boring. The trick is to find the sweet spot between simplicity and detail, making sure the story doesn’t get lost in the specifics while keeping things visually pleasing.

Principle 7: Exaggeration and Appeal

Source: “The Animator’s Handbook” by Preston Blair

“When I was directing I used to say to the animators, ‘Will you do something for me?’ Will you make it so extreme that you make me mad?’”
– Dave Hand, Disney Animator and Director

Yes, this principle might sound like the opposite of the last one. After all, clarity and simplicity strive for a clean, uncluttered visual style, while exaggeration and appeal embrace the freedom to distort and embellish!
But bear with us.

These two sets of principles aren’t actually at odds with each other. In fact, they can work in harmony to create unforgettable animated stories.
Imagine a world where characters move and express themselves with the precision and restraint of a Swiss watch. Sure, every movement would be technically flawless, but the result might feel emotionally sterile and lifeless.

Similarly, if every character were hyper-realistically rendered, with every pore and wrinkle meticulously detailed, the animation would lose its sense of charm and whimsy. This is where exaggeration and appeal come into play.

How many times have Pixar mom physiques or Anime eye styles stood out to you because of their exaggerated art style?
Animation is not bound by the constraints of reality, and it is in this freedom that exaggeration finds its true potential. By exaggerating movements, facial expressions, and even character designs, animators can emphasize emotions, actions, and personalities in a way that live-action simply cannot.

Also, when used with care, exaggeration can add depth and personality to characters. Whether it’s oversized ears or constantly repeating a silly catchphrase, amplified traits can be powerful tools.

INNER WORKINGS – PAUL layered visual development by Production Designer Paul Felix. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Principle 8: Timing and Rhythm

Source: “The Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams

“The art of animation is the art of timing.”
– Richard Williams

Timing is the essence of animation, the delicate balance between speed and duration of movements. It’s the difference between a character’s casual stroll and their adrenaline-fueled sprint, the subtle blink of an eye and the wide-eyed shock of surprise.

Image from I Want to Be an Animator Blog

Rhythm is the underlying pattern of movement and the beat that drives the animation forward. It’s the steady cadence of a character walking, the syncopated rhythm of a chase scene, or the slow, deliberate movements of a character lost in thought.

In animation words:
More frames = slower movement
Fewer frames = faster movement

Just as a musician uses notes, rests, and tempo to create a melody, an animator uses timing and rhythm to compose the music of movement.

Timing and rhythm are essential tools for creating anticipation and release, two fundamental elements of storytelling. By delaying a movement, an animator can build anticipation, making the audience eager to see what happens next. And by releasing that tension with a sudden burst of movement, the animator creates a sense of excitement, surprise, or relief.

Just pay attention to the graceful movements of Princess Aurora in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” made possible by meticulous attention to timing and weight distribution.

Principle 9: Appeal to the Senses

Source: “The Art of Animation: From Pencil to Pixel” by Giannalberto Bendazzi

“Appeal in animation…is about imbuing animation with a sense of charm, empathy, and relatability that transcends cultural and generational boundaries.”
– Giannalberto Bendazzi

As contradictory as this statement is going to sound, animation storytelling is not just about telling stories. It’s also about creating worlds that feel real, characters we can connect with, and experiences that resonate with our deepest selves.

By creating emotionally, personally, and visually appealing characters, you’ll have the power to evoke emotions, highlight moods, and even reveal character nuances.

In short, appealing to the senses is what makes an animation memorable beyond the digital screen. For example, have you ever asked yourself, “Why does food in anime look so good?”

Answering that question becomes much easier after reading principle number 7 because now we know that artists, animators, and editors all do their best to exaggerate food features and appeal to your senses.

And animation has the unique ability to appeal to all the senses, not just sight. That’s how food in animation can look so good your mouth waters or the ocean looks so clear you feel tempted to dip your toes in it.

Sound effects can also add realism and impact to actions, while music can evoke emotions and set the tone for the scene. Tactile elements, like food textures and the movement of ocean waves, can also create a more immersive visual experience.

Another element that can majorly change how appealing your animation story looks is layout and camera angles. This brings us to the last principle of impressive animation storytelling, smart use of cinematic techniques.


Principle 10: Cinematic Storytelling Techniques

Source: “Mastering Animation: The Art of Creating Motion Illusions” by Andreas Deja

Andreas Deja is one of the “Nine Old Men” responsible for perfecting the 12 basic principles of animation. In his book, Deja taps into an arsenal of storytelling tools borrowed from the world of filmmaking. These “cinematic storytelling techniques” pay attention to small details like layout and perspective.

Cinematic techniques such as camera angles, framing, composition, editing, and lighting let animators guide the audience’s attention, establish atmosphere, and enhance the emotional impact of the story.
These techniques serve as adaptable, time-honored tools that have been passed down from generation to generation. Animators can also employ them to add a layer of sophistication and cinematic flair to their creations.

3 Cinematic Storytelling Tricks

Here’s a short list of Deja’s cinematic storytelling techniques for animators.

1. Painting with Perspective:
A painter’s brush can guide the viewer’s gaze, evoke emotions, and establish the mood of each scene. Imagine a high-angle shot looking down on a character, creating a sense of vulnerability and isolation. Or picture a low-angle shot, emphasizing the power and dominance of another character.

2. Light and Shadows:
There’s probably no need to emphasize the fact that lighting can be transformative (right?). With careful manipulation of light and shadow, we can create dramatic contrasts, highlight key moments, and show different emotions. A dimly lit alleyway can instill a sense of suspense, while a warm, sunlit meadow can radiate joy and tranquility.

3. Editing:
Editing to the animator is what notes are to the musician. Selecting, arranging, and transitioning between shots can create a cohesive narrative and make sure every moment has its intended impact.

Third – Storytelling & Visualization Nexus

Finally, you’ve reached the point where storytelling and visualization converge.

Words, the foundation of storytelling, provide the narrative framework, the characters’ voices, and the emotional resonance that drives the story forward. And animation, the art of bringing stories to life through movement, breathes life into the words, transforming them from mere text into a symphony of visual expression.

Once you put your internal and external resources to good use and harmoniously blend storytelling principles with visualization, the animation will serve as the powerful medium it’s meant to be. It is then that it becomes a medium to convey everything that makes characters alive and your world real.

In other words:

Power of words + Artistry of motion = Captivating Animation Narrative

A Final Word

The power of animation lies in its ability to transcend the limitations of language, communicating emotions and ideas that words alone cannot fully capture. Through the artistry of movement, animators can evoke subtle nuances of feeling, convey unspoken thoughts, and create moments of profound emotional impact.

When storytelling and visualization merge harmoniously, animation becomes a powerful tool for exploring the complexities of the human experience. You can go as shallow or as deep as you want, delving into themes of love, loss, friendship, courage, and the search for meaning.

By understanding and applying the principles outlined in both blogs, animators can create an animation that is aesthetically gorgeous, emotionally resonant, and narratively rich.
Let’s connect! If you are as excited about creating a wonderful animated video or a series as we are, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


content writer
Sadaf Roshan
Copy Writer

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