All modern-day animation is built on the foundations of the Principles of Animation, the 12 techniques that all animators should understand and practice as much as possible.
We have the original Disney Animators who worked on the earliest and most well-known Disney animations to thank for these concepts and it is indeed something every animator should know about.
Of course, the reason most of Disney’s biggest hits are so good is that the animators practiced their craft. A lot. We can all really take inspiration from this.
The best artists and indeed the best animators are those that never stop learning, and never stop practicing.
Freelance animators need to be making sure that they’re spending as much time as they can honing their skills and practicing their craft. It isn’t all about work, work, work.
In this blog post, we’re going to cover a variety of animation exercises that freelance animators can consider in order to get better at animating.
These exercises are also a great way to spend some time not working so incredibly hard on projects. Sometimes taking a bit of time out to work on your abilities shows that you as a freelance animator have great time management skills.
Animation Exercises Make The Heart Grow Stronger
It may seem tough to find a balance between your work and personal lives, but if you have some spare time, consider working on your own personal animation projects, and doing some animation exercises to really solidify your basic skills.
If you practice more and get more comfortable with ensuring you have time to practice, your future professional self with thank you.
It’s also important that you know what kind of freelance animator you want to be. If you want to stick to 2D or 3D animation, you need to practice certain elements of animating to be a good animator.
Considering the vast number of possible animation exercises available, we’re going to only list 30 for you, and break them up into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced exercises.
Beginner Animation Exercises
The focus of beginner animation exercises is more on inanimate objects and the interactions they have with their environments, but we have included some beginner character animation exercises as well.
Do not discredit the simplicity of the exercises! They’re here to ensure you understand the basics of animation and are incredibly important to refer back to every now and then to make sure you’re not regressing.
These exercises are also here to help in case you feel yourself working into a hole from which you can’t escape. As we mentioned before, sometimes you need to reset your brain a little bit by going back to the drawing pad and working on the basics!
1. Ball Bouncing In Place
The focus here is on making sure the animation loops properly. Ensure that there is no delay between the ball falling, hitting the ground, and then bouncing up.
Remember and practice the Squash and Stretch principle of animation.
2. Ball Bouncing Across The Screen
To ensure a ball convincingly bounces across the screen, you need to make sure you’re nailing the interaction the ball has with the floor.
Remember and practice the Squash and Stretch, and Arc principles.
3. Brick Falling Off A Shelf Onto The Ground
There are a few ways of going about this, but the thing to keep in mind is how the brick gains and loses momentum throughout the fall.
Try to work on getting the Squash and Stretch, Anticipation, and Arc principles down for this one.
4. Character Turning Their Head (Using Arcs)
A character turning their head with and without anticipation is a deceptively simple animation exercise.
Anticipation is when you initially send your character in the opposite direction to build momentum. It’s a great tool to use to let your audience know in which direction something will occur.
Consider the Anticipation, Straight-ahead Action/Pose to Pose principles.
5. Character Blinking
Having your character blink convincingly shows signs of life in your character. You can make it a more effective animation by combining it with your character turning their head as if following a conversation.
Here you are practicing the Slow in and Slow out principles.
6. Character Thinking
Much more difficult than it sounds. It’s not enough to simply have your character stare off into the distance and create the illusion of there being something happening in their head. You need to make sure you can tell your character is living, breathing, and thinking.
You should make sure you have an understanding of the Staging principle, which is incredibly important here.
7. Flour Sack Waving
Much in the same way as the ball bouncing in place exercise, make sure to nail the looping animation.
Remember and practice the Appeal principle.
8. Flour Sack Jumping
Using a flour sack instead of a ball creates a slightly more difficult approach, but it’s still a great exercise for learning how objects interact with space.
Remember your Squash and Stretch, and Arc principles.
9. Flour Sack Falling
Two methods for making this animation are either having the sack hit the ground after some time or making the fall loop. Both are good animation exercises for understanding air space.
Make sure you work on the Squash and Stretch, Anticipation, and Arc principles.
10. Flour Sack Kicking A Ball
This exercise can be quite fun in that there are a number of ways you can set the scene. Your sack can kick from a standing stance, take a running start, or even miss the ball completely and fall flat on its back.
All of the examples require different focus on different principles, so it might be good to try them all and even think of other circumstances where a flour sack would be kicking a ball.
Ensure you consider the Staging and Follow-through principles.
Intermediate Animation Exercises
The focus of these intermediate animation exercises is more on full-bodied characters and their interactions with themselves and their environment.
An important principle to keep in mind is the Staging Principle of Animation, but of course, there are other principles that come into play here as well.
11. Character Changing Emotion
Gif by Brookewagstaff via Brookewagstaff
There is such a wide range of emotions a person can feel, and translating them effectively into animation can be tricky, hence the importance of these animation exercises. The trick is to pick some common emotions and work with those, such as happy to sad, sad to angry, etc.
Remember and practice the Staging and Anticipation principles.
12. Character Lifting Something Heavy
Having practiced your character changing emotion is a great skill to have mastered before attempting to have your character lift something, especially if it’s heavy. Remember, your character needs to be showing exertion by the force of the action.
Remember and practice the Staging, and Squash and Stretch principles.
13. Character Jumping Over A Gap
This exercise is the same as the flour sack example, but now with a full-bodied character, which adds a lot more for you to focus on. Your character can stumble, take a running jump, eye their surroundings, and much much more.
Remember again your Squash and Stretch, and Arc principles
14. Character Standing Up (From A Chair)
Getting used to animating your characters moving from scene to scene, and changing positions while they’re at it, is an incredibly important skill to have as an animator. Be sure to practice this as much as you can, especially if you plan on working with characters in your daily life.
For an added challenge, have your character go through a range of emotions, such as being comfortable in their sitting position, to showing contempt for having to get up. Have some fun with it!
For this, practice the Staging and Slow In and Slow Out principles.
15. Character Walk, Run, And Jump Cycles
Having a basic understanding of how the body works is imperative in making your characters come to life. If they don’t walk, run, and jump properly, then they won’t feel real.
HOWEVER, if that’s your intention, then you need to make sure it’s consistently unreal. If you want to make them feel a little offputting in their motions, you need to figure out a way to make sure it looks consistently “wrong”.
Remember and follow the Follow through and Overlapping, Squash and Stretch, and Arc principles, but keep all principles in mind while working on your characters.
16. Character Jumping On A Pogo Stick
Being able to make your characters interact with various tools and instruments in their surroundings is a great skill to have, and
For this, the Staging, Squash and Stretch, and Arc principles are important.
17. Character Reaching For An Object On A High Shelf
This exercise allows you to work on perspective, an incredibly important aspect of animation.
For some different exercises, consider working from different angles and perspectives, such as your character’s perspective, the object’s perspective, and the perspective of someone watching the action occur.
Remember and practice the Staging and Appeal principles, and make sure you have Solid Drawing skills to make shading, weight, and volume make a big difference.
18. Character Climbing A Wall
Try practicing making your character climb a wall of differing heights, using different perspectives to add a challenge to the animating process.
Remember to consider the Appeal principle, to make sure you have an environment that’s engaging to an audience.
19. Character Being Hit By Something
Your character could get hit by anything: a ball, a brick, someone’s hand. The key factor in making the animation pop is the reaction of your character.
Remember the Secondary Action, Timing, and Slow in and Slow out principles.
20. Tree Falling Over
If an animated tree falls over in a forest, does it make a sound? It doesn’t have to obviously, but it does need to interact with the ground in some way. Branches breaking or leaves rustling, something needs to happen to the tree on the way down, as well as when it hits the ground.
Make sure to practice the Timing and Slow in and Slow out principles.
Advanced Animation Exercises
Gif by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey via Getyarn
The focus of advanced animation exercises is more on acting and states of being, and this is where having some understanding of the human body can really help.
In some instances, more advanced animation exercises incorporate simple exercises. The trick is to make your animation more realistic and interactive, and the main principle to focus on throughout these advanced animation exercises is, once again, the Staging Principle.
21. Close Up Of A Hand Performing An Action
While this may not seem like such an advanced animation exercise, pay close attention to what happens when you open and close your own hand for reference. The grooves in your hand and the shadows of your fingers interact in unique ways.
While you obviously don’t need to make every individual line of your hand present when practicing, it’s good to keep it in mind for the future if you plan on doing more realistic animated projects.
Remember and practice the Staging principle, and make sure you have Solid Drawing skills as well.
22. Character Waiting For A Bus That Is Late
With this exercise, pay close attention to and ensure that your character goes through a range of emotions that correspond with relevant body postures and positions to make sure that your animation feels real.
Once again, the Staging and Appeal principles are important to consider to make sure your environment is engaging.
23. Character Painting
This animation exercise is also a great exercise for your drawing skills. Being able to paint on a canvas vicariously through your animated character is a very good skill to have; essentially you’re placing yourself in the shoes of your character.
Same as before with the Staging and Appeal principles, and make sure your character’s movements are solid.
24. Character Reacting To Having Difficulty Opening Something
There are a few extra things you can consider while working on this exercise. Perhaps your character comes across the object, initially struggles to open it, and then eventually opens it and is either excited or disappointed by what’s inside.
This exercise is great for working on your storytelling skills as well.
Remember the Exaggeration, Secondary Action, and Staging principles.
25. Character Listening To A Phone Call (Not Speaking, Just Reacting To The Conversation)
This exercise is also great for storytelling, as it allows you to choose a subject matter and work on certain emotions accordingly.
Your character can go through a range of emotions, like we practiced earlier, or simply be utterly bored with the conversation and attempt to distract themselves with items in their vicinity. The world is your oyster?
For this exercise, remember the Staging, and Appeal principles.
26. Two Characters Having A Conversation, Showing Different Emotions
Having two different characters in a scene adds a degree of difficulty that is often overlooked, especially when both characters are in the same shot.
If you’re constantly switching between the characters in different shots, it can be somewhat easier, but who wants to live life easily? That sounds boring!
Consider the Staging and Appeal principles for the exercise, and make sure you’re able to convey emotion in your characters’ faces and bodies.
27. Character Doing Something Intending To Grab The Attention Of Others
This exercise can definitely help you understand the subtleties of human interaction. There could be a lot of eye movement and facial expressions, but you could also go the other way and make your character run around all over the place.
Both are acceptable challenges in the way in which they interact with themselves and their environments.
Practice the Staging, Appeal, and Secondary Action principles for this exercise.
28. Object Falling Into A Disturbing Body Of Water
Water physics is tough, we all know this. The simplistic nature of the single body of water combined with the randomness of the liquid itself lends itself to a challenge that, if you’re working on realism, can take up a heck of a lot of time.
Try and start small. You don’t need to be a master Water Bender (or Blender) from the get-go!
All of the Principles of Animation are important to keep in mind to make that water look good!
29. A Single Piece Of Paper Falling Through The Air
You’ll tend to find that once you’re animating something interacting with the air around it, the process suddenly becomes more difficult. That’s because air interacts randomly and often with different parts of an object at the same time.
Working on something as simple as a piece of paper falling through the air will give you a great understanding of how an object can interact with seemingly nothing at all. The paper needs to fold in on itself while falling, sway from side to side, and that’s not all.
Practice first by dropping a piece of paper outside. Maybe take a video to be able to watch it back and practice that way.
Same and again, all your Principles of Animation are required to make sure your animations are airtight (sorry)!
30. Overlapping Actions (Floppy Ears, A Tail, Etc.)
Overlapping and follow-through action is one of the 12 Principles of Animation. While it may not seem as intense a principle, getting your objects and characters to interact with themselves can sometimes become a chore.
Think of when your character is running and suddenly they stop. Their hair needs to move and stop with momentum, moving at a different rate to their head.
To manage your flow realistically, you need to be able to overlap your actions well.
Practice As Many Animation Exercises As You Can
There are always things we can do to better ourselves as creatives, and we need to make sure we’re effectively setting aside time for such things as practicing our skills and working on personal projects.
There are a huge number of exercises to choose from that you as a freelance animator can utilize to better your skills in animation, but we only chose 30 to guide you through the initial processes.
You can also consider making up your own exercises for your own personal projects in your spare time, to really give yourself a challenge.
While it may sound counterintuitive, sometimes when you feel burnt out it can be very good to take a break from all the hard work and have some fun practicing your skills instead. Doing personal projects is a great way to pass the time if you don’t want to take a holiday but still feel as if you’re getting something done!
It doesn’t matter where you are in your career as a freelance animator, working on and honing the basics of your craft can and will always do more good than harm.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with starting from the beginning and working your way up.
For more info about the animation industry and different exercises that freelance animators can take part in, be sure to follow our blogs, check out our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!