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How Freelance Animators Use The 12 Principles of Animation

“I want you to be you, the best version of you, because, ultimately, that’s what inspires the world.”

Steve Savalle

The 12 principles of animation were first introduced in 1981 by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. 

In their book “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation,” Johnston and Thomas examine the work of Disney animators from the 1930s onwards and condense their approach to animation down to 12 basic principles. These principles of animation form the foundation of all animation work and are relevant to several fields. 

The principles of animation are important to understand if you are an animator as having a firm grasp of these principles will help you take your animation work to the next level.

The 12 principles of animation aren’t only important for creating amazing and compelling animations, they can also help you better your freelance animation career and improve your skill as an animator. 

There are also several dos and don’ts when running a freelance animation business, like not taking on too much work, taking feedback with a grain of salt, and staying organized. 

In this blog, we explain how freelance animators use the 12 principles of animation to improve their freelance animation business and improve on the critical skills needed to run a successful freelance animation business.

The 12 Principles of Animation for Freelancers?

1. Squash and Stretch
squash and stretch can be used for your mind as a freelance animator

GIF by Achiloid via Giphy

This principle of animation can be used to squash your bias and stretch your mind. Anything is possible through animation but our personal biases often get in the way and prevent us from reaching our full potential.

These biases cause us to hyper-focus on one thing or in one direction when there are endless possibilities out there. You need to squash the things your brain normally wants you to do and stretch your mind.

Try doing something differently than you normally would to overcome your group bias. For example, instead of staying in your bubble and only working with the same animators and clients over and over again, try looking outside this bubble and learning from others who do things differently from you.

Following this principle of animation will enhance your animation skills and ultimately better your freelance animation business. 

2. Anticipation
animators need build anticipation for not only their animations but their business

GIF by Jaboney via Tenor

Just like you would use this principle of animation to prepare viewers for action on screen, you can also use it to prepare yourself for unexpected hurdles that will ultimately pop up when running a freelance animation business.

Things often go wrong when working with animation clients or creating animations for projects. It can be valuable to plan by anticipating the possible problems you might face. This can be done by creating a list of everything that has gone wrong in the past, whether that be poor time management, unanticipated costs, software or hardware issues, or anything else. 

This will help you save time and therefore be more valuable to your animation clients and the companies you work with. Working backward through your projects by knowing what the end goal is can help you better understand the consequences of your actions and help you avoid those same mistakes when working on future projects. 

To help you in your planning, check out our blog on common freelance animation mistakes to avoid like lowering your rates, not using contracts, and not finding more clients. 

3. Staging
staging of animaiton

GIF by Vision – Virtual Tour & Staging via Giphy

This principle of animation is important as it can help keep you on track and prioritize your work by staging your routine and environment.

Being consistent with your work as a freelance animator can be difficult as you are not bound to a set routine or work schedule that is often enforced in studios. You get to choose when you do what, and that makes it difficult to stay motivated to create animations on a consistent schedule.

It’s important to set a routine and find a place to work that drives you. However, this can only be done if you remove things from your environment that might distract you from your daily tasks and goals.

Animator Steve Savalle believes that the key to mastering this principle of animation starts with your mind and he suggests not starting the day with TV or social media. This is because, as he says, these things tend to make you lazy and we often let them think for us or tell us how to feel. 

For instance, if you start the day by reading up on the latest news, this might upset you and set you up for having a bad and potentially unproductive day.

Rather, try taking a walk outside or sitting outside while you enjoy your morning coffee. Sunlight does wonders for your mental health and it also helps keep your mind clear and motivated when you get natural light in the mornings. 

Also don’t work with your phone right next to you. If your phone is used to run your freelance animation business, be sure to keep social media apps closed or disabled during the day. The point is to remove distractions from your environment so you can focus on getting your work done. 

In other words, stage your environment in the same way you would an animated scene to make it clear to yourself and your subconscious what is most important. 

4. Straight-Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose
you have to be straight ahead with your animation services as a freelancers

GIF by mujkaktus via Giphy

While the principle of animation of straight-ahead action works great for creating animations, the pose-to-pose principle of animation is the best approach when using the principles of animation to improve your freelance animation business. 

This is because, when using the pose-to-pose approach, you know the end goal and important milestones that you need to accomplish to reach that end goal. 

This essentially gives you a roadmap of everything you need to do to reach your goal. This is helpful as you are inevitably going to get distracted by life and having a map to guide you back to where you left off is very valuable. Savalle suggests writing down to-do lists in advance so you know where to start the next day. 

This principle of animation is also helpful as it can help you plan and know what you want for the future. This is particularly important for things like bookings and holds. 

When making client bookings, it’s important to communicate upfront about your rates and your animation processing time. This way, you and your animation client know what the end goal is and how you’re going to get there. 

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
you have to follow through as a freelance animator

GIF by LizAlcock via Tenor

This principle of animation can be used to avoid misunderstandings between yourself and your animation clients on what they want out of an animation project. 

Often you’ll find yourself in a situation where you misunderstood what was asked of you and this might cause conflict between you and your animation clients. Miscommunication will almost always cost you time and money, and that’s something you can’t afford when you’re a freelance animator. 

For this reason, it’s crucial to make sure you and your animation client are both on the same page. Savalle suggests working with the rule of three by getting your animation client to agree to your suggestions three times. 

The point is to repeat things back to your animation client as you are discussing the brief. In other words, follow through with them on what they want the animation project to look like. This way, you ensure that everyone understands what the animation project is and how it will be done.

This method is sure to save you a lot of unnecessarily wasted time, and money, and protect your professional relationships. 

6. Slow In and Slow Out
you have to approach situations slowly calm and collected as a freelance animator

GIF by HBO Max via Giphy

This principle of animation applies to the movement of objects on the screen, but it can be used in your freelance animation business to improve your responses to workplace conflicts with clients or other freelance animators and animation studios. 

It’s important to remember to try and respond calmly and confidently when dealing with criticism or conflict. This is especially true when dealing with animation clients as losing potential income and souring your relationship with your clients can be detrimental to your freelance animation business. 

7. Arc
every freelance animator has an arc of ups and downs

GIF by Super Simple via Giphy

This principle of animation teaches us that there are ups and downs to every situation and experience. When working as a freelance animator, you’re going to experience ups and downs in your work.

It’s important to remember that everybody has ups and downs and that you’re never as good as your highest performing work, and you’re never as bad as your worst. 

This principle of animation also applies to your lack of motivation as a freelance animator. It can be hard to keep yourself motivated to create amazing animations, especially when you determine your working hours.

This is because we are often influenced by our environments, and if your workplace doesn’t inspire you, you’re going to have a hard time staying motivated. Savalle suggests surrounding yourself with people who inspire you and motivate you to keep creating great animations. 

This also applies to your workplace – make sure to create an environment in which you feel inspired.

8. Secondary Action
its okay to ask for help even if you're working freelance alone

GIF by Self-Care Is For Everyone via Giphy

Similar to how you would animate secondary actions to give the main action of your character more life, you also have to allow yourself secondary actions to make running your freelance animation business easier. That’s where the 8th principle of animation comes in.

It’s normal to feel like you have to do everything yourself when just starting as a freelance animator. And that makes sense as you want to save as much money as you can. But realistically, you’re not going to know how to do everything yourself and this might end up costing you more money than it would if you had hired someone to do it for you.

For example, doing your taxes. You might know the basics of doing taxes but there is a chance that you end up doing it wrong or you might take a few days to complete it. As a freelancer, your time is money. Every hour you’re not working and not billing is money lost.

So instead of trying to do everything yourself and wasting time doing it, hire a professional to do the things you’re not so good at. This will ultimately save you money. In short, don’t waste time that you could be using to make money. 

9. Timing
time management is crucial for freelance animators

GIF by oursingaporearmy via Giphy

Timing is a very important principle of animation that you can use to improve your freelance animation business. This principle of animation can again aid in your response to criticism.

When presented with a situation you are not ready for, take the time to clear your mind and work through it before reacting. If you act immediately, you risk overreacting and losing animation clients or negatively affecting your relationship with coworkers. 

Timing is also an important principle of animation because it can be used to better manage your time so you don’t miss deadlines. Working as a freelance animator means that deadlines can become overwhelming.

This can be avoided by not taking on too much work, but time management is also important for planning and using the time you have effectively. In the world of freelance animation, timing is key.

10. Exaggeration
don't put too much on your plate by exaggerating your capabilities as an animator

GIF by Travel Oregon via Giphy

Exaggeration is another important principle of animation to keep in mind as freelance animators tend to either over-or under-exaggerate their skill and importance on a project. It’s important not to do either and to keep yourself grounded.

Exaggerating your role or level of importance on a project can negatively affect your reputation in the freelance animation industry. Be sure to focus on doing projects to the best of your abilities and also keep your animation clients as the focus of your work.

You also shouldn’t underplay your skill or importance as a freelance animator. Build confidence by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and placing yourself in situations you wouldn’t normally be in.

This will help you better prepare for those instances when you do find yourself in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations. 

11. Solid Drawing
solid drawing and practicing will help you diversify and improve as an aniamtor

GIF by Lior Shkedi via Giphy

Solid drawing is another important principle of animation. It relates to your freelance animation business and has to do with developing your skills beyond what is necessary. While these skills might not benefit you in every single project you do, it is still valuable. 

Practicing your skills also goes a long way toward improving the quality of your animations. This also allows you to take on a more diverse range of projects because you can provide so much more for your animation clients.

This might mean learning when you aren't being paid to learn. Dedicate time for yourself to grow your skill sets.  

12. Appeal
you must appeal to your target audience as a freelance animator

GIF by Treehouse Direct via Giphy

Appeal might seem like the least important principle of animation, but it also has its place in providing you with important tools to manage your freelance animation business. 

It might seem tempting to appeal to everyone’s expectations of you, but in the end, being your genuine self is everything. Or, in the words of J.W. Stephens, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.”

Creating appeal for your animations can be difficult, especially in an industry where there are more freelance animators than ever. Even so, it’s important to be authentic and to let your work speak for itself. Your unique style and niche are bound to attract animation clients. 

How to Use the 12 Principles of Animation as a Freelancer

The 12 principles of animation form the basis of animation knowledge in the industry. However, they can also be used to improve your skill as a freelance animator or to benefit your freelance animation business.

Most of these principles of animation teach you how to react when faced with conflict, how to plan effectively to meet deadlines, how to stay motivated, and how to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

If you use the 12 principles of animation to your advantage to better yourself and your skill, your freelance animation business will grow exponentially in the long run. 

If you’re looking to grow your animation skills, 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”!

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