Motion Design – 01

Before we start

In this class we’ll work with a lot of different little animations mainly in After Effects. If you have never worked with After Effects have a look at this page first to get accustomed with the interface. Also there is a nice little tutorial series called “Learn from the pros” to get you startet with AE. Find it here. And for a quick 10 minute refresh you can watch this Video:

Get the class material

In the Base Folder in Class-Files you’ll find all the finished After Effects Files from this class for you to look at. You can copy them to your computer and start your work in them or start in new files.

Class 01
The Principles of Animation

“The Principles of Animation” is a set of concepts that helps describe or create great animation. It was first introduced to the public in the book “Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

They worked at Disney for years and in their book they write about how the animators there came up with a lot of different tools and helpful ways of thinking to give even in-animate objects a feeling of personality. So litterally to create the illusion of life.

The Principles:

  1. Squash and stretch
  2. Anticipation
  3. Staging
  4. Straight ahead action and pose to pose
  5. Follow through and overlapping action
  6. Slow in and slow out
  7. Arc
  8. Secondary action
  9. Timing
  10. Exaggeration
  11. Solid drawing
  12. Appeal

In this great Video Alan Becker created animated examples.
A wonderful introduction into animation! Let’s watch it now:

If you want to read more about this there’s an even longer List by Dermot O Conner where he edited and expanded a few points.


Here are some examples of great animation with just a few basic shapes, that also work with a lot of the principles.

Today we’re going to focus on how to implement most of these 12 Principles into motion design and After Effects animation. We’ll do this in a slightly different order, that makes more sense for learning and also we’ll just use very basic geometric shapes.

Slow In & Slow Out – Easing

In Animation, the term for motion that starts slowly and accelerates is “slow out,” and for motion that starts quickly and decelerates is “slow in.” The terminology also used for these are “ease(ing) out” or “ease(ing) in”.

CAUTION: There’s a potential for confusion in this terminology. If you read a traditional animation book such as Disney’s The Illusion of Life or The Animator’s Survival Kit, when an object starts slow and then picks up speed, it’s called ease-out, as it is “easing out” of its pose (or keyframe). This is also how After Effects treats it.

But, in more web based software and programming (CSS animation, Javascript, Adobe Animate, etc), it’s opposite and the same behaviour, starting slowly, is called ease-in! I’m not sure how this difference came to be, but unfortunately, that’s how it is.
It seems classic animation is more focused on the poses/keyframes as in “easing out of a keyframe” and CSS & co more on the motion as in “easing out of the motion”. At least this is how I remember.

The Basics

And this is what the corresponding motion and graphs will look like played in pingpong (looping back and forth):

Slow Out
Slow In
Slow Out & Slow In

How to apply Easing in After Effects


Easing with Speed and Value Graph

Easing Numerically

Animating and Easing the Position

Separating Dimensions

Anticipation & Overshoot

Squash & Stretch

Follow Through & Overlapping Action

This Principle is another of the cornerstones of animation. By overlapping the actions of a characters’ body, hair, tail, clothing, etc. your animation will feel more fluid and life-like.

In life, everything moves at different speeds and at different times. Letting one motion follow another is a tool used to give animation a more life-like feel. If a character f.e. moves some parts of their body will lead the action and some parts will follow the main action or drag behind.

When working with keyframes it’s easy to achieve this by simply overlapping the animations of two properties. Like in this example where the bend of the arm follows the rotation and therefore the bend keyframes are offset after the rotation.

Have a look at this example and see how the arms, head, beak, and other elements follow the main walking motion


Most movement in real life follows arcs. If you incorporate this into your animation it will make things look more realistic and appealing.