The Principles of Animation - Squash and Stretch

Posted at Aug 20th, 2012 by AnimDesk.

In this new 'Back to School' series, AnimDesk Studios will cover the fundamental principles of animation in a 12 series articles. We will discuss, show examples and analyze the most important principles behind any animated cartoon, featured movie or a short blip.

When you think about it, back when animation was in its infancy, many animators were drawing their characters very freely, loosely and without any anatomic accuracy or movements that seems to work or convey any kind of life like movements.

Mickey Mouse - Squashing and Stretching

But, as time progressed (to slowly!), animators (At disney mostly but not only) continued to search for better methods, and have finally found few ways that seems to produce a more life-like results. They, however could not afford to get the results working every time, but eventually these techniques of drawing a character in motion did in the end worked out. Slowly, as time progressed and many drawings completed, these techniques acquired their respected names.
They were analyzed, perfected and than talked about among animators (new or old). And in time, they became the fundamental principles of animation:

1. Squash & Stretch


Among the most important discovery was what we now (and back than) call: Squash and Stretch. When an object (like in the fig. above) is moved about on the paper from one drawing to the next. In real life, objects such as chairs, plates, glasses, tables are rigid objects which cannot change their state as they move around, However, anything Composed of living flesh or flexible material, no matter how many bones it might have, will show some kind of movement in its shape or form during an action. An example might be a bouncing ball, upon hitting a rigid object it will contract (squashed due to the force acted against it) and than immediately stretches (release energy) as fast as it can when the squash state reaches its potential.

squash and stretch

A character's face can stretch and squash its face wether chewing, smiling, talking or just showing an emotional state or expression. It looks alive as he keeps changing its cheeks, lips or eyes, The squashed position can depict the form either flattened out by force or bounced up and pushed together. The stretch position always shows the form in a over extended condition. The movement from one drawing to the next becomes the very essence of animation. An animator could no longer draw a smile as a line spread across a face; he must now define the lips, cheeks (and their relationships), nose, eyes, eyebrows and many more. Hands and legs could no longer bend like an arc that looks like bent pipes, they now must be swelled when bent and stretched when flexed.

As these techniques started to sink in the old and new animators, they immediately tried to outdo each other in making drawings with more life like conditions, slowly pushing those principles to the very limits of their character's capabilities.

Animated Character Squashing and Stretching

The best advice animators used to follow (and still does) from keeping the drawings looking bloated, stringy or withered was to consider that the shape was like a half filled sand bag. If it were to be dropped on the floor, it will squash to its fullest shape and if it were to be picked up from its corners it will stretch out to its longest shape possible, However, it will never change it's volume. Animators back than drew all the states possible as a learning tool. It forced them to find the most direct way, and remove the exces information.

The standard animation test (and still is) for all beginning and aspiring animators was/is to draw a bouncing ball. it can be quickly drawn, easily changed, and most rewarding in terms of what an artist can learn from this process. The assignment is simple: Represent a ball but a simple circle, and than have it drop to the ground, hit the ground and bounce back into the air, while repeating the same process. The ball could move forward or drop on the same spot, it didn't matter.It seems like a simple thing by itself, but through the test, one can learn the mechanics of a scene, while also being introduced to Timing, Stretch and Squash.

As drawings added or removed during different stages of the ball (either as he was squashed, or falling or stretching or even staying on the ground) could give weird effects. this is were Timer was most critical, the amount of time spent at each state was crucial to get the sense of fluid animation.

Bouncing Ball - Squash and Stretch outlining

This all together, creates the first fundamental principle of animation.