Secondary Animation Brings Life

There’s a lot of animation out there on the internet and, honestly, most of it is terrible.  Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, though, so I don’t begrudge people their learning process.  I just hope that it is, in fact, a learning process.  If you really enjoy making animation then you should make an effort to get better at it.  Animation (and art in general) is one of the most demanding fields in terms of how much you have to learn and practice in order to break into it professionally.  Most people will spend many years practicing their drawing and learning the principles of animation before they’ll be able to do it well enough for someone to pay them.

So, in my fantasy that you, the reader, are an aspiring animator, I’d like to give you something to consider: Secondary animation.

Secondary animation is one of Frank and Ollie’s Twelve Principles of Animation as presented in their book The Illusion of Life.  Basically, Secondary animation is all the action that comes from the main movements of a character.  For example, if a character’s hair is long enough it’ll tend to move in response to the motion of the head.  Similarly, if a person is waving a flag, the flagpole would have the primary animation and the motion of the flag would be entirely secondary.

Secondary animation is super important.  It brings life to an otherwise mechanical movement.  In my own animation for Don’t Fear the Sitter (my perpetually-in-production MFA thesis) I usually do the primary animation first and then do a second pass to hair, dangling earrings, etc.  Before I do that second pass I often feel disappointed with my animation, thinking it seems kinda rigid.  The hair brings it right to life, though, restoring fluidity to the motion.

Here’s my point concerning animation I see on the internet: most of it has no secondary at all.  When I happen upon one that does, it stands out like a beacon.  I strongly encourage all the aspiring animators out there to try and get some secondary into their animation – it’ll help your motion to no end.

Finally, as an illustration of what I’m talking about, take a look at the bounce of Sarah’s hair and the heft of the binoculars.  Both are conveyed mostly through secondary animation.  Notice how the bangs and ribbon are anchored to her head but they trail it in everything they do.  When head isn’t moving any more and they bangs have no choice but to settle (with a few final oscillations thrown in to tie it all up nicely).

2 thoughts on “Secondary Animation Brings Life

  1. Erica says:

    Hi David;

    What you describe is a great example of secondary motion, which in the Illusion of Life is explained in principle 5 under “follow-through and overlapping action.” I might point out, however, that Frank and Ollie also have “secondary ACTION” as principle 8, which is a different sort of concept entirely and which I feel merits separation into its own category. I would take the time to explain the difference in detail, but another blogger has already conveniently done so for me!

    In a nutshell, secondary motions are involuntary overlapping, follow-through, etc. while secondary actions are those minute acting details that give extra life to the main idea of a scene. Fidgeting, whistling, nervous tics, any little bits of personality are good examples of actions that are secondary to the primary acting.

    An easy tip I use to remember the difference is: secondary ACTion involves acting, while secondary MOtion simply involves movement. That being said, both principles are certainly important in their own right!

  2. David says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess I need to buff up on my principles 🙂

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