Animation Notes from Ollie Johnston

Reference: These notes come from Course 1 at SIGGRAPH 94, "Animation Tricks".

When I was an animator at the Disney Studios, I had a xeroxed list of simple notes from one of the great Disney animators, Ollie Johnston, pinned to my drawing table. The list was originally written down by another great Disney animator, Glen Keane, after working as Ollie’s assistant for a few years.

These notes have been an inspiration to me for years. Even though they were meant for hand-drawn animation, I believe that they still apply to computer animation.

1. Don’t illustrate words or mechanical movements. Illustrate ideas or thoughts, with the attitudes and actions.

2. Squash and stretch entire body for attitudes.

3. If possible, make definite changes from one attitude to another in timing and expression.

4. What is the character thinking?

5. It is the thought and circumstances behind the action that will make the action interesting.

Example: A man walks up to a mailbox, drops in his letter and walks away.


A man desperately in love with a girl far away carefully mails a letter in which he has poured his heart out.

6. When drawing dialogue, go for phrasing. (Simplify the dialogue into pictures of the dominating vowel and consonant sounds, especially in fast dialogue.

7. Lift the body attitude 4 frames before dialogue modulation (but use identical timing on mouth as on X sheet).

8. Change of expression and major dialogue sounds are a point of interest. Do them, if at all possible, within a pose. If the head moves too much you won’t see the changes.

9. Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.

10. Concentrate on drawing clear, not clean.

11. Don’t be careless.

12. Everything has a function. Don’t draw without knowing why.

13. Let the body attitude echo the facial.

14. Get the best picture in your drawing by thumbnails and exploring all avenues.

15. Analyze a character in a specific pose for the best areas to show stretch and squash. Keep these areas simple.

16. Picture in your head what it is you’re drawing.

17. Think in terms of drawing the whole character, not just the head or eyes, etc. Keep a balanced relation of one part of the drawing to the other.

18. Stage for most effective drawing.

19. Draw a profile of the drawing you’re working on every once in a while. A profile is easier on which to show the proper proportions of the face.

20. Usually the break in the eyebrow relates to the highpoint of the eye.

21. The eye is pulled by the eyebrow muscles.

22. Get a plastic quality in face — cheeks, mouth and eyes.

23. Attain a flow thru the body rhythm in your drawing.

24. Simple animated shapes.

25. The audience has a difficult time reading the first 6-8 frames in a scene.

26. Does the added action in a scene contribute to the main idea in that scene? Will it help sell it or confuse it?

27. Don’t animate for the sake of animation but think what the character is thinking and what the scene needs to fit into the sequence.

28. Actions can be eliminated and staging "cheated" if it simplifies the picture you are trying to show and is not disturbing to the audience.

29. Spend half your time planning your scene and the other half animating.

30. How to animate a scene of a four-legged character acting and walking: Work out the acting patterns first with the stretch and squash in the body, neck and head; then go back in and animate the legs. Finally, adjust the up and down motion on the body according to the legs.

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Last changed March 13, 1999, G. Scott Owen,