2D Animation for Beginners: A Guide to Animating

Learn how to bring images to life through 2D animation with tips from a video producer

In 2020, video became the number one form of media for content strategy, overtaking blogs and infographics. There’s no doubting the power of video marketing, and animated videos offer a unique, creative and sometimes more efficient way to tell a story or explain a concept. We asked Yakkety Yak Video Producer and animator extraordinaire Sean Froelich to give us his top 2D animation tips for beginners. With his guidance, here’s how to get started with animation and create more dynamic video content.

Foundations of Animation 

First outlined by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in 1981, there are 12 basic principles all animators should follow. These principles serve as the foundation of bringing art to life on screen. Although technology has made much more possible since 1981, the following still guides animation everywhere: 

Foundations of Animation: Squash and Stretch

1. Squash and stretch. Making two-dimensional drawings feel lifelike is the goal of animation. The squash and stretch principle gives drawn objects weight and volume by shortening and widening them, much like a bouncing ball.


Foundations of Animation: Anticipation

2. Anticipation. Almost all movement starts with a thought. As a principle, anticipation helps build up to the main action of an animated scene. Without it, the action won’t seem realistic to the viewer.


Foundations of Animation: Staging

3. Staging. Just like other forms of content, in animation, the idea should be completely clear. Staging is the principle of keeping only what is relevant and eliminating anything nonessential—that way, the focus stays on the main action.


Foundations of Animation: Straight Ahead and Pose to Pose

4. Straight-ahead and pose-to-pose action. There are two ways to draw out a scene: straight ahead, where the scene is drawn frame by frame from beginning to end, or pose-to-pose, in which animators start with a few key frames and fill in the intervals. Figure out which one makes the most sense for your work and technique and apply it to your animation.


Foundations of Animation: Follow-Through and Overlapping Action

5. Follow-through and overlapping action. These principles make movement feel more real. Follow-through refers to movements that follow naturally after an action is completed, like stilling the body after running, and overlapping action involves animating parts of the same character, including hair, limbs and clothing, to move at different speeds.


Foundations of Animation: Slow In and Slow Out

6. Slow in and slow out. Most natural movements don’t happen instantaneously but are preceded by a visible building up and followed by a slowing down. Applying this to animations makes them feel realistic.


Foundations of Animation: Arc

7. Arc. Most lifelike objects follow curved paths, not straight lines. Implementing arcs in animation increases realism.


Foundations of Animation: Secondary Action

8. Secondary action. Rarely does only one thing move at a time in real life. Add more life to the scene with additional actions to support the main one. Pro tip: Secondary action(s) should emphasize and complement the main action—not overwhelm it.


Foundations of Animation: Timing

9. Timing. This principle indicates the number of frames used for an action. More frames result in slower action and fewer frames in faster action. Good timing is critical to ensuring action looks real and natural.


Foundations of Animation: Exaggeration

10. Exaggeration. This principle is all about style. Without exaggeration, 2D animations may come off as dull, static and lifeless. Keep a careful balance: Remain true to reality, but embellish and enhance to liven up the two-dimensional world. 


Foundations of Animation: Solid Drawing

11. Solid drawing. Animators should understand the basics of drawing and follow the rules of three-dimensional space. Consider anatomy, weight, balance, light and shadow when designing lifelike animations.


Foundations of Animation: Appeal

12. Appeal. Engage your audience by making your animations appealing. This doesn’t mean making them physically attractive necessarily or even likable. But they should be intriguing, interesting and real enough for the viewer to get attached. 


Basic Steps for 2D Animation

Keeping the 12 basic animation principles in mind, it’s time to dive into the actual animation. From Sean’s recommended beginner animation software to preparing a storyboard, use these tips and tricks to start animating. 

1. Set up for success with a storyboard.

When you first get an animation project, put together a storyboard. Remember, animation is not the same as graphic design. Although the two go hand-in-hand, a video producer or animator should rely on a graphic expert to prepare the blueprints for the animation before putting the project into motion. Without a solid plan and a script to follow, figuring out the best principles to apply for any animation will be much more difficult.

A storyboard essentially serves as the visual structure for the project. You can find storyboard templates online or create your own. A good storyboard will include the video’s title and purpose as well as a place to put the shot number, graphic or b-roll footage, suggested video clip or overlayed text and the audio that goes with it. 

2. Choose your animation software. 

If you don’t already know what software you’ll be using to animate, it’s time to do some research. Canva is a great place to cut your teeth and test out the basics. If you’re animating a GIF or very short piece, it could be the way to go. But if you plan to keep animating, you should make your home in Adobe After Effects, where the magic truly happens. 

Learning to use either software can take time, so to learn specific animation techniques fast, turn to YouTube for advice. Search the skill you’re looking for and get a quick tutorial. But for more intense, professional guidance, use Udemy—they have a breadth of in-depth animation classes that serve as a guide to animating.

3. Start every animation with still images. 

Once you have your storyboard and plan for animating in place, it’s time to start the actual animation process. Don’t do any animation until you’ve created the entire layout as a still image. Principle number 11, solid drawing, really comes into play here. Your images should have depth and feel lifelike even when they’re still on the page. This will make adding movement all the more natural. 

If you’re not an illustrator or artist yourself, employ the help of a graphic designer. As Sean says, “I couldn’t do what I do without a support system—my coworkers.” But if you want to become a serious animator, invest in art classes (if you haven’t already) so that you can design the still images yourself.

4. Keep your animations organized.  

As you tackle the project, create assets—things like background, characters, shapes, etc.—and animate them in groups. For example, if every asset has the same zoom or push animation applied to it, do them together. This saves time, increases efficiency and keeps things organized. Then, sequence the assets. Pick what goes first and pull the others down the timeline. Ensuring everything falls into place at the correct time is essential to creating natural and realistic animation.

5. Make use of all your resources. 

Along with the Udemy and YouTube tutorials mentioned above, there are others out there to help you get started. They don’t have to be fancy resources either—anything that helps you better understand shape and movement will be a huge help to animation. Since scribbling in a journal, painting and illustrating live in the same wheelhouse as animation, they are never a waste of time. Trust us, the movement of your arm and wrist will translate to the movement of texts and shapes in After Effects. 

That’s our basic guide to 2D animation for beginners, with tips from animation pro Sean Froelich. Next steps? Find out how to create a fully animated video. But if that’s out of your comfort zone, don’t worry—our team offers video production services that promise to take your next video to the next level. Get in touch!


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