Animated Video Production

12 Principles of Animation: Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Shawn 04.29.2013

Welcome to the fifth of the 12 Principles of Animation: Follow Through and Overlapping action.

These two closely related techniques are all about physics – specifically inertia.

When a character or object stops in the real world, parts of it continue on in the direction they were heading before the abrupt or gentle stop. The same holds true for animation. At least that’s the goal.

Watch the bag when Kronk stops. It’s latent energy sends it not only swinging forward when he stops, but it’s true to the “material” it’s made out of. It swings back and forth, and even changes it’s shape to bulge and bend as it’s moved.

The bag movement is a great example of Follow Through. Kronk’s clothes (his belt and tunic), and the way his arms swing out of sync with his head movements for instance, are examples of Overlapping Action.

They’re slightly different, but the easiest way to differentiate the two principles of animation is by what’s moving. Objects with no inherent ability to move – a bag or a superhero’s cape – benefit from Follow Through. Things that can move, but aren’t driving the action in motion – arms or facial features (watch the spine in Richard Williams’ example below) – benefit from Overlapping Action.

Different parts of a character begin moving separately. It’s just how we all move. You lift with your legs, then straighten your back, then your arms, then you lift your head. There’s a lot of overlap, but if you did all of these actions at once, you’d break your back lifting something.

And these separate actions don’t end at the same time either. They continue in a chain. Like a slinky. Actually, just always picture the twisty latent coils of a slinky and you’ll be alright. Your hair continues waving after you’ve stopped running – at least for a moment.

12 Principles of Animation Overlapping Action

The end result of overlapping action gives a complexity and fluidity to a scene. When actions never overlap, the movement tends to feel robotic and mechanical. Even a robot can look fluid if you give him overlapping action.

Like in this Hero 6 trailer. (Watch his belly).

But follow through and overlapping action can be larger than just a character. In the example below, the clouds start parting and the sun starts rising at about the same time, but the clouds keep moving outwards past the moment when the sun has hit its resting point.

This staggering of actions gives an organic feel to scene. This principle becomes important in character animation, when different parts of the body move at different paces and timings.

12 Principles of Animation Follow Through and Overlapping Action

 These principles of animation bring life, weight, and a sense of reality to your characters and scenes. Don’t make everything flat and lifeless. Give it action!

Read on for info on the sixth of the 12 Principles of Animation: Slow In and Slow Out


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at

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