6 Inspiring Animation Lessons from Top Tier Animators

If you are someone in the creative field, suffering from a block may just be one of your most dreadful experiences.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, or an animator if you run out of inspiration at one point or another. Don’t let the blank white page scare you.

I often go around looking for inspiration in what the greats have said.

Any inspiring animation is based on research, inspiration, and planning. It is not only about what will sit right with your target audience and also if they would go with the platform.

There are some recurring elements that you can see are common in all the great works of animation.

These are some of the important things that the top tier animators from all over the world have laid stress on.

Let’s study them in detail and listen to what they have to say about getting the right inspiration for animation.


1.     Character development

One might think that the character development stage is more important in a live-action film than it is in animation. However, that is not the case.

Character development in animation is just as important as it is in any other genre of fictional entertainment.

Most notes you get while making an animated product are about the character because a character is what drives the entire story.

You must have a multilayered character with goals, motivation supporting those goals, and a backstory supporting that motivation.

Adding an internal and external conflict also adds a palatable depth to your character.

There are some characteristics that you need to add both to the physicality and the nature of that character.

It includes, but is not limited to, distinguishable physical characteristics and mannerisms that make them stand out.

Here is a short interview from the master, Walt Disney himself about the appeal for the characters and inspiring animation.


Figure out how you are going to use the environment, dialogue, and clothing to emphasize on what you are trying to project about the uniqueness of your character.

A flawed and human character is much more relatable than a perfect one. Give emotion to their profile. These are the things that make your character believable.

Glen Keane, author, illustrator, and animator at Walt Disney Animation Studio has worked in some of the major animated films like The Little Mermaid, Tarzan, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and Tangled.

Keane has said some really powerful things about the importance of developing a character.

“Believe in your character. Animate (or write) with sincerity.”

You can instantly make out the belief and sincerity that reflects in all of Keane’s characters.

In another instance, he has emphasized the importance of giving the character development its due time and attention.

Keane gave a small guide to creating a timeless character that lives through history. This is something you can agree with that his characters have truly been the most evergreen ones by every definition of the word.

“Any time you design a character for a Disney picture, especially a fairy tale, it’s going to become the definitive design for that character, so you don’t want to hack something out. You need to put in the kind of care it warrants if it’s going to live in history.”


2.     Story

The story is the very foundation any entertainment media product practically stands on. Go into research mode and make reference to a starting point for your story.

An animated story writer builds a plot with three main elements in mind, location, action, dialogue.

You do that by observing real life and live film scenarios and try to recreate the processes in an animated landscape.

These are direct actions that are not spontaneous but look spontaneous. From an animated film point of view, that can be achieved by approaching the story and characters outside in.

They must also act as a cameraman in the earliest stages and figure out the camera angles, character introduction, character motivation, world-building, framing, staging and lighting because, without all that pre-planning, your story can turn out to be very bland.

When an animated story writer is looking from a film clip perspective, they are looking at the shot composition and how it is going to play out in a scene sequence.

The restriction is often seen as the kryptonite of creativity; however, restriction gets your creative juices flowing all in the right direction.

You can compose your story scene by scene after you have restricted yourself to certain parameters. Like the number of characters, location, duration, and genre/mood.

Your job is concentrating on getting the best out of your character through the story whether you are basing the animated story on a character you came up with or translating one that the director came up with.

You cannot cover up a compromised story-writing endeavor with top-notch animation.

Creative officer and scriptwriter for Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, John Lasseter has tried to convey the same point here.

“If you’re sitting in your minivan, playing your computer-animated films for your children in the back seat, is it the animation that’s entertaining you as you drive and listen? No, it’s the storytelling. That’s why we put so much importance on the story. No amount of great animation will save a bad story.”

This is why it is imperative to give story-writing its due time and attention or you will just have to spend time covering up the loopholes in your story during the animation process.

The director of the Kung Fu Panda series, Jennifer Yuh Nelson has emphasized this as well.

“A lot of the time in animation is spent getting the story right – that’s something you can’t rush.”


3.     Entertainment and education

Hayao Miyazaki, the most celebrated Japanese visionary animator, filmmaker, director, and scriptwriter. He is the co-founder of Ghibli Studios.

Miyazaki strongly believes in the role of an animated film in the process of public service cultural reform. He emphasized it on several occasions.

“Producing an animation series merely to fill time slots in the broadcast schedule is like generating cultural pollution.”

The father of western animation, Walt Disney was of a slightly different approach. He believed entertainment as the basic objective of an animated film rather than an education.

“I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”

However, there have been occasions on which Disney has acknowledged that animated film possesses the potential of far more than entertainment.

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.”

Entertainment at the end of the day boils down to the experience the audience has had with your product. Especially if most of your audience is children.

Entertainment for them is just as forthcoming as crucial is education. The bottom line here is that entertainment and education go hand in hand in careful proportions.

While making an animated film, try to make the entertainment envelop the education aspect of your film. Try not to disrupt entertainment with your message. Give it effortlessly.

Often, education comes from the depth of character and morals a story generates coupled with quality music and animation.


4.     Innovation and Technique of an inspiring animation

Pete Docter is a model for all the generation animators. He is the chief creative officer at Pixar.

Having written directed and produced some of the most stupendous animated films of our age like UP, Monster’s Inc. Toy Story and Inside Out, he shares his learning curve with animation techniques.

“I made tons of films. I did an animation for my friends’ films. I animated scenes just for the fun of it. Most of my stuff was bad, but I had fun, and I tried everything I knew to get better.”

If for someone like Pete, the animation is a process of learning from failure, someone who is just starting out in animation has a long way to go before mastering the technique and innovating something new.

Here is a fascinating take on the inspiration for animation he has and the account of his process for Monsters Inc.


The key ingredient here is determination. Moreover, only when you are having fun with what you do, you can really think outside the box and innovate. As Tony White says

“The secret of all new and innovated animation is to think outside the box and explore new frontiers of idea and expression.”

Speaking of techniques, the old-school Norman McLaren is one of the first few names in the field of animation. He described animation in a very unique style that animators of today have to have on their tips before starting out on their art.

“Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn.”

You have to remember not to be too occupied with the storyboard and step back to look at the entire concept of animation, the movement made through a sequence of images.

Once you have established movement as the essence of animation, you can move forward from there. The sky is the limit.

Renowned art historian, William Vaughan in his book Digital Modeling talks about what one needs to be able to innovate in the field of animation. It is dynamism.

“To be successful in this field, you need to become a problem solver with good
observation skills and a desire to create things. You never stop learning in
this field. You face new challenges with every new project, many of which
require innovative solutions that you must discover on your own.”

One thing that all the animators, screenwriters, and directors will agree on is that it is not easy to animate a human character.

It is easy for the audience to overlook and even embrace the imperfections in animal-based or inanimate characters.

All of Disney’s original characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck have all allowed their creators substantial creative freedom.

A four-foot mouse walking on his hind legs is something no one has ever seen so it was comparatively easier for the animators to come up with his movements.

However, everyone has seen a person walk. To make your character believable, you have to be able to make them walk the same way a normal human being walks.

Unless you are working with specially designed characters like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or Tarzan. The way around this is to deal as much you can in fantasy while designing a story to be able to innovate as much as you can.

This is what Charles Solomon of the Beauty and the Beast was trying to establish when he said the following.

“As long as we deal in fantasy, we are on safe ground. The eye has no basis for comparison. But the more we try to duplicate nature realistically, the tougher our job becomes. The audience compares what we draw with what it knows to be true. Any false movement is easily detected.”

Also Read: 9 Best Character Animations in Video Games That Will Inspire You

5.     Teamwork to create an inspiring animation

Making a full-scale animation project is by no means a one-man job. You need to be a real Jeffrey Katzenberg who is a wizard when it comes to managing animators.

Being the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, he has all the resources needed to be able to make an entire room bond on an imaginative level and work in one coherent symphony.

They accomplish the kind of animated films that can never be done alone.

“What I love most about animation is, it’s a team sport, and everything we do is about pure imagination.” – Jeffrey Katzenberg

Hayao Miyazaki also talks about teamwork and the ability to lead that team being a few of the main things required to make an impressive and imaginative product.

If you want to maximize the talent and hard work of your animation team, you need to keep the artisanal aspect of the entire process. This is why Miyazaki equated his process with that of a production plant.

“I am an animator. I feel like I’m the manager of an animation cinema factory. I am not an executive. I’m rather like a foreman, like the boss of a team of craftsmen. That is the spirit of how I work.”


6.     Magic and imagination for inspiring animation

A lot of times, as an entertainment content producer, a lot that is happening in your life will bubble up in your work.

Sometimes when you are pitching stories, they have a singular theme in their nucleus. I have been told that for me, it is hitting the glass ceiling.

How you decide to project a very basic theme is dependent on your imagination.

You can find your muse in just about anything. It can be inside or outside of your project. Experiences you have, the story, or the character itself can be your inspiration for animation.

Diedrich Bader, the American voice-over artist, put it in a very entertaining way.

“Doing animation is closer to pretending than anything else you get to do. It’s much more like when you’re a kid putting on a character.” 

Gore Verbinski, director of major films like Rango, The Ring, and Pirates of the Caribbean has talked about the immense potential of animation.

Since Verbinski has worked in both live-action and animation, he is adamant that there is much more room for imagination in animation by comparison.

You can make just about anything happen. The possibilities are endless.

“Nothing’s occurring in animation – you manufacture everything.”

Any animation can do very well with a splash of magic. Let’s admit it, fairy tales are what made our childhood so bright.

It was because the magic in our heads was so believable. All good animated films have just that, believable magic.

“In the midst of the vagaries of life, they provide us a trip to the land of goodness and fairies, of imaginations and possibilities.
A childhood that wasn’t spent watching cartoons or reading comic strips, no wonder, seems too dull to imagine.”
 Sanhita Baruah

Giving still images movement is magic itself. The animation is as close as it gets to the fairytale magic in the modern ages.

These fairy tale cartoons that Walt Disney produced maintained the simplistic charm of an old folktale in motion picture animation.

The universality of the old Disney fairytales is evidence that magic is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of reality go down.

“The fairy tale of the film—created with the magic of animation—is the modern equivalent of the great parables of the Middle Ages. Creation is the word. Not adaptation. We can translate the ancient fairy tale into its modern equivalent without losing the lovely patina and savor of its once-upon-a-time quality. We have proved that age-old kind of entertainment based on the classic fairy tale recognizes no young, no old.”
― Walt Disney

There are six major concepts that the most celebrated animated filmmakers of all time have emphasized in their quotes. Consider them the secret sauce to a flawless animated film.

If you have a script and are looking for animators to execute it, MotionCue will be happy to provide its services to produce an inspiring animation.

Schedule a free consultation call with our video strategist



Posted by Fatima Najeeb

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