Squash and Stretch in Animation

Today we’ll be taking a look at a fantastic gif that reddit user ‘GallowBoob’ shared recently. A huge tiger leaps up to catch an enormous chunk of raw meat in its jaws before bounding away. By watching this action in slow motion we can get a detailed look at how squash and stretch play an essential part in real world motion, and how we can apply that to our animation work.

First, the gif!

It truly is a sight to see. Nature at its finest, and a terrific example of the “Standing Jump” exercise that many animators use to practice several of the principals of animation. Though it would be easy to simply sit and stare in awe as the looping video plays, let’s see if we can analyze a few things and apply them to our own work.

The Keys

To begin, let’s look at two of the “keyframes” of this leap.

Here we have the crouch and then highpoint of the leap. Notice the overwhelming sense of squash and stretch here. If we just look at the silhouettes, the change looks like this:

Tiger jump in silhouette

That’s a lot of bang for your buck! When animating, it is change of shape that holds the appeal you’re looking for. Here the change of shape is extreme, and lends itself nicely to the power the big cat exudes.

What’s most fascinating is that this is directly from life. We often consider change of shape in live action to be less extreme. Here, though, you can clearly see how massive it is. We could also take it further, and push both poses to even more plussed states.

The Breakdown

Another thing to consider is the breakdown of this action. It would be easy to think the breakdown would be halfway between the two keys above, in some sort of mid-leap state. What makes this motion so visually interesting, however, is that the breakdown is actually here:

Tiger breakdown frame

By putting the breakdown closer to the crouch, the springing motion feels even more powerful. This is helpful to keep in mind when animating. The next time you consider putting a breakdown directly in the middle, try moving it closer to one key or the other first. See what it feels like with that timing instead. You never know what great things may come of it!

The Forms

Using knowledge of anatomy, the other important aspect to watch is where the solid forms begin and end. Generally in mammals the major of these forms are the ribcage and pelvis. Look at the relationship of the two in the crouching form:

Solid masses in navy, squishy bits in pink.

Solid masses in navy, squishy bits in pink.

and contrast that to the distance between both in the full extension:

Tiger solid forms 02

It’s pretty huge! Obviously to compensate for this distance the softer, more squashy/stretchy bits must expand and contract. It’s easy to see this squash and stretch in the video. Make note, though, that the solid forms retain their shape because they rarely, if ever, squash and stretch.

This is a prime way to keep your animations “believable.” By maintaining SOME solid forms that do not distort and contrasting them with more pliable parts, you set certain rules between you and the audience, and they will feel your characters are more “real” and alive. Leave the squash and stretch mostly to the less rigid parts of your character and you’ll find terrific results.

What’s Next?

Hopefully by watching and studying slow motion video like the one here, you can get a better idea of where to add proper squash and stretch in your own work. Want a bit of practice? Consider animating the tiger above, using this gif as reference. Don’t copy it frame for frame, merely use it as a launching point to do your own version. There’s no time like the present to get some practice in, and this is a great exercise to test your skills!

Another very interesting possibility is to watch the second, non-leaping tiger for a while. Study its movements, in contrast to the first tiger. Notice the weight shifts. Specifically pay attention when it moves its back leg to a new planting spot while turning. It is a very subtle movement, but in animation would add a tremendous amount to the shot. One tiger is performing a much more extreme action than the other, but both movements contain beautiful gems to absorb and learn from!