Defining the Art: Twinning

In Defining The Art, we take a closer look at some of the lingo of the animation biz. Though these entries are invaluable for beginners, even veterans might find some new or once-known-but-now-forgotten tidbits to keep in mind. Today’s topic is Twinning.

As everyone knows, Twinning is a a delicious brand of tea.

Wait. No. That’s Twinings.

Twinning is when your character (or scene) is chock full of symmetry. Here is an example of a character that would be considered “Twinned.”

Sometimes in animation is it preached that twinning is evil. We’ll leave that up for you to decide, but there are instances where it has the potential to help the scene you’re trying to create. For instance, symmetrical movements often have a raw power to them which non-twinned motions might not. If someone slams their fists down in fury on a desk, chances are pretty good they aren’t going to slam one fist down followed by the other. This action might be better suited to simultaneous, mirrored action.


Many times (dare we say MOST of the time) though, you want to avoid twinning like the plague. Sadly the way to avoid twinning is NOT like the plague and you can’t just increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. It is a never ending battle that all animators face, as even the best of the best see it slip into their artwork when they aren’t paying close enough attention.

Why Avoid It If It Seems To Come Naturally?

If we naturally fall back to putting twinning into our work, why should be avoid it? After all, isn’t animation the art of capturing the natural world? Well, yes and no. Animation is indeed all about looking at reality and capturing its essence, but as animators we want to go BEYOND that. We want to make animation even better than reality. Peter Docter, a Pixar director, animator and writer, says

Animation is real life with the volume turned up.”

This quote is extremely true. As an animator you want to take “real life” and make it even better. The truth is, when you have an action (or pose) be perfectly symmetrical, it lacks a lot of dimension, depth, and life that it could otherwise have. Just take a look at yourself the next time you’re standing waiting in line at the grocery store or bus stop. Chances are very good that your weight will be on one leg more than the other, and perhaps one hand will be in your pocket (or holding your phone). As human beings we rarely stand or act with perfect symmetry.

Yet even veteran animators sometimes forget this classic principal and their work suffers compared to what it COULD be.

The next time you’re animating, pay close attention to any twinning sneaking into your work. It will try to. It’s very tenacious. Consciously break the habit and remove it from your animation. Unless, of course, it adds to the power of the scene. After all, it has its useful place. The key, like most principals of animation, is to know when to use it consciously and when to leave it out.

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I’m glad you pointed this out that sometimes you do need to use symmetry in your animation. I’ve probably read every book out there and so many only talk about the negatives of symmetry. It can be a powerful tool when you use it correctly. And only with experience will you know when that is.


Also you could use the knowledge abot twinning to stress sentences in a character’s dialogue. For example when you keep some poses symmetric and then break the symmetry to stress the importance of a phrase.
Good article of an important topic!


Would people really notice that? I mean I don’t know because I’m just learning animation but it seems like it goes by so fast you wouldn’t evne notice.


Well it would be bad if the audience really conciously notices it. But they can feel it! In fact a lot of politicans gesture like that (and they are probably not aware that they are doing it). At important moments they point with a finger or a fist and break the symmetry of the normal gestures. So why not use that in animation too?
Oh and one more thing: We hold our poses often much longer then you would think. About one gesture per subordinate clause with a secondary action is normally the fastest you should go. That is more than enough to read a gesture and to feel if it is a calm harmonic symmetrical pose or a catchy asymmetric one.


Wow, thanks! I have a question though, what is a subordinate clause? I’m not sure what that means.


Well technically in grammar it’s a sentence within a sentence. Take for example: “(1) Animator Island is a cool website (2) where you can learn animation.” Two sentences in one! And you could justify going into a different pose when the sub clause starts. Of course you don’t have to. Switching the pose earlier (to stress “cool website”) or later (to stress “learn animation”) would be great. If the character speaks very exaggerated you could switch three times to stress both terms. But in general (if nothing is particularly stressed) you can switch poses per clause element very well. There is always something changing when we add a sub-clause. Think about the words “but, because, while, where, who, that,…” they require a new pose most of the times, because they stress whatever follows next. Of course whatever feels right is best! Look for the elements that are stressed and change your poses accordingly.


I never know what to do with the other hand thou. Like I would not make it symmetrical but do you just leave the other hand there or move it someplace else or what? I don’t know what to do except make it the same as the other arm because that’s the only thing that looks right.


This definitely is something I need to work on!

Sherman Bergstien

Twinning is something I can never seem to be rid of… It just happens so quick when you’re posing models!

Tom in Toronto

Dead on written articles, really enjoyed reading.

Augustine Hollard

Saw you are doing another twinning article soon and looking forward to it.


Yea I was taught all about the evils of twinning as well but sometimes it is definitely necessary. How do you animate a standard dive into water without twinning? It won’t look clean, professional and graceful if you don’t twin. How do you animate jumping jacks or pushups? At least properly executed jumping jacks or pushups. Or a crane pose in martial arts. Fine if your character is the typical doofus who “can’t get it right” then a symmetry is perfect, but USUALLY, in perfect, concentrated execution, there is symmetry.