Studying the Masters: The Touch

Two characters touching and interacting can make or break your scene. Done well it will instantly take the drawings or models from “drawings and models” to real, living, breathing beings. Done poorly and no amount of fabulous acting will ever transform them from flat shapes on the screen. Today we look at one incredible example of touch done superbly.

Ariel and Sebastian
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This tiny clip holds a treasure trove of animation genius, which we could discuss for hours on end. The hair, the timing to allow for “thought,” the change of shape, the elasticity of the face, the genuine emotion expressed… all these things lead to a single experience that engages the audience in a way few animations dream of achieving. Let’s just take a look at just the touching aspect, though, for today.
-Special Thanks to Frame X Frame for the Gif

All About Timing

First notice how long Ariel holds the kiss. After contact there is a subtle but important moving hold that gives the audience time to FEEL the impact. Is it not a drawing of a mermaid right up next to a crab, it is a moment in time between a girl physically kissing a tiny (depressed looking) crustacean. A quick peck would not have worked nearly as well here, but you see such a difference in timing so often in animation today. This is something essential to keep in mind: You must leave the audience time to absorb what is happening.

Secondary Action

Note, while we’re on the subject of the length of kiss, that her hair continues moving in beautiful arcs and secondary action while the kiss is taking place. This is a brilliant example of Glen Keane’s animation advice to Save a Move. Instead of having the hair stop and be PART of the moving hold, it is separated in a lovely, subtle way that injects the shot with a whole other level of realism. Not “video reference” realism, mind you, but the feeling that this world, girl, and crab truly exist.

Squash and Stretch

The last two things I’ll point out (though there’s plenty more to see!) regard Sebastian. First, check out the squash/stretch while the kiss is taking place. Broken model much? The truth is while in that moving hold his face is stretched far past “normal” but it never feels wrong. It takes serious confidence to deform the character that much for that many frames, and a skilled hand to pull it off. But look at the result! It is by far worth the effort.

Third-ary Action?

Finally observe closely the recoil once Ariel’s lips let go. For a few frames Sebastian seems to be made of jello, and that small, subtle detail of him shaking back and forth drives home the weight and impact of Ariel’s kiss. Without this wobble, as short and simple as it is, the whole shot would have far less oomph. It takes a great shot and makes it masterful.

Wait! One More Thing!

Okay, I said that was the last thing, but I have to point out one more aspect. Take yourself out of the feeling of the moment and look at something very technical: If Ariel kissed the tiny crab as forcefully as it seems, the “truth” is he would very likely fall over/be pushed out of her hands. She REALLY leans into him, and he- realistically- doesn’t have the weight to counter balance it. But that’s the brilliant thing about animation! We are in charge of making things even BETTER than life, and going beyond real world laws. It’s important not to break world rules you’ve already set, but here is a great example of ignoring reality for a moment to really make a scene that much better. And honestly feel MORE real than if he had been kissed right off his perch, or if she hadn’t laid into him as powerful of a smooch.

It can be easy, at this point, for one of two things to happen to you.

  • You may be so inspired by this clip that, like me, you spend the next hour looking at it! Be careful, our job is to go do great animation, and we can get caught up in just watching it and being awed! Observe and study, but then go apply those studies to your own work.
  • You may be so awed by this clip that, like me, you start to feel a little depressed! We all want to do great work, and when we see something outstanding it can remind us of how far we still have to go. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. It will be hard work and take a lot of practice, but you too can do something as magical as the scene above! Go forth and make it happen, always striving to do your very best. Then one day it will be your scene in Gif form above and being talked about!

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AMAZING. So much goodness in like a few dozen frames!!!!


For me, the most important take-away from this post is not the shot analysis, although that’s critical to learning and growing, but the words of encouragement at the end. I appreciate the vote of confidence! Cheers,


that what really gets to me to is when you get to the encouragement. Just what I needed!!!


I never expected so much information to be able to be found in a single few seconds of animation! Thanks for this, now I want to go see what secrets are in all the rest of the movie. 😀

vince federico

Beyond a doubt, this is one of the best little clips I’ve seen. I also went to that site you said it came from. WOW. That place is amazing! Definitely added to my bookmarks right under Animator Island. 😉

I learned a lot from this analysis, thank you.


thank you 🙂

Mary T.

I came to your site and noticed you could have a lot more traffic because this is a really good series for animators. I also was wondering how you study animation like this what program and how do you view it just as frames?

kiara noble

ʜello, I enjoy reading all of your ɑrticles. I like to write a little comment to support you!


very helpful article.

dragon kiss

If I’m not mistaken, Glen Keane animated this shot and you can really tell. The quality and appeal is off the charts. That man can animate just about anything and make it look good, but give him a pretty girl and it’s lights out for anyone who thinks they can come close. Frozen, in all of its financial success, can’t hold a candle to animation like this or the charm of Ariel.


What about this? Suppose you typed a catchier title?
I am not suggesting your content is not solid. I just donot know if it explains what the articles are about.

Hannah G.

It’s really a great and useful piece of info. I am happy that you simply shared this clip and overview with us!


When it comes to the overall scene this also fits perfectly inside it. So it works not only as a moving animated clip but also as an entire very delicate place of the larger film!



Nobody does it beeeeeetteeeeeeeeeeerrrrrr…


Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful article. Thanks for supplying this information and breakdown.


Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.


Hello there! You do not have written one of this kind of post in a long time. Will you please write more? I do not know how to do this analyzing but it makes it easier with this post type. Thank you!