Top 10 Books For Animators

Catharine Pitt

Over the past few years, we've read many books about the principles and techniques of animation. And while many share similar teachings, a few stand out for their incredible insights. If you're looking for a 'lil shelf-help, here are our go-to books that we'd staple to our desks if we could.

1. Timing For Animation - Harold Whitaker & John Halas (40th AnnIV Edition).


This iconic book will help you identify the pace & rhythms of movement in animation.

It's full of in-depth techniques on how to bring characters (& inanimate objects) to life with the tiniest of movements to the broadest of actions.

Aside from directing and storyboarding, the book outlines methods and procedures to bring your animation to life. Including:

  • The fundamentals of timing, physics and animation

  • Timing charts

  • The effects of force, weight and friction

  • Spacing of drawings

  • Timing slow, fast or oscillating actions

  • Character reactions, acting and lip sync

  • Timing a human and animal walk cycle

  • Animation effects such as wind, fire, explosions and snow

166 pages of pure GOLD.

Favourite quote: “[Time] is an essential raw material which can be compressed or expanded and used for effects and moods in a highly creative way. It is, therefore, essential to learn and understand how time can be applied to animation.” [page xiii]


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Top 10 Books For Animators

This book is a beautiful masterclass in drawing, with interviews and insights from some of the world's leading animators.

Many ideas start with a simple scribble. But this book teaches you how to connect those early ideas and develop them into technical or expressive drawings that become part of your working practice. Insights include how to:

  • Add depth to the visual narrative

  • Capture the heart of an image

  • Hone screen presence

  • Generate ideas

With references to perspectives, figures, animals, quick sketching, drawing the 'scapes', capturing movement and generating ideas, it's a comprehensive masterclass in drawing for animators. In addition, the plethora of examples from industry experts and assignments make this book a real gem.

Favourite quote: “Many of us kill dreams before they have a chance to materialise. Allow your ideas to get out! What you may think is pointless scribble may lead to the formation of something that you can develop into a significant piece of work” [p200]


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3. Film Directing: Shot by Shot - SteveN D. Katz

Top 10 Books For Animators

There is a huge amount of knowledge to unpack in 'Film Directing Shot By Shot'. It's a compendium of principles & techniques to help you make the leap to a directing role.

While much of the focus is on general film principles and techniques, the benefit for animators is huge. It lays the foundations for so many directorial decisions, including:

  • Visualisation tools and techniques

  • Staging, camera angles & moves

  • Framing shots and capturing points of view

  • Emotional outcomes

  • Storyboards

Whether you skim read or devour... you'll find incredible insights.

Favourite quote: ”Shot by Shot was written to help make sense of the visual side of the narrative process and provide a very flexible method for developing your own directorial voice... If you are jumping into the movie game, [it] should bring you a little closer to developing into a craftsman. The art part is up to you.”


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4. The Animators Survival Kit - Richard Williams

Top 10 Books For Animators

Often cited as the bible for animation, ‘The Animator's Survival Kit’ gives the ultimate guide to animation concepts and techniques, from simple breakdowns to more complex moves.

Amongst the mountain of easily digestible principles and step-by-step instructions , you'll learn:

  • Spacing and arcs

  • Walk, weight and tempo

  • Runs, Jumps and skips

  • Flexibility, weight and anticipation

  • Dialogue and Acting

  • Animal action

  • Directing and Reviewing

The re-issue to digital format also includes video examples of these utterly brilliant lessons.

Favourite quote: ”Animation is concentration”


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5. Acting for animators (4th Edition) - Ed Hooks

Top 10 Books For Animators

An essential guidebook for animators who want to understand how to communicate a character's view of the world to their audience.

Speaking directly to animators, the book is split into two halves, with the first focusing on the craft and technique. You will learn:

  • The 9 basic principles of acting

  • How to create a character analysis

  • The status of characters and psychology

  • Why story matters

  • Animating dialogue

  • The power of stillness

The remaining half of the book takes an analytical view of acting, by brilliantly unpacking scenes in well-known films, such as Aladdin, Zootopia and The Little Prince.

Favourite takeaway: “You should be able to freeze-frame a character at any time and ask him: 'What are you doing?' and he should be able to answer in these terms (fill in the blanks]: [My objective is _____________. The action I am playing in pursuit of that objective is _____________. The obstacle I am overcoming is _____________.]


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6. Simplified Drawing for Planning Animation - Wayne Gilbert

Top 10 Books For Animators

Drawing is at the heart of our practice. It's how we seed ideas and capture the essence of a scene and character.

If you want to build your drawing skills to communicate ideas, movements, action and emotions - this book is a great place to start.

It skillfully guides you through each stage of drawing, from:

  • Warm-ups and pencil control

  • Geometric and simplified body shapes

  • Line variations to express force, compression and light direction

  • Gravity and balance

  • Simplified body shapes and perspectives

  • Expressing force, action and recovery from action

  • Creating strong poses

  • Planning the movements

Favourite quote: “Planning is fun, it's when inspiration comes to life... Good animators can tell by looking at someone's planning if key poses or breakdowns are missing or weak, they can even get a sense of intended timing.”


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7. Drawn to life (Volumes 1 & 2) - Walt Stanchfield

Top 10 Books For Animators

These incredible books are not designed to read in one go, but to take individual chapters and immerse yourself in the rich insights... a bit like a university education in capturing quick movements through thumbnails.

No surprise then that as one of Disney Animation's great influencers, Walt Stanchfield inspired a legion of artists with his teachings. Drawn to life is a compendium for drawing, as well as his philosophy to creating.

Volume one focuses on specifics, including:

  • Principles of animation

  • Gestures

  • Ways of seeing and analysing

  • Angles and action

  • Creativity and Thinking

Whereas Volume two feels more anecdotal, whilst still packed with insights to transform your art.

Favourite quote: “We are not striving for drawings that say 'look at me, aren't I an attractive drawing.’ But that will say ‘I love life, and feeling, and purpose,’ and the drawing will reveal that purpose.”


Volume One

Volume Two

8. Animated Performance (2nd Edition) — Nancy Beiman

Top 10 Books For Animators

This book is the perfect 'How To…' for character animators and a welcome addition from a female author in such a male-dominated field!

It’s a concise combination of tutorials, insight and exercises to guide you through methods of animating human, fantasy and animal characters.

But it also educates you into the methods of other artists, comparing approaches with detailed breakdowns, to help you develop your own style.

It covers:

  • Lines of action, volume and time

  • Developing a character, from cycle walk to dialogue

  • Acting for male or female characters

  • Four and two-legged characters and how to portray animal qualities

  • Animating the supernatural

  • Bringing inanimate objects to life

  • Staging, composition and multiple characters

  • Character and story arcs

Favourite quote: “It is the animator’s acting that puts the life into character animation and gives it a powerful emotional connection with its audience — so powerful that characters created with pencils, pixels, or puppets become as affecting and believable as human actors”


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9. Animated Storytelling - Liz Blazer

Top 10 Books For Animators

"Animated Storytelling" by Liz Blazer is packed full of practical knowledge, frameworks and insights for animators looking to improve their storytelling skills. It covers topics such as storytelling structures, storyboarding, colour scripts and world building to help you create clear and engaging animations.

With plenty of examples from animators and illustrators, each chapter contains concise explanations, useful examples and short assignments.

But we're especially drawn to her encouraging tone throughout, offering guidance on how to navigate the creative process and the importance of experimentation. We couldn't agree more.

Favourite quote: “Never stop. Being an artist is a constant itch... Sketch, storyboard, write, animate, dream and experiment your way to new, amazing stories.”


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10. Animation from script to screen - Shamus Culhane

Top 10 Books For Animators

“Animation from Script to Screen" by Shamus Culhane is still a relevant guide for animators of all levels, despite the fact that many of the methods mentioned have been replaced by digital workflows. Culhane's extensive experience in the industry shines through with his anecdotes and wisdom on so many aspects of the animation process that still hold true.

Topics covered include:

  • Writing for animation and developing a script

  • Tapping into creativity through drawing

  • Character design

  • Directing

  • Storyboarding

  • Principles of animation

  • Collaboration and communication

As Culhane writes, "An animated film is not a series of drawings that move, it's a story that comes to life". This focus on the narrative is echoed throughout the book, with detailed approaches and exercises to many stages in the process, making it a great resource for anyone looking to deepen their knowledge of animation.

Favourite quote: ‘The more you know about every aspect of filmmaking, the more you are equipped to go forward, “Like, you know man... free”’


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*Feel good about buying books! The suggested links will direct you to 'World Of Books' - a circular economy, for-profit company that protects the planet and supports charities by helping people reuse books, DVDs and more. None of the links are affiliates and we have not been paid to recommend them :)