Animation Tip: Before and After Actions
To create believable character animation, your audience must be able to see and understand what your character is doing before, during, and after an action. The key to making your character's actions "read" is anticipation and overshoot.
Anticipation: Anything your character does to prepare for an action. If your character does not anticipate its actions well, it will appear as if the character is moving without thought.
Overshoot: Motion that is a direct result of an action.
Without anticipation and overshoot, some actions may happen too quickly for your audience to recognize them.
Anticipation and overshoot are best explained by example. Take the action of a baseball pitcher throwing the ball. The pitcher anticipates the throw by pulling his arm back and lifting up his leg. Then he throws the ball. The overshoot of this action occurs when the pitcher's arm continues to move forward after the ball has been released.
Another example of anticipation and overshoot would be a sprinter crouching before the start of the race and continuing to run after she crosses the finish line.
With strong enough anticipation and overshoot poses, the audience can tell what action the character is performing without really seeing the action. To create snappier animation, have your character hold the anticipation and overshoot poses for more frames than the action itself.
Add anticipation to your animations, and you should notice an immediate improvement.