Lesson Plan Industry Sector
Arts, Media & Entertainment

Lesson Plan Originally Created By: Jeff Larson

Secondary Action

Part of Unit: Animation Principles

Lesson Plan Overview / Details

This lesson will introduce students to the animation principle of Secondary Action:

Secondary Actions add to and enrich the main action of an animated sequence. Secondary actions add more dimension to the character animation, supplementing and/or re-enforcing the main action. An example: A character is angrily walking toward another character.  The walk is forceful, aggressive, and forward leaning. The leg action is just short of a stomping walk. The secondary action is a few strong gestures of the arms working with the walk. Also the possibility of dialogue being delivered at the same time with tilts and turns of the head to accentuate the walk and dialogue, but not so much as to distract from the walk action. All of these actions should work together in support of one another. Think of the walk as the primary action and the arm swings, head bounce and all oter actions of the body as secondary or supporting actions.

Students will observe, identify and analyze a cartoon for primary and secondary actions.

Students will create add one or more secondary actions to a walk cycle of a cartoon character or sequence. Examples of secondary actions could be flapping ears, bouncing, hair, swishing tail, trailing cape, moving facial features, or other gestures. These actions should help build interest and bring more life into the sequence.

Lesson Time

Anticipatory Activity
10 - 15 Minutes
Walk Cycle
3 Days
Adding Secondary Action to Walk Cycle
2 Days

Objectives and Goals

  • Students will be able to identify and describe secondary actions in an animated cycle or sequence.
  • Students will be able to plan, develop, and execute a pencil test or rough version of an animated cycle/sequence of a primary action that includes a minimum of one secondary action.
  • Students will be able to create a 10 drawing rough walk cycle template upon which they will design their own character with secondary action.

Activities in this Lesson


    Anticipatory Activity: Watch Disney Goofy Cartoon pausing frame by frame at various points to analyze and discuss the differences between Primary and Secondary Actions.


    Resources and Materials

  • In this sequence of student walk cycle pencil tests one can see a variety of approaches to adding secondary actions to the characters.  See if students in class can identify the secondary actions present in the walks.

    Resources and Materials

  • This page from Brian Lemay shows a dog running sequence (primary action) with flapping ears and tail (secondary action). The various positions of the ears and tails reveal the commonly used wave action that gives fluidity to the parts. Analyze and discuss with students before they plan and begin adding secondary actions to a rough walk cycle or other sequence.

    Ask students to list as many types of secondary actions that may be present in a character/action. Have students share and list on board, overhead, or projector.

    Examples may include other gestures like head bobbing, hair bouncing, wrists and hands flopping, eyes rolling, eye brows raising, etc.. try to be exhaustive.

    Resources and Materials

  • Using the Preston Blair Walk Cycle Reference Sheet  provided students should have used a red pencil to create 10 different drawings to use as foundation for character development and secondary action that this lesson builds upon. This lesson and handouts are the short review version of information contained in a longer version of a how to create a walk cycle.

    1. Set up base sheet on light table, layer, or under piece of paper.

    2. Using red pencil, sketch out basic shapes and positions of the "dough figure".

    3. Pay close attention to alignment of head, torso, feet in relation to vertical and horizontal lines on base sheet.

    4. Pencil test/or create quicktime with rough drawings filmed and held for every three frames, for a total of 30 frames. This is to check basic mechanics of primary action of the walking figure.

    5. When all ten frames are complete in red pencil and walk is smooth, then students are prepared to add character design and secondary actions.

    Resources and Materials

    • NTSC_safe area/base sheet [ Download ] Have students use a base sheet under drawings on light tables as a way to build walk cycle or to be sure what they are drawing will be appearing on screen later. The lighter inside line is the safe area, meaning anything inside this area will definitely appear on screen. Anything out side the safe area, may or may not appear.
    • Preston Blair Walk Cycle Reference [ Download ] For use as teacher student reference in constructing and drawing the walk cycle upon which students will develop original character with secondary actions.
  • In this stage students should use  a blue pencil to build up character's final appearance, details, and outlines over the basic red shapes in each of the ten frames.  Students must remember to keep all character details consistent in position, size, placement, and volume as they work through the series of drawings. They should pencil test when they believe they are done and check/observe for any inconsistencies or glaring errors in mechanics or details and correct where needed. In order for students to create functioning secondary actions they will have to bear in mind previously learned animation principles like squash/stretch, overlapping action, arcs, anticipation, and  follow through.  It will depend on the type of actions they decide to add. When in doubt, look for resources or examples in books or other existing cartoons or actual footage to observe the action.


Assessment Types:
Projects, Observations,

Students must pencil test and turn in a quicktime version of rough walk cycle that includes one or more secondary actions.  Actions and timing of primary action (the walk) and secondary action (tail, hair, clothes, etc.) must be functioning, fluid, and believable.

Scoring and points can be determined by teacher. I suggest and evaluation of high, medium, and low quality.

Teacher should make observations during production to evaluate focus, attention to detail and process, and ability to meet deadline.