In the world of animation, constraints are essential. And I don’t just mean this as a concept. 

Constraints are actual animation tools that allow you to attach one object to another (in other words, to constrain them together). When used correctly, they can save a lot of time and significantly improve the animation’s quality.

To give you a quick example, if you had a person juggling, you might use a constraint to keep a ball in the juggler’s hand until it was released. If the juggler was also standing on a moving skateboard, you might constrain the juggler and all the balls to the skateboard’s movement.

There’s a coworker I once had who claimed, “I’m old school, I don’t use constraints.” The rest of us chuckled, knowing it really meant he was being sloppy and allowing his lack of knowledge to negatively affect his work.

The funny thing about constraints (both in animation and as a concept) is that they can actually be freeing once you learn how to use them well.

In Done!: Finish Your Creative Project in One Month  (my email course, eBook, and audiobook) I have a whole chapter about learning to love your limits. Turns out this approach can really boost your creativity and productivity.

Working within constraints or limits is something I’ve experienced often. It’s also something I hear creatives talking about more and more.

To that end, here’s an excellent TEDx video featuring talented artist Phil Hansen talking about this very subject. He’s got some amazing examples of his own limits and the artwork he produced within them.

Check it out:

The power of constraints

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Have you ever seen those sets of word magnets for your refrigerator? Magnetic Poetry Kit is one of the popular (and I believe the first) brands. As you might imagine, they’re a lot of fun and provide some great creative opportunities. I own two different themed sets: geeky and big dictionary words.

My wife and I have had a some fun playing around with them, but the best results came from our guests over the years. Here are some of my favorites:


as sexy as could be
to understand a Kafkaesque fire cloud
open minds by hacking them off
I am your mellifluous pedagog of galactic temerity
the nefarious alien was more verbose than I liked
this is our observation, you are a missive humanoid
ed is always cheating
I like Herculean nachos
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I see two factors contributing to what makes these so great: limited selection and a random assortment. We’ll save the second for another day (maybe a rainy one, but it doesn’t have to be).

When you’re limited to just a few words (some of which, you may not even understand), the results are way more interesting then when you can choose any (and only) word(s) from your vocabulary. I’ve heard Dr. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” because of a bet from his publisher. The bet was he couldn’t write a children’s book with 50 or less distinct words. The clever doctor succeeded of course and, though the publisher didn’t pay up, it sounds like things turned out pretty well for ol’ Seuss.

Takeaway: there’s a valuable lesson about limitations here and how they promote creative thought.


Hey Creatives, have you ever been required to do or write something under strict limitations, what were the results, did the limitations help or hinder your creativity? Let us know in the comments below.