Keys or Extremes? – The Big difference EXPLAINED!

Richard Williams (author of Animator’s Survival Kit) did not develop the only method to animating, but he IS the ONLY one who used Milt Kahl’s work method. That’s an important aspect to consider for this post.

Now I don’t know any animator who hasn’t come across his bookYet, when I look at how even industry level animators describe key poses and extremes, they often say they’re the same thing. Not quite.

Here are the clearest descriptions of keys vs. extremes that I’ve found:

Key poses are the “Sum-it-up” drawings. They are the bare bones of the shot, the comic strip poses, and the most important drawings. If you go through an animation frame by frame, The poses that most clearly describe the entire shot are the keys.

Extremes are difficult to explain (probably the reason for so much confusion), so I find it easier to add what it’s not.


In a walk cycle, I’d argue that there are no key poses at all (unless someone is walking AND acting). So a walk cycle starts with an extreme and ends with an extreme.

Why does this even matter? Richard Williams says this about it:

“I’ve worked every system, good, bad or half-baked, and experience has convinced me that it’s best -even crucial – to separate the storytelling keys from the extremes and all the other stuff.”

“Separating them out stops us getting tangled up and missing the point of the shot, as we vanish into a myriad of drawings and position.”

Are keys extremes? Technically yes. But I say treat them all as players on basketball team! Your Michael Jordans (keys) are Chicago Bulls (extremes), but most of the Bulls don’t play like the Jordans! So the next time you find yourself with artist’s block during the splining stage, just find your keys and extremes and use them as your guide through all the mess it makes!

Comment if you’ve had similar experiences! Read an online version of the Animator’s Survival Kit here:


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