Animating can seem complicated sometimes (understatement of the year). But really, when animating a shot the only thing you need to do is hit the necessary beats. If a shot calls for a character to enter a room, wipe his feet, and dive face-first into a comically large bowl of chowder, those are the only three things you need to accomplish. Simple. Crank that thing out and go home, Game of Thrones ain’t gonna watch itself.
But great animation lies in the mindfulness of character.
Since the specific actions necessary to a shot are often already established in the storyboards, the task of the animator is to define the manner in which the action is carried out. And to do this the animator must know the character, and have a sense of how exactly this particular guy/gal/six-legged subhuman would dive into that aforementioned bowl of chowder.
So how does one merge character with action? Adverbs.
For those of you too busy drawing in notebooks during high school English (like me), adverbs are just adjectives for verbs. They describe the manner in which an action is performed.
Your character is running through a wheat field? How about ‘running gingerly through a wheat field’? Boxing a kangaroo? Try ‘Timidly boxing a kangaroo’. Smiling? ‘Smiling murderously‘.
I could go on, but you may end up wanting to punch me emphatically in the neck. (Adverbs!)
Find the adverb that works for that particular character, performing that particular action. It will help maintain the spark of character specificity while doing the more general work of hitting the story beats.
Side Note: If you want to go a little more broad with this, try assigning an adjective to each character– something that describes them in a general sense– and keep it in mind when animating them. This can work nicely when animating on a series, where characters are generally less nuanced and character arcs are non-existent due to the episodic nature of the medium.