By: Walt Stanchfield                Categories: Animation

This is an excerpt from Drawn To Life by the late Walt Stanchfield, edited by Don Hahn.

On the Channel 5 morning newscast, weatherman Mark Cristi related an amusing story, but couldn’t remember the name of the person he was quoting. Barbara Beck, anchor woman, said, “Mark never lets the facts get in the way of a good story. ” It was a good story and whether the person quoted was Rodney Dangerfield or Prince Charles, it wouldn’t have added or taken away from the comical twist. (The story was about some older man who had gotten his much younger wife pregnant so she would have a playmate.)

Here is a paraphrase of that line: “ … don’t let the facts get in the way of a good drawing. ” All the facts in the world are only “grist” waiting for a good story. Or to look at it from another angle, “A good story just needs enough facts to give it a vehicle for expression. ” In other words, when you draw, draw the story (or the gesture) and allow just enough facts to creep in to give your pen something to do. It’s something like the guy who was photographing with no film in his camera. He didn’t need factual proof that he was taking beautiful pictures — he could see what he was getting in his view finder.

Many years ago Stan Green stepped into Milt Kahi’s room and said: “Such-and-such-a-scene has come back from camera — it’s on the Moviola, do you want to see it? ” Milt said, “Hell, no. I animated it. I know what it looks like. ” Well … it may be a long time before some of us will be that confident (or that conceited), but you might take a hint from one of the “masters”; that is, know what your drawing looks like before you start detracting from the story with too many facts. You know what a lot of floundering and superfluous words can do to a joke’s punch line.

Ruth Rendell, British detective story writer, said she doesn’t research the mechanics of policedom for her stories, “I find if you do it consciously (rely on facts) it doesn’t work. ” Well, in drawing you do have to be conscious of the gesture and the story. Most other conscious effort should be done in an anatomy class or curled up with a good anatomy book, remembering always that what a muscle does (verb) is more important than its construction (noun).

Keep your drawings vital, zestful, and entertaining by drawing verbs not nouns. A list of verbs should be enough to convince you of their importance: twist, bend, stretch, run, jump; look, stare, be surprised, be mad, be coy; sit, lay, lean — the list goes on and on and encompasses all the activities that a story might require. Nouns are facts: a belt buckle, a shirt, a hairdo, eyes, or a mouth. Writer Josephine Tey recognized the principle of facts versus content (story). In her book The Daughters of Time, she has one of her characters comment on a portrait of Richard III, “Whatever it is, it is a face, isn’t it! Not just a collection of organs for seeing, breathing, and eating with ….”

A couple of weeks ago Tom Sito, one of our favorite people and certainly one of our best models, posed for the evening classes. As a civil war officer, he amused us with lines like (through clenched teeth that held a cigar), “Forget it General. I’m not going up that hill — it’s too dangerous. ” Anyway, Tina Price, who has renewed her interest in drawing and possibly animation, did some nice drawing those evenings. She has been attending the gesture classes for quite a time now, and has, in my mind, recently made a quantum leap in her drawing ability. She has been concentrating on the story behind the pose, and as you can see by these reproductions of her recent work — she is right on track.

Allow me to present a couple of critiques, which were designed to open up some revealing vistas of creative prowess. One student began his drawing with something that obviously fascinated him — the box that the model was holding out in front of her body. I suggested that perhaps if he drew the body attitude first, he would then be free to manipulate the arms and box to the greatest possible advantage (staging). Stare at my suggestion of a figure and let your imagination play with various possibilities for the arms and box. You can extend them, hold them close to the body, tip the box to show the audience what’s in it or hold it up high as an offering to some deity. On the other hand, look at student’s drawing and try to do the same with the body. The choices for variations are few.

Here is another one where the model was about to pick up the box. In the student’s drawing, the twinning of the arms is rather static and leads nowhere. In my suggestion sketch, I angled the arms and hands in a way that suggests a movement toward the box. All the elements are arranged to concentrate your attention on the action, which is — preparing to pick up the box.

Here is Tom Sito as a Russian — with one of those black cossack hats on and a sword close at hand, looking for the enemy — but according to James Fuji, finding something much more welcome than some opposing military force.

This is an excerpt from Drawn To Life. Drawn to Life Volume 2 can be purchased at Amazon.comBN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

Walt Stanchfield

(1919–2000) was an American animator, writer and teacher. Stanchfield is known for work on a series of classic animated feature films at Walt Disney Studios and his mentoring of Disney animators.

Don Hahn

Don Hahm produced the classic Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar from the Motion Picture Academy of the Arts and Sciences.  Hahn’s next film, The Lion King, broke box-office records to become the top-grossing traditionally animated film in Disney history.

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