By: admin                Categories: AnimationGamesGeneralInspiration

Disney veteran, Tom Bancroft will publish Character Mentor with Focal Press later this month.  The advanced copy just landed on my desk.  We would like to share an excerpt from the title to give you a glimpse of the amazing techniques Tom has shared with us.  Also, check out some video tutorials Tom shared several weeks ago and if you are already a pro at making illustrations emit emotion and personality enter our Character Mentor Contest for $100 worth of Focal Press books.

This excerpt goes through a pose-based illustration from start to finish to see how I would approach it. I always learn from seeing other artists’ processes, and I think you might get something out of this that you can apply throughout this book.

I gave myself a simple assignment to create a spot illustration of a woman jumping out of the way of something – possibly reacting to someone throwing a firecracker at her. My goal is to create a pose that expresses a powerful leap but also has a strong sense of fear to her facial expression.

Here are the steps I took:

1. I create a quick sketch that is mostly just a line of action with simple shapes on top of it to show her basic anatomy. I’m going for a feeling here – almost like the pose is an exclamation mark. I use a red, erasable pencil to sketch this out. There is no real reason for the color red, but I do like using a color for my sketch so that I can clearly see the changes/final line when I add the black graphite in step 6.

Character Mentor - figure 1

2. I like where the sketch is going, so I stay with it. I add some more details, still using just basic shapes: ovals for the eyes and nose, a shape for the mouth. And I indicate the drag of her long hair, which also accents the movement.

Character Mentor - figure 2

3. I continue to add details. Refining her clothes (and the sense of drag on them). I start figuring out her expression more, too.

Character Mentor - figure 3

4. Because the sketch is far enough along to see some problems creeping into the drawing, I do what I do to most of my drawings – I flip it over. Looking at a drawing backward (via a light box) always helps me see the problems of a drawing. I create a new sketch on the back of the paper, fixing problems I see, like the lower foot placement, the tilt of the chest, opening the hand on one of the arms, and even redrawing the tilt of her head.

Character Mentor - figure 4

5. Flipping the drawing back the original way, I redraw the drawing, transferring the corrections I made on the back. They are minor tweaks, but they helped.

Character Mentor - figure 5

6. Using a kneaded eraser, I “knock back” the red underdrawing (which simply means I lighten the line by hitting it lightly with the eraser). Then I start creating my final, tighter line drawing with a graphite pencil. I want the final line to still feel loose, so I keep it slightly sketchy.

Character Mentor - figure 6

7. After I’ve drawn everything in the tighter black line – adding little details like hair strands and highlights in the eyes – I scan the drawing into the computer. This step enables me to go into the Channels box and select the Red channel, which takes out all the red line underdrawing, leaving only the tight black line. I then tweak the levels and contrast a bit until I have a final, tight black line. Ready for color!

Character Mentor - figure 7

8. In Adobe Photoshop, I start adding color. On a separate level, I cut out a shape for the background color and fill it with a gradient. I start with the background color simply because I already know that I want it to be a reddish-orange to give a sense of danger. Establishing the main color first is usually a good idea so that you can make sure everything else goes with it.

Character Mentor - figure 8

9. I add a white level (in the shape of the figure) in between the line and background color levels. This step gives me an opaque surface to work off of so the girl’s colors aren’t affected by the background colors.

Character Mentor - figure 9

10. At this point, I start blocking in flat color for her. Not all of them are completely flat; in a few places I use a gradient, like for her hair and blouse. There are a million different ways to color this piece, but I wanted a simple, “animated” coloring style for this that I thought would suit the linework style.

Character Mentor - figure 10

11. The last step is to add another layer that has some highlights and darker shadows that are applied graphically. Also, I make a last-minute decision to move her left arm down a bit so that the two arms weren’t twinning so much. I should have caught this earlier (around steps 4–7) because changing it in the color stage is more work. With that change made, the drawing is done!

Character Mentor - figure 11
Character Mentor is available at Amazon, BN.com, and wherever fine books are sold.

Tom Bancroft
is a 30 year veteran of the animation industry. In his artistic career he has specialized in children’s character designs, animation, video game development, and comic books.  He worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation for twelve years, animating on new Disney classics, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, Brother Bear, and more. He is the author of the popular character design book Creating Characters with Personality: For Film, TV, Animation, Video Games, and Graphic Novels.



  •    Laron said on May 24, 2012 at 6:07 am

    That insight’s peferct for what I need. Thanks!

  •    Terri said on June 13, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Tom this was very helpful. It’s always good to learn from someone in the field. I can’t wait for your book to arrive and better my skills. Thanks

  •    Ira Harmon said on June 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Regarding your character mentor contest. Yout web site upload page has an error on it that won’t allow uploading of artwork. Now you may say that it is my computer that has the problem, but I assure you that after trying to upload on 4 different computeres using both Mac and PC and trying three different browsers, the problem most definitely lies with your web page. It has an error.

  •    admin said on June 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Sorry for the inconvenience. Please email me your submission at c.sinclair@elsevier.com.

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