By: Mike Mattesi                Categories: General

Mike Mattesi breaks down motion and form into a formula that concentrates on anatomical subtleties in Force Animal Drawing.  Mike distills the essence of motion and form, and how they work together, looking at the big picture of gesture and action, rather than morphological details.  Here, Mike specifically examines the motion and form of Digitrades.

A digitigrade animal is one that stands or walks on its digits, or toes, by definition, although I see it more as the ball of the foot or pad of the hand. Digitigrades include walking birds, cats, dogs, and most other mammals. They are generally quicker and move more quietly than other mammals. Let’s start with man’s best friend.


force animal drawing The most common of animals is the digitigrade class due to our household pets, cats and dogs. They are great to study since you can touch them and feel their anatomy, you can observe them more often than other classes, and they are one step removed from human anatomy when it comes to their hands and feet.

Force animal drawing

This image shows the FORCES of the rear leg up close. In the third drawing from the left, force travels down the rear, across to the knee, back to the ankle, and shoots straight down the back or bottom of the foot. It then finishes over the pad and toes of the foot. The image to the far right shows a compressed leg. It moves similarly to a folding chair. The angles found in the upper leg and foot sustain a parallel relationship. The pattern of the rhythm does not change since the rear leg in its more straight stance does NOT lock like the front leg. As an added point of reference, I extracted from the illustrations the triangular forceful shape of the upper leg and how it looks for the stretched and compressed legs.

Animation Artists

The common mistake artists make when they draw mammals in the digitigrade class is confusing which joint in the rear leg is the ankle. The ankle is the high rear peak in the rear limb of the animal. The digitigrade animal actually walks on the ball of the foot, not unlike a human sprinter. This spring-loaded, bouncy rear-foot architecture allows for a quick burst of speed.

drawing by hand

This side-by-side comparison of the human hand to the digitigrade forelimb reveals that those in this class walk on what would be the upper pad of the human hand. The small sketch to the far right shows the padding in the area of the skeleton where most of the animal’s weight rests. These diagrams also represent the path of FORCES that occur when the arm of a digitigrade animal is locked back in full support of its weight relative to the arm lifting off the ground. In the drawing of the forelimb locked back, you can see how force drives down the back of the limb to the pad of the foot and then creates a rhythm over the top of the pad and toes. The key element that allows FORCES to operate in this manner is the dog’s locked wrist. A human wrist does not lock, and the palm of our hand would press against the ground. The wrist in digiti grades operates like a human knee. This means that the joint has a limited range of motion. When the wrist breaks upward, force creates rhythm earlier than in the locked position by flowing over the top of the wrist and then over the top of the “hand” to the toes.

force animals

The close-up of the human hand displays the rhythms found in the front paws of the digitigrade animal.

The image above brings focus to the comparison in padding found in the human hand to that of a dog. The toned regions clarify how the dog’s foot is designed. It walks on the large pad of its foot, which is like the top, large pad of the human hand. Notice how the dewclaw, or thumb, has been pushed up the dog’s limb since its function is not as important as a human thumb.

force animals

This crude schematic portrays the FORCES found in the dog shape. Each force is numbered. I want to call your attention to the perspective plane on the ground. Mammals most often have four points that touch the ground, whereas humans have two. Since there are four points, they lend themselves nicely to defining a box, and a box is a great way of defining perspective.

digital animation

If you do not have access to a zoo, fear not; you don’t have to go far to draw animals. Likely, either you or someone you know has a pet. Let’s look at our first real dog! Observe the shapes used to create this experience with Belle, the wonderful pet belonging to my friends Sally, Jon, and Madeline. She is a short-haired collie. Notice the force body shape overlapped with the fore and rear limb shapes. A large chest and narrow waist give her an athletic silhouette.

intermediate-speed land animals

Belle looks on with curiosity at her owners. The foot takes on a human resemblance, since it is flat on the ground. Now you can more clearly imagine the human anatomical comparison. You can see again how I used the perspective plane to define the space she sits in. Notice the sweep beginning at the back of her neck that then led me down into her shoulder and her arm.

Force Animals

In this drawing of Belle, she is reclined yet looking on at the events around her. She props herself on her elbows and then rotates her hips on their side. You can see how I looped around the joints of her wrists and ankles and described the form of her body with surface lines at the bottom of her abdomen.

Force Animal Sketches

During the final proofing stage of this book, my family acquired a long awaited dog that we named Monty, a four month old Black Labrador Retriever mixed with Corgi! Above are a couple of thirty second sketches of his first day at his new home. When addressing these quick ideas I start with the thought, “Monty is ______!” This sentence focuses my thoughts more quickly on the idea of the pose.

DigitgradesEach of these quick sketches was drawn in under a minute. The two on the left were more for the story of the pose and gesture, while the drawing on the right was building the dog in perspective. You can see the difference in thought and appearance of the drawing. The perspective drawing presents more straights than curves to block out the structure.

Excerpted from Force Animal Drawing by Mike Mattesi.  Force Animal Drawing can be purchased at Amazon, BN.com, and wherever fine books are sold.

Mike Mattesi is the Director of the Entertainment at the Art Academy based in Southern California. He has been a professional production artist and instructor for almost 20 years with clients including Disney, Marvel Comics, Hasbro Toys, ABC, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Dreamworks and Nickelodeon.



  •    Lety said on June 7, 2012 at 9:00 am


  •    anon said on June 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I really haven’t thought about drawing dogs very much. This is something I’ve overlooked for years. I forwarded this link to a few art teachers to possibly help their drawing students. I’m going to go doodle right now! Thank you!

  •    John Eyley said on June 22, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Lety, you took the words right out of my mouth. Exactly what I said, .. Wonderful!

Tell us what you think!