By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationBooksGeneral

The following is an excerpt from Tom Bancroft’s Character Mentor. Tom shows you how to pose your character, create emotion through facial expressions, and stage your character to create drama. Here, he shows you correct eye direction and proximity in character interaction.

Creating good, strong poses and interesting characters is important, but if your characters do not seem to interact with each other, you miss out on a key piece of storytelling. Eye direction is a key element to the illusion of character interaction. Take, for example, Figures A through C. This concept is intended to “read” as an adult reuniting with a child, a happy story moment. This works as a basic pose, but note that the pupils have been left out in Figure A. Now, in Figure B, pupils have been added, but with the eye direction not quite right. They are looking at each other but not directly into each other’s eyes. In Figure C, that problem has been fixed. Even with only a millimeter’s amount of movement in the pupils, there is so much more chemistry between the characters because they are looking directly at each other.




Another common eye direction mistake to make is not having the left and right eye of a character looking in the same direction. Imagine arrows coming out of your character’s eyes to help you clearly see whether the eye direction is correct between the eyes. See the following examples.

A common – and especially tricky – eye look to draw correctly is when a character’s head is turned away but their pupils are looking back in the opposite direction. See Figure A for an incorrect way to draw this and a correct way using the red arrows as indicators. In most cases, the mistake is in not having the same amount of negative space (the white part of the eye around the pupil) in both eyes. The top example of Figure B shows no white negative space on the left side of the far eye, so it looks as though that pupil is looking at a more extreme angle than the front eye. Below that is a correct version with a little bit of white negative space peeking through on the left side of the far eye. Often it comes down to a pencil’s width of line thickness to get the most subtle eye directions or expressions correct: sharpen your pencils and keep erasing!

These next two examples, which I call “Young Superheroes in Love,” illustrate how – even with the heads of the two characters looking straight at each other and their body language speaking very loudly that they are happy – the tiniest change in the pupils of only one of the characters tells a completely different story of what they are happy about. These two examples show how powerful the pupils are in communicating your characters’ inner thoughts.

Proximity is a term I use in reference to how close an object (or prop, in stage terms) or person is to the character that is acting with that prop or person. Is it or are they in the correct proximity to your character to give the right feel or emotion? Proximity of your characters works hand in hand with eye direction, because how close the characters are and how much they are looking into each other’s eyes says what kind of chemistry they have for each other. Think of a drawing of a young mom and her newborn baby. How would she hold that baby? I created four different sketches to show some ways to illustrate that pose. In Figure A, she is holding her baby far away and in a plain pose. Though the eye direction and their expressions work, their proximity to each other communicates an indifference to the baby on the part of the mom. In Figure B, the proximity between the two is cut down considerably, and now there is much more warmth felt between the two. This pose works fine, but I felt like the pose could be improved upon, so I created Figure C, which adds more emotion to the pose by adding a tilt to the mom’s shoulders and head so that the her and her baby are more horizontally equal in their eye direction, which immediately brings even more warmth – especially from the baby. I could have stopped there, but I went a little further by creating Figure D. In this pose, I shifted the mom’s weight back and brought the baby close to her face. Having their faces touch makes for the strongest emotional contact you can achieve. Additionally, the pose is strengthened because of some tilts to the legs and a stronger tilt and flow to the body.

Excerpt from Character Mentor: Learn by Example to Use Expressions, Poses, and Staging to Bring Your Characters to Life by Tom Bancroft © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Character Mentor can be purchased,, and wherever fine books can be found.

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