The following is an excerpt from The Animator’s Eye: Adding Life to Animation with Timing, Layout, Design, Color and Sound by Francis Glebas. In The Animator’s Eye, Francis teaches you how to become a strong visual storyteller through better use of color, volume, shape, shadow, and light – as well as discover how to tap into your imagination and refine your own personal vision. Here, Francis lets you in on some of his secrets…
“I can’t even draw a straight line.” I’m sure you’ve heard people say that when they’re telling you that they can’t draw. Well, next time you hear that, simply ask if they’ve ever heard of a ruler.
Why learn to draw if you’re using a computer to animate? We could ask why learn about design if you’re just learning to draw? Or why study sculpting if you’re just drawing? The blunt answer is that if you don’t, it will show in your animation.
When you draw, you need to feel it in your bones, feel it in your muscles. You’ll be drawing from the inside, capturing the life rather than tracing the surface appearance. Whether you use clay or computer models, drawing is about the carefully designed arrangement of lines and shapes on a flat surface.
In this chapter, we’re going to look at specific techniques to develop your ability to draw what you see in your animator’s eye.
The First Secret: It May Look Easy But …
The first secret of drawing is that it’s an acquired skill that takes a lot of practice to master. This is part of the most reassuring secret of drawing: it can be learned. As a ten year old, I discovered Mad Magazine and my world expanded. The drawings and humor were a totally new world to explore.
I really wanted to be able to draw cartoons like those masters of the art. Since the only reference that I had to go by was the magazine itself, I mistakenly thought that the Mad artists drew the panels exactly that size and drew in pen exactly what the panel looked like. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that they actually worked much bigger than the final publication size—usually 1.5 or even 2 times larger. And the bigger surprise was that the final image was often drawn many times. Various compositions were tried. Character designs were explored. And when they were ready to do the final art, they drew it in blue first, then cleaned it up in pencil and then drew the final clean ink line. I discovered more secrets when, years later, I got to see some of the original art. The artists, in addition to erasing, covered their mistakes with opaque white ink and sometimes even patched in other pieces of paper.
The “b” part of this secret is that it does get easier.
Second Secret: Drawing is Thinking
First of all, you need to understand that drawing is about thinking as much as it is about moving a pencil around the page. Drawing is a way of learning to see. Moving your hand around the page also involves thinking. It’s called eye–hand coordination and the brain is responsible for it. Consider it like riding a bike. When you first start it’s so difficult you might think it’s impossible. Once you learn how, you no longer need to even think about it. Even after years of not riding you can hop on and go. (Of course, you’ll probably be a bit rusty at first.)
As an animation artist, you need to know what to look for and then learn how to get your animator’s eye and your animator’s hands to work together to put that vision on paper or a computer screen.
Drawing requires feedback. We look at what we’ve drawn and think about it. How does it feel? Does it feel unbalanced? Does it feel fragmented? Is it telling a clear story? Does it flow? We look and provide our minds with feedback, and then we can take the next step.
Take a few steps back to get a better overview of your progress. Try looking at it in a mirror. Let’s say I’m drawing a castle. I’ve looked at reference to get ideas and then I start drawing a castle from my imagination. The castle takes shape as I draw it. When I see the pieces, I can start rearranging them, changing the proportions, creating repetitions of shapes and start putting it together. Drawing is a continual thinking/drawing/feedback process. If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to start over.
Third Secret: Even Great Artists Scribble
When you’re ready to start your day of drawing it helps to loosen up your arm and wrist. Use your whole arm when you draw rather than just using your wrist and fingers. This helps getting a fluid quality in your drawings. Just start scribbling to loosen up and learn to be aware of the expressive qualities that emerge from your scribbles. Try to represent different emotions just with drawing scribbles. Artists get ideas by doodling and finding images that suggest other ideas.
Fourth Secret: Use the Force
No, not that “force.” Let your eyes follow how the forces run through the body. The “line of action” principle was proposed by Preston Blair in his book Animation: Learn How to Draw Animated Cartoons . This is an imaginary line running through a pose that represents the dominant flow of force moving through a body. There’s a directional intention behind many movement that shows where the character is headed. At any time there are multiple forces running through the body. The “line of action” is the dominant force that helps the figure feel unified.
In these poses you can see the clear lines of action (indicated in red) with all parts subordinated to this line. The character doesn’t flail around in different directions. I’d also like to recommend Michael D. Mattesi’s excellent book on the subject, Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators .
Fifth Secret: Learn to See Rather than Merely Looking
SEEING is not the same as LOOKING. When we look we perceive things. When you really see, sometimes you forget about the “thingness” and perceive the shimmering field of color that the impressionists saw or the sculptural shapes that the Renaissance artists saw.
Beginning artists need to learn what to look for. Often they will draw what they think they see rather than what’s there in front of them. Seeing involves seeing shapes, values, masses, lines, not things. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing subtle things like the alignment and position of feet on the floor. What good are lines then? Lines certainly have their place, lines define edges, directions, forces, and shape boundaries.
Sixth Secret: Think Shapes, Not Lines
Most artists think with lines. It’s easy to get lost in lines. If you’re in a rut with your drawing, try thinking in shapes. Try what Matisse did. When faced with arthritis, which prevented him from holding a paintbrush, he created masterpieces using cutout colored paper. It’s a great way to learn to be sensitive to shapes and get clear silhouettes.
Try drawing the shapes instead of rendering with line. Try using a big brush or even cutout paper. Look for shapes as volumes in space. This will help set your shapes in a dimensional space.
Seventh Secret: When Drawing Small, Focus on Silhouette
This isn’t really a secret, but who ever heard of six secrets? When you have to draw small, focus on the shape of the silhouette instead of the details. If you get the shape right, the details will fall right into place. That will help maintain the quality of your drawings.
Excerpt from The Animator’s Eye: Adding Life to Animation with Timing, Layout, Design, Color, and Sound by Francis Glebas © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. The Animator’s Eye can be purchased Amazon.com,BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.