Friday, May 11, 2007


Its interesting at Tafe watching some of the first years squirm and wince at the thought of life drawing. Over the past few weeks I may have even seen some of you hiding in nooks and crannies around C block when I'm pretty sure you should have been in Jane's live drawing class.

I think I'm beyond getting angry about it or anything like that, mainly its just a bit sad, and speaks volumes about what you really understand about this amazing art form, and what you have gotten yourselves into. If I got to write an animation course from scratch there would be life drawing every week (maybe a couple of times) from week one to the very end. As you continue to read I want to stress that this isn't something I'm upset about (at least not right now anyway :P), it's just something I find interesting.

The thing is that THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR BRAIN AND A GOOD CHARACTER POSE THAN TO DRAW IT. It doesn't matter if it’s a good “illustration*”, it’s just that when you tipped the body that way a bit more, put the arm there or head this way it looked better and now its etched into your brain because you put it there in the most immediate and direct way possible.

* by illustration I mean a clean drawing with fancy details

“But I don’t need to do life drawing for that!” I hear you cry, “I can just make things up to draw.”

WRONG! Just like every human being you have a tendency to fall into rhythms, patterns based on the things you already know from copying comic books and Manga cartoons all your childhood. When we get to make it up we automatically play to our strengths. When confronted with a model it forces us to attempt a drawing of what’s in front of us, getting us out of our comfort zone (i.e. Learning).

That’s why Life drawing is one of the real fundamentals when it comes to learning animation, its like learning the language that your going to use for the rest of your career. If you avoid it, it's like saying you want to spend the rest of your life teaching french and only bothering to learn half the words. But you don’t have to take my word on it.

Observe, Observe, Observe

Animation! This is the vehicle you have chosen to express yourself in. A whole list of "tools" are required: drawing, timing, phrasing, action, acting, pantomime, staging, imagination, observation, interpretation, logic, caricature, creativity, clarity, empathy, and so on – a mind boggling array of prerequisites.

Rest at ease. You were born with all of them. Some of them may need a little sharpening, others may need to be awakened as from a deep sleep, but they are as much a part of you as arms, legs, eyes, kidneys, hemoglobin, and speech. Reading and observing are two emancipators of the dormant areas of the mind. Read the classics, biographies, humor, mysteries and comic books.

Observe, observe, observe. Be like a sponge – suck up everything you can lay your eyes on. Look for the unusual, the common, characters, situations, compositions, attitudes. Study shapes, features, personalities, activities, details, etc. Draw ideas, not things; action, not poses; gestures, not anatomical structures.

--- Walt Stanchfield (life drawing teach at Disney) ---

Note the sense of urgency. I often feel as if there just can't ever be enough time to see, experience and learn everything I want to in order to become the best animator I can. I'm stunned at the ability of people to drift, fall asleep, or come all the way to Tafe only to avoid teachers and opportunities to grow and learn. Life drawing is one of the fundamentals that all the great animators say will help you in some way, how can anyone afford to be dismissive or Blasé. You should really want to know about this stuff, its amazing to me that you need prompting at all.
Here is a great quote


If I was your teacher, I wouldn't even let you design your own characters in animation class. I would make you animate characters that already work-simple, well constructed characters like Elmer Fudd, Donald Duck or Tom and Jerry. Students shouldn't even be trying to design their own characters. You need to learn to animate in 3 dimensions first. If you are struggling to animate an amateurish awkward design, your progress will be hugely handicapped. I would put your tuition to the most efficient use and give you the tools you need to be functional when you get out of school.

You should run and beg your teachers to show you fundamentals and to criticize your work if it's awkward, flat or clumsy. Otherwise you are throwing away a lot of money.

If you just want to be "creative" and an "individual", you don't need to go to school for that. Save your money and be a hippie at home! Schools should teach you decades of experience and fundamental knowledge.

--- John Kricfalusi (creator of Ren and Stimpy) ---

I should point out that John K has some strong views about.... well everything, buy in this particular case he thinks one thing often missing in education is to go on and show how life drawing relates to good cartooning, which has me thinking. But one thing at a time.....

Could it be that life drawing seems more like hard work than most of your other classes? Here is a quote about one of my hero's Jim Henson, creator of the Muppet's.

He always worked harder than anyone else in the company. But he would never complain about how tired he was or how he was shouldering too much. Never. He would always find something positive about it. He loved his work.

--- Frank Oz --

Who is your hero? Miyazaki? Walt? Chuck Jones? Brad Bird? Glen Keane? Adam Philips? Richard Williams? John K? Perhaps someone more indi or obscure?


Do you think you will get as good with out making the effort to pay your dues in life drawing, if you think it's hard that's because your brain is working (that's a good thing).

Is it cheesy to want to be as good as your hero, or to even have a hero in animation? NO! This isn't cool school (although there are some students who act as if it is.................. you ain't fooling anyone), we are animators and this is our business. I'm not suggesting that the next time your at the pub with your mates you try to thrill them with a tale of how Adam Philips really knows how to capture the nuances of FX animation, but when your at work or Tafe then this is your business, you should be into it. Get into it!

In the article I linked to from the Splinedoctors Blog, Stephen G noted that...

It's really a shame, for one that students don't demand story, design and drawing classes and also that schools don't find them important to the curriculum of computer animation.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS -You are in a the course that I believe teaches the fundamentals (including life drawing) better than any other in the state!

HERE IS MY CHALLENGE TO YOU - Gobble it up and demand

Don't just ooh and ahh at the amazing work of your hero's. Dream that you can one day achieve as much as them if you work as hard as them.

Some links to finish off: