Thursday, April 24, 2008


Ok so its time for another stab at an educational post covering something I don’t necessarily get to go into as much detail on in class. So this “ramble” is going to be about hands.

Firstly lets cover my patented “how I learned to draw hands” blurb, second year students, previous students and old friends have already herd it, but it won’t hurt to plonk it here for prosperity sake. After a few long years of intertwining at Disney I was lucky enough to weasel my way into some lunchtime animation lessons with Ian Harrowell, one of the studios top animation directors. After a few months of weekly lessons I responded to a critique Ian was giving on one of my scenes with a comment along the lines of, “Yeah, I just can’t draw hands.” Ian stopped dead in his tracks, it was like a red rag to a bull. He told me about the way he was taught to draw hands and challenged me to do the same, draw a page of about 20 hands every night for a month. When I told him I had done the drawings he wasn’t even interested in seeing them. “Are you still having trouble drawing hands?” he asked, funny thing, I wasn’t.

This was a watershed moment for me, one of the first times I remember the idea of “talent” being challenged. How good you can draw something just depends on how much you want it, its there for the taking, you have to want it enough to put in the effort. So before I get into specifics about drawing hands, remember that the most important ingredient for anything you want to get better at is hard work.

A testament to this is my good friend Mark Osberg, Its not like Mark was a bad drawer when I first met him (he was good enough for me to offer him a job), but I would say he is a heap better now. He is not only a great animator, but a truly world class illustrator too. Why? Because he draws soooo much. Every day for hours he just sits and draws and draws and draws. These days his drawing skills walk all over mine, and he was kind enough to give me some pointer for this post.

So hands.

1. Break down and know your construction. There are different ways to do this, but my first ever inbetweening teacher Di used to build the hand out of a wedge shape, put the cylinders coming out of the thick end and the thumb out the side overlapping with the palm on the front. It doesn’t really matter how you break it down, what matters is that you use simple shapes, hands are complicated tricky things, start as simple as you can and build up from there.
2. You always have a hand model with you. Its you dummy! Make the pose with your own hand and ask, dose it feel natural? See, its simple. Its just like drawing poses for people, do the pose. It makes a huge difference.
3. Hands can have a line of action of their own. And all the same rules apply. Is it dynamic? Dose it flow to show confidence, or not flow to show tension? When animating how will you change the LOA from one frame to the next.
4. Silhouette is worth considering. Can you pose the hand so that it has a clear bold silhouette? I don’t mean necessarily flattening the hand out, the last thing you want is for your character to move like a mime artist or something, just keep an eye on the silhouette. It can be a life saver.
5. Move between even and uneven spacing of the fingers. Lets do a little test, put your fingers out straight and side by side, now move your hand around like your gesturing but keep your fingers straight and together. Man that feels weird. While I was at Disney I observed that some animators countered this by splitting two or more of the fingers. This didn’t seem much better to me, give it a go, do the Valcan greeting thing with your fingers and gesture around with your hand a bit in that shape. Just as weird. Then one day at the local watering whole I observed a conversation between some animators I respected and one explained that it was the fact that the hand was changing from one to the other that made it natural. We change the way our fingers are placed all the time, and as with all things we animate, we can manipulate that change for impact. The worst thing you can do is fall into one standard way of drawing your hands and always draw them in that position or from that angle. Variety is the spice of life. This links back to point 1, if you break it down to simple shapes that you find easy to understand then you can be more adventurous when coming up with poses.

Lets finish with some pics from possibly the best hand drawer in animation history Milt Kahl

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