Monday, March 18, 2013

Tip #1: Figure Drawing

For many of you (or perhaps all of you), this tip may not be such a huge surprise.  One of the more controversial topics of discussion in the animation community is about drawing and it's connection with 3d animation.  And deservedly so.  The roots of animation are heavily bedded in being a good draftsman.  "Back in the day", animating and drawing go hand in hand like ice cream on a cone.  But how does that correlate to 3d?  Do you need to know how to draw well to be a 3d animator?  Can I still be an animator if I can't draw?  These type of questions are often asked by beginner 3d animators who don't feel like they have strong pencil to paper artistic skills.  And honestly, they're very valid concerns.  One can see an obvious connection, and hopefully I will try to explain why I think it will definitely make you a better animator.

So to address the first big question: Do you need know how to draw well to become a good 3d animator?

No.  You can absolutely be a great animator without having strong drawing skills!  There are a plethora of success stories out there to prove it too.  So don't let anyone convince you otherwise!

Can learning to draw make you a better animator?

A big resounding YES!

And here are some reasons why I think not just drawing, but specifically figure drawing, will make you a better animator:


The skill of observation is a huge part of being an animator.  I think it would be hard to dispute overwise.  As an animator, you grow to observe almost everything, from other animations to people and animals on the street.  You start to pay attention to the weight of something, how people react to things, how things move, how eyes blink, when they blink, how someone is standing, what mood they're in, and the list goes on and on.  Observation is a big piece of the puzzle to becoming a great animator.  And to me, there are fewer ways to increase your skill of observation than to learn how to draw.  

I had always thought that you don't really "see" something, until you draw it.  We as humans, are really good at taking in and processing information extremely fast.  In fact, the fastest muscle in the human body are the ones in and around the eye. It's how we've evolved (or any animal has evolved really) to survive the wild when a split second decision could be the difference to becoming a lion's dinner or seeing the next day.  Even now, as we've evolved well past those kinds of survival concerns, are bombarded with fleeting quick-cut ads and ticker-type information on an everyday basis.  So how often do you get to slow down and just stare at something for minutes on end and try to recreate it line by line, shape by shape, bit of graphite by bit of graphite?  Now thats not to say that you have to get good at drawing, but just the act of drawing will help you hone and exercise your ability to visually observe.

And that's why I suggest figure drawing specifically.  Drawing from your imagination and in your own style doesn't use your observational skills as strongly as drawing something from life.  You move from drawing what you think or know it should be, to drawing what you actually see.  To try to draw something exactly requires you to observe closely what it is you're drawing.  It forces you to use a different part of your brain to analytically break down the visual information you take in so you can trace it back out with your medium of choice.  And when trying to sketch a subject who's right in front of you, you have to pay attention to proportions, lines, line of action, negative space, form, light, weight distribution, etc. to accurately portray that on paper.  Sound a little familiar? 


Continuing with my last statement on observation, a lot of the thought processes that goes into drawing a figure are the same for some aspects of animation.  The closest related skill would of course be posing.  Although posing is in itself not one of the 12 principles of animation, it is arguably one of the most important concepts of animation.  Like anything that requires a sequence of steps to get from concept A to product B, the earlier steps of that process provide the foundation for your end result.  Your outcome can only be as strong as how you started.  For example, your rig is only as strong as your model, which is only as strong as your design.  It's hard to cut a good movie together if the footage you have to work with is not good, or if the acting is unbelievable.  And it's hard to cook 5-star quality food unless you have 5-star quality ingredients.  Now, there are definitely exceptions to the rules, as there are with anything, but it would be safe to assume that if your posing is not strong in your animation, then your animation won't be strong as a result.

So when you're sketching a live model, what are some of the things you think about?  To mirror a little of what I said earlier, when figure drawing, you think about line of action, you think about center of gravity and where the person's weight is, relation of body parts to one another, angles, negative space... the same things you should be thinking about when posing your character for key frames.  Furthermore, you're also learning the limitations and/or flexibility of a human character, which will help keep your character's movement in the realm of believibility.  The more you know about the human body and how it works, the more you know how to utilize your puppet in animation.


I'm going to assume that if you're studying and practicing animation, you want to do it professionally.  You may not be, which is also perfectly fine (I proudly declare myself as an animation hobbyist).  But if you plan to do this thing for a career, communication is going to be a big part of your job, and the greatest communcation tool at the disposal of a creative professional?  You guessed it.  Drawing.  I think it's hard to argue that drawing is the simpliest and best way for anyone to communcate a creative idea to another.  Heck, if you've ever seen a tv show of a bunch of bakers feverishly collaborating on a cakey showstopper, you may notice that as soon as the clock starts ticking, they grab the pencil and paper instead of the flour and fondant.  Or you might even see 2 fashion designers scribbling in their sketchbooks before even buying the fabric for their garment.  You might have even seen the 11secondclub video critiques, where the mentor is drawing all over the clip to communicate how to elevate the animation.

Animation is a highly colloborative field.  You constantly work with other animators, your lead, the animation supervisor, even the director.  So if you're ever in a situation where you need to clearly communicate a pose or idea to any one of them, I'm guessing you don't want to be horrible at it.  Figure drawing will just make you a better draftsman, period.  So even if you're still drawing stick figures, you're stick figures are going to be much more clear and alive than they were before.

So there you have it.  Again, you don't need to be able to render a drawing like DaVinci to be a great animator.  But being able to draw, and just doing the act of figure drawing, WILL make you a better animator.  And your opportunities to do so are everywhere.  Just a simple google search of figure drawing in your area will result in useful hits.  Or check out your local college or school about classes.  These are pretty cheap, plus you have the added advantage of having other students and faculty there to not only help and teach you, but to also push you and challenge you.  And if you can't do that?  Simply take a sketch pad and some pencils to a public area and draft away.  If cavemen can take a rock to a cave wall and doodle some horses, you can certainly find a way as well.