...at least, nobody taught me.
Drawing eyes, of course, is one of the most challenging parts of drawing a figure. The eyes are the window to the soul and all that. People will look at the character's eyes first and the eyes are key to an audience understanding and empathizing with the emotions of animated characters. Well-drawn eyes can help convince an audience that an animated character is alive, that a character has hopes and dreams and emotions. Obviously, this is very important in making an animated movie that can win over the hearts and minds of an audience.
I'm not going to talk too much about drawing eyes here. That's a big subject and there are many other great resources for that. Gary Faigin's book on facial features is an excellent resource.
The best overall tip I can give you on drawing good eyes is to remember that the eyeball is round. As you draw the eyeball, remember that it is on a sphere and draw the shape of it accordingly as the pupil rotates in different directions.
Anyway, in this post I specifically wanted to talk about eyelids. Eyelids are a big part of expression but it took me a long time to appreciate them and think about them properly.
Anytime you want to portray a convincing character that you really want the audience to think of as "realistic" it's a big help to draw their eyes in as "realistic" a manner as possible. That is, as we see them everyday, with the pupils tucked behind the upper lid and/or lower lid.
This is how eyes appear on a normal person with a neutral expression. Our eyes look like this 90 percent of the time.
So most "straight" Disney characters - princesses and princes, for example - have their eyes drawn this way. Their pupils are usually tucked behind their upper and/or lower lids.
Why is this important? Well, these types of characters express a more subtle range of expression than many other characters in animation. Most characters in animation have the kind of eyes we are used to seeing on cartoon characters - the black dots that "swim" within a big white oval.
These types are easier and more fun to draw than those tedious realistic-type eyes. Characters that don't have to portray that subtle range of emotions can get by fine with these regular cartoon eyes. And it's amazing how characters can exist in the same film with different kinds of eyes. Ciderella can be in the same scene with the cartoony mice or the Duke with hus cartoony eyes and it feels like they both exist in the same world and both are believeable. Weird, huh?
Anyway the whole point of this post is just to sensitize you to the role eyelids play in the expressions of the more subtle characters. It's important when drawing these types of characters - human or otherwise - to keep the upper lids overlapping the pupil for most expressions. This is because there are a few expressions where it becomes integral to the expression to lift the upper lid away from the eyeball. And this won't work if that upper lid is always above the eyeball. If the character's eyelid is always pulled up high over the pupil, how will it have any impact when it goes a little higher? That's not enough of a change of expression to register with the audience.
It takes energy to contract the muscles that pull your upper eyelids up (go ahead, try it now). All living things conserve their energy and only expend it when necessary, so we don't lift our upper lids unless it's crucial to an expression we're trying to communicate - like fright, suprise, anger...
...or an angry menacing glare.
So you won't get the change in expression unless your character walks around with their lids tucked over the eyeball in their neutral state. Then you pull it up and over the pupil when you really need it.
Also, when you look down, the upper lids lower as your pupils lower and they cover the eyes.
If you draw a character looking down and leave the upper lids raised up over the top of the pupil it looks like the character is looking down at something that is horrifying or fascinating.
This post isn't meant to be an exhaustive tutorial on every way to use the lids, I'm just trying to point out what they do so that you will be aware of them and use them as you need them. As always, a mirror is an indispensible tool when you are drawing expressions. You are your own best model. Seeing how the expression looks and feeling how it feels to make the expression are great helps in trying to put it on paper.
Don't forget about the lower lids as well! They can move up and down as well. They move up when we squint and when we smile the cheeks push up on them and they cover up the bottom of the pupil. One of the only ways to draw the difference between a sincere smile and an insincere smile is that in an insincere smile the mouth forms a smile but the lower lids don't push up over the eyes. The eyes remain wide. Try this out yourself in the mirror. When you smile but the lower lids don't rise up it looks creepy.