Sunday, October 08, 2006

Things They Don't Teach In Art School #2

...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...

...astonishment



...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.

29 comments:

colin said...

Good advice, all, but I must nitpick: The eyelids generally cover the top and bottom of the iris (the colored part), not the pupil (the black part in the center of the iris). I'm sure everybody understood what you meant, though. :-)

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Woah! Great stuff. Thanks a lot!

mark kennedy said...

Okay colin, you are right, I will fix that when I have time.

Thanks Benjamin, glad you liked it!

Magnus Møller said...

Thanks for a great post Mark! I have been following this blog since you started. Its just getting better and better.

(What about making a post on how to draw appealing hands? I think that is one of the features that is really hard to make look good in animation, besides drawing eyes of course...)

Jenny said...

Hey, looks like you've still got a little bit more to write about!

Seriously, this a great post. You always excelled at drawing eyes and I never really thought about it before, but often if someone has that nailed they really have half the battle down...well, it's a start, anyway. But the eyes are so, so crucial...I knew a guy(not from school, btw)at WB who never got the eye thing. It was bizarre; the pupils would either be centered and "dead" or they'd be in a meaningless area, no oomph at all...but he couldn't see it. Interesting.

As for the lids, I remember seeing Glen's Ariel drawings in "Part of your World" and the things he did with her lower lids, scrunching up her eyes--this, a girl with very large, supposedly "cartoony" eyes, no less--it was sensational, wasn't it? Really appealing and so alive. That one character alone woke up a lot of artists to really using the entire eye and lid, I think.

Matt Williames said...

Really awesome post Mark, for anybody who considers themselves a student of animation! I know i do-- I am covering this stuff in the class i teach at CalArts and this has ramped up my thinking man! thanks for your heart to teach!

ryan dunlavey said...

WOW! Thanks for the tips - nobody ever taught me that in school either - or in the 12 years since I left either.

Comics Boy said...

Those wacky art schools...

I had the fortune and misfortune to be the sole 'cartoonist-in-training' at my small but lively school of liberal arts. It was the sort of place where art majors were more encouraged to draw their feelings about the chair than to learn the rudiments of perspective.

Anyway, one day my painting teacher (known for his abstract stuff) took me aside and gave me a brief talk on eyes that continues to serve me daily more than twenty years later.

I always imagined the more dedicated art and design schools were handing out such jewels of instruction every day...

colin said...

Oh never mind me, I'm a terrible nitpick. I love this blog. Every post is jam-packed with good information. I would have thought this is the kind of thing an art school is supposed to be teaching!

billy bob said...

Dear Mr. Kennedy,
I am an aspiring cartoon artist (of age 18 in liberal arts college) who applaudes you and fellow veteran cartoon artists sharing their information and advice. However, I notice a general lack of faith in the school's turning out cartoonists, especially animators now amongst veterans. With all the information being given on the internet, is it possible to have the process self-taught and then amass a portfolio to show to a studio to break into the industry? (John K. seems to argue this to an extent by enrolling in the ASIFA online course) Any comments, advice?

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the good feedback. Glad it was clear to you all.

magnus - yes, I have worked on a post like that from time to time...someday it will be "fully cooked".

jenny - you are right on about everything, except I don't draw eyes all that well!!!

matt, ryan, comics boy, thanks!

colin - no sweat, I will fix the wrong terms later...

billy bob - sure, it's more than possible to skip art school and be great. Many wonderful artists never went to art school. you learn more in art school from your peers than your teachers (at least I did) so hanging out with a bunch of fellow artists might be just as good, I guess. There are many ways to get good, the most important is to just keep trying to get better.

liam said...

hate to use the word but-awesome
always been my weak spot-hard to break down all the old cheats to get away with being really honest in your drawings-getting that subtle emotion -this has made me go back and hit the old eye sketching for some practice-thanks and keep up the posting-very inspiring

Boris Hiestand said...

great examples here- that Frank Thomas stepmother.. amazing range of subtlety in the eyes, gorgeous stuff.
We mustn't forget however that it all depends on what type of character and animation we're doing of course. Look how expressive the muppets are: their eyes never change! Stuck on balls with dots, I guess it becomes part of their character, making them kind of cynical which I love.
love your posts!

Sam Nielson said...

Great post, thank you!

elephantmarchblog said...

Was just told of your blog today. That's a lot of help, thanks. The sincere insincere smile thing was something I never noticed before.

Thanks

Randeep Katari said...

Mr. Kennedy, thanks a lot for posting this - as always it is much appreciated.

-R.

Matt J said...

EXCELLENT post, as usual. Educational, thanks.

Blair Kitchen said...

Thanks for posting this stuff Mark. It is really nice to get my brain to actually pay attention to what I'm doing. It's so easy to just fall into a formula for drawing, and not actually think about what you are doing. This blog always keeps me thinking.

Randy Siplon said...

Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog. You always have some really insightful information to share. Thanks.

mark kennedy said...

Thnaks to everyone who let me know that they got somthing out of this post! More to come...

Beezle said...

Thanks for passing on the wisdom!

AnimatorNickB said...

Thanks for the advice Mark! You brought up a lot of simple things that I always forget when drawing. Always good to have it told to you once more! It will help me alot as I continue to work on my final film here at Calarts!

Skribbl said...

Marca De las Gracias. Usted se parece siempre sorprenderme con el ma's nuggest de la información que usted fija. Continúe el buen trabajo. ¡Desea Phil vivo Lofaro!

Ali said...

That's a really useful post. Great.

Are those Jodie Foster's eyes?

sparth said...

i have just started reading things on your blog.
there are so many lessons in there that i have found myself without the help of any teacher, it's also such a joy to read your process and lessons. i'll come back often

sparth
www.sparth.com
idsoftware

mark kennedy said...

thanks for all the kind words, guys!

Skribbl-I don't speak Spanish. Sorry.

Ali- Holy crud, how did you know?????

Ali said...

I guess I'm just that good!

dawny_doodles said...

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Sir, You rock beyond all things that rock in this universe.

Great Posts,and information. Thanks for the help.

Luca Tieri said...

Interesting post! I think that eyes and hands say a lot of a character.