It's been a long delay in posting new stuff because things at work are busy, busy, busy (I came up with some new colors for the blog to make up for the delay). After a two week absence this post might seem a little underwhelming...but I like to talk about things that no one else ever seems to talk about, and this sure fits the bill. Also, it deals with something that seems to be the essence of art: taking a complicated form from the real world that seems to have no design to it and finding a way to turn it into lines on paper. It's all about....drawing crowd scenes.
For some reason over the years, I have found myself storyboarding scenes with crowds in them from time to time. I guess everybody does. It's not something a young animator or storyboard artist devotes much time to thinking about in art school...nobody dreams about drawing their first big crowd scene. So when it came time to draw a crowd of characters, I drew them out and they looked like a mess of jumbled limbs. So I thought "maybe adding some color will help". So I figured...in a crowd everyone will be wearing different color shirts and pants...so I added different color to every pair of pants and shirts.
I don't know why I thought that would work, but as you can probably imagine all of those little spots of color only served to make the drawing worse. Instead of a drawing that looked like a crowd, I had many little spots of color floating in a mass of poorly placed lines...it looking like a toddler had ingested a box of Crayolas and thrown up on a piece of paper.
The hard part about drawing a crowd is bringing order to something that is full of disorder by nature. Like many things we approach as artists, we have to find a way to use design to put something on paper that is way too complicated to portray in all of it's detail. Very few artists know every muscle in the human body. They concern themselves with the important ones, and they put those ones on paper. That's using design to simplify your approach.
Anyway, so you want to find a way to unify your crowd. They have to read as one thing, not four hundred different things. Now obviously this is for storyboarding and animation. If you are a comic artist and want to spend days and days drawing one crowd full of individual people so that the viewer can spend an hour looking at all of the different people and appreciating them, then good for you (see Geoff Darrow). In animation we are trying to sell one idea at a time. A crowd isn't a crowd, pre se....it's a representation of a crowd to make some story point. Usually we just cut to the crowd to get a reaction to them. To take their temperature: how are they feeling about what they are seeing and/or hearing?
One of the most basic and immutable rules about story sketch is that you can only sell one idea per panel. People try to break this rule all the time...and trust me, it never works. Only ONE idea can be put across per drawing. So that leads to the first "rule" about drawing a crowd in a story panel: they all have to share one attitude. If you draw twenty different characters with twenty different attitudes, the audience will be confused. Think about it: whenever you cut to a crowd in a movie, you just get their "overall attitude": something pretty general like "approval" or "disapproval" or "anger" or "celebration." You can't sell a subtle emotion in a crowd shot...you need a close-up for that.
The crowd can CHANGE their attitude in a shot...as long as they all change at the same time. If they all go from "expectant" to "disappointed" at the same moment, that works fine.
Speaking of which, here are two crowd shots from "Great Mouse Detective". Don't ask me why I thought of them to post, I just did. I always love the scene where the crowd turns peeved at the sight of Ratigan.
It could work differently, though, if you were showing a football stadium and one side of the crowd was happy (because their team was winning) and the other side was upset (because their team was losing). I think you could pull that off because it's a very organized and gettable setup. Anyway, there are no rules, of course, just keep in mind what the audience can and can't percieve from your sketches when it comes to crowds.
Back to that color issue...how could you use color in story sketch to help sell the idea of a crowd? Well, the answer is so simple that I never would have thought of it. But somebody smarter than me did, and I am pretty good at ripping off people who are better artists than me!
Color the whole crowd the same color, of course. As I always say...color can help you in story sketch to either help group things or seperate things. Hey, let's use color to group our group together! I stole this from a few artists that I've stolen a lot from other the years...one of them being Morris, the artist behind "Lucky Luke".
See how he colors this whole crowd pink? Instantly they become one thing, a background for your main characters. If they were all wearing differnet colored shirts and pants that would mke it hard to read those characters walking in front of them. Also, it would ditract from the main idea of the panel, which is "two characters walking towards their seats".
In this next one he's colored eveyone in the fight the same color. None of the figures overlap each other, so you could have colored them all with different colored shirts, pants, etc. But coloring them all the same color helps the audience read the idea as one fight. Not a bunch of individuals beating each other up...but just one bar fight, which is the idea he's trying to sell.
A little bit more artful way to do it is this example from Conrad's "Donito". Some of the characters are fully colored but as they recede they are painted in only one color to minimize their importance. But there are still some different values on them to suggest tones and shadows.
I've seen some of Carl Barks' work where he did this as well. Another thing Barks did is this example, where instead of coloring the crowd he filled them in with black so what you have is a silhouette of a crowd.
This method would seem to have some drawbacks, mostly because you can't get an attitude out of them quite as well as if you could see their expressions and other things that some interior lines could give you. Also it looks a little strange...a silhouette is a strong statement and it makes the crowd seem a little sinister or off-kilter somehow. It could also lead to some confusion about what is going on...it could look like a long narrow cloud is covering just the crowd, or something is falling on them from above.
When you have a bunch of figures or a crowd that is in motion it is easy to end up having them look like a confusing jumble of limbs and body parts with no sense of direction. So in that case you can do this nifty trick: draw them like succesive animation poses.
If you look at these from left to right, they "animate". They are five different soldiers, but they are drawn in five succesive animation poses. What is the point of this? Well, first of all, this trick brings order to a group of figures. Drawing a group of figures in just a random assortment of poses will usually lack order and rhythm. It will lack a sense of direction and it probably won't be interesting to look at. But drawing them as succesive animation poses makes it interesting to look at as your eye travels from left to right. It gives some movement to the static drawing which is nice. And it implies an idea - that the soldiers are getting up from their firing position and retreating - that otherwise would take three or four drawings to "sell". It's very nice, don't you think? Bill Peet did this all the time: look at his books and notice that whenever he had a flock of birds or a group of hunters he would always animate them in a group like this. There are better examples than this...but this is the only one I could find at the moment.
Lastly, all I can think to say about crowds is that sometimes you want the audience to look at someone within a crowd, which obviously poses the question: how do you make one individual stand out in a crowd?
Since our eye is drawn to contrast, the eye will always be drawn to the thing that is different.
A nice little sketch from the French artist Mezieres. When all of the other faces are turned away from us, your eye goes right to the one that is turned towards the viewer.
And I can't resist: possibly the weirdest illustration of this ever (from Bernet's "Torpedo" series). Your eye is drawn right to the character who is different in attitude, expression and color.
.......okay, that was definitely an odd post, I know. But they really don't teach you that stuff in art school, do they? If nothing else hopefully it's something you never thought about before and it will make you see things from a different perspective.