Friday, March 31, 2006


More screengrab action...this time from the Hitchcock film "Lifeboat".

Values - the arrangement of black, white and grey - are an esssential part of making a successful drawing (or frame of a movie). Values can be helpful in giving form to shapes so that they have depth. Values can help to organize the elements in your frame so that everything can read. They can be used to pull similar objects together or to seperate objects from each other.

Usually the things closest to the camera have the most contrast, and things further away have less contrast, due to atmospheric perspective - all the dust and/or water in the air gets between you and the thing you're looking at. So it's usually best to make the things in the foreground the darkest and have the values decrease on things furhter away from the camera.

If you really want to learn about values, looking at black and white movies can be very informative. I picked these for their great compositions as well.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

5 Minute Art School: Composition 102

More indespensible tidbits on Composition from the Famous Artists Course. I already posted the part with the farmer, but what the heck, read it again.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

30 Second Life Drawing Class

From the Famous Artist Course:

"Here is an amportant fact to keep in mind always: NO BONE IS ABSOLUTELY STRAIGHT. The arms and legs drawn with perfectly straight bones would appear stiff looking and rigid. The curvature of the bones has a great deal to do with the movement and action of the figure and helps to make the figure look alive."


Thanks to everybody that wrote nice comments about my last post. Great to hear from everybody! I love posting like this, and I will keep it up, but always remember: don't ever sit and wait for me to post so you can learn something. You have the power to figure all this stuff out for yourself.

For a variety of reasons, I never really worked with a great mentor that taught me a whole lot. I had some great, great teachers at CalArts that put me on the right road, but at that time I wasn't ready to hear all that they were saying. So later, when I was ready to learn, I had to go figure a lot of stuff out for myself...which any artist has to do, great mentor or not.

So the best thing I can ever tell you is this: you absolutely have the power to learn everything you want. You are surrounded - practically bombarded - by access to great art and movies like no other generation in any time in history. Cool, huh?

So here's the secret: every piece of art you see, book you read, movie you watch is full of CHOICES. The artist made choices at every step.

So next time you see a great drawing, ask yourself: what makes it great? Why did the artist draw the arm this way, why did he tilt the head that way, why did he use this shape for the foot? If it was done by a great artist, he will have a definite reason for all of those choices.

And if you see a drawing you don't like, ask yourself: why does it fail? What choices did the artist make that you think are wrong? What would you do differently?

Nobody ever told me any of this stuff I'm saying about Bill Peet's drawings. Heck, a lot of people would interpret them differently than I have. And who am I to speak for Bill Peet - how arrogant can I get anyway? But I just looked at the drawings and started writing what I saw. Writing it down is good because it forces you to come up with SOMETHING. And then the ideas just start flowing. So try it yourself! Look at a great drawing and start writing about what you see. Or look at a great drawing and copy it. You'll learn a lot, I promise. That's pretty much the way I learned all that I know, and that's how I continue to learn all the time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Art Appreciation: Bill Peet

I grabbed these frames off of the "Sword in the Stone" DVD. I wanted to post them so everybody could check them out, but there are a lot of great sites that just post cool drawings. I love those sites, but I want to have a site where I post cool drawings and talk about what I think it is that makes them cool. It's a lot more work, but hopefully everyone enjoys it. And if you don't feel like reading you can just check out the cool drawings!

This sequence of four is amazing. A tiger (a transformed Madam Mim) leaps and then stops in mid-air and backpedals.

1. In the first sketch (top left) the tiger anticipates to leap. Check out the great line-of-action - in all of these, the spine is the line-of-action. A cat can't prepare to leap unless it bends it's spine first - like sqashing down a spring before letting it go, so it can shoot up into the air. I love how the tail continues the line-of-action flow and then curves around to point to the tiger - keeping your eye in the frame. Of course the stripes around the tiger help define the tiger's form - a nice touch that makes the tiger feel solid. And notice there's only a ground plane in the first and last frame - you can't show an anticipation to leap without seeing what the tigerr is pushing off from. And in the last panel, it's easier to say "backpedaling" if you have a ground to push against.

2. The second one (top right) is better WITHOUT a ground plane - the leap into the air feels higher and stronger because she's way high above the ground now and having it drop out of frame will make the leap feel more powerful. Again, check out the great simple line-of-action - it's the spine, describing a great "leap" shape. The far front arm continues the line-of-action instead of interuppting it or haveing a different line-of-action, which would weaken the drawing. The closer arm is kept close against the body so it doesn't detract from that streamlined lin-of-action, keeping the tiger sleek and making it feel like it's moving fast . All of these drawings have great silhouette value (see earlier post "And Again..." for information on silhouette).

3. The third one (lower left) is all about "Stopping in mid-air" - obviously, the tiger saw something that made it want to terminate the leap in mid-air! Notice the great difference in this drawing and number 2 - now, instead of all the parts in unison, working together, they're all akimbo and sticking out in different directions - a real key to drawing an expression of surprise. When this drawing is cut together on film with the drawing before (the leap) the change of shape from "curved spine and all parts flowing together" to "bent spine and everything flailing" will really sell the change in attitude. The eyes closed in drawing #2 to the eyes popping open in drawing #3 will really sell the idea of surprise as well. Again the tail does a great job of echoing the gesture of the body - it's not just stuck on, it's an extension of the spine (as it really is in real life).

4. The last one (lower right) clearly sells "backpedaling" - getting away from whatever scared the tiger. The shoulders are up high and the head is back behind the pelvis to show that the head is trying to go backwards but the feet still have too much momentum. The feet are silhouetted in the classic "backpedaling" icon - it's all there, even the little piled-up dirt infront of the tiger's front leg to show the resistance of the ground. Again, it's hard to say "backpedaling" without a ground plane to push against - so it's back in this frame.

Simplicity is always effective - a great "frame within a frame" created by Wart's hand, teacup and hair. Wart's posture, the way he drinks his tea and the fact you can only see his one eye sell the idea of a timid boy sitting at a table with a wizard that intimidates him. Anytime a character's (or a real life person's) shoulders go up that high you can tell they're uncomfortable. And Wart's unkempt hair feels very boy-like and tells you a lot about his character. The teapot, plate of cookies and areas of tone around his head keep your eye from wandering off the page. Nice!

Drawing "disorganized clutter" is really hard, actually, To keep it reading as several different objects and not have it turn into a jumble of shapes and tones take a lot of work. The only true black-on-white is reserved for the train - the center of interest because in the next beat, Merlin is going to pick it up. As we already know, the eye goes to the greatest contrast - usually black on white. Great variety of shapes makes it feel like many different objects. great contol of tone - only black, white, light grey and dark grey are used. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking each object must be all it's own tone - like all grey or all black. This doesn't simplify, it confuses the eye. Each object here has areas of detail in the light so you can tell what it is, and then some areas are allowed to fall into silhouette so that the detail doesn't get overwhelming.

Okay, enjoy some without me yapping. More to come!

Monday, March 27, 2006

An Essential Handout

I've had this for as long as I can remember. Many of you probably already have it....but if you don't, it's indispensable stuff. If you have it but haven't dragged it out for a while, take a fresh look. The info on horizon lines saved my butt on many occasions.

It was drawn by Carson Van Osten, who I had the good fortune to work with briefly in the early 90s. I don't know where it was published, or if there was more of it - if anyone knows, please let us know.

Unfortunately the xerox I have of this next page got cut off. Luckily, the top part is reproduced in "The Illusion of Life" - just look up "Twins" in the index. Basically it's saying don't have a totally symmetrical pose - it flattens out the drawing and bleaches the life out of it. The part on the lower left is to say that if you have three characters running, come up with a different pose for each one, for variety and to add some life.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More Peter Pan Screen Grabs

Now that I have this technology at my command, I'm a sreen grabbing fiend! More great Value (and Composition) studies from Peter Pan.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Everyone seemed to enjoy the discussions about Light and Shadow. I grabbed some screens from "Peter Pan" because they show a great control of values. The lighting in every scene is so simple and cartoony, yet the film feels beautiful and lush. Like everything else in drawing, values work best when they're kept simple. Less is always more!

Special thanks to Jenny over at The Blackwing Diaries for telling me how to do screen grabs on a Mac. We will share adjoining cells at the trademark-infringement prison.

Take a look: all the uses of value in these sketches applies to doing tones and values in your storyboards. Keep your values limited to three values: Black, White and a Middle Grey. At most, four values: Black, White, Light Grey and Dark Grey. Any more values than that and a drawing gets mushy. Save black against white where you want the eye to go first. In those light areas near your subject, put texture and detail to draw the eye to where you want it. Use dark areas to minimize detail where you don't want the eye to go. And block in dark shapes to help create a frame around your character.

On Film and Dialogue, Part Two

Scroll down to read the original post - just a couple more thoughts.

Again, to play Devil's Advocate to the thinking that great animated characters shouldn't talk much - look at the classic Warners shorts. They're among the most universally beloved peices of animation ever - and some of the best ones are full of dialogue. What film character talks more than Bugs Bunny? Or Daffy Duck? Those shorts where the two of them were together are my favorite ones, and they both talked incessantly. But both of their personalities are the kind that are easier to express with a character who talk a lot. Dumbo and Dopey have personalities that are more effective when they DON'T talk.

But all this discussion about dialogue shouldn't lead anyone to forget that dialogue, ultimately, isn't that important. People remember the great characters in a movie, not exactly what they say (with the exception of "Make My Day" and "Hasta La Vista, Baby", of course). And what makes a movie compelling is the EVENTS. When you walk out of a movie, you don't turn to your friend and say "Remember when Indiana Jones said that line?". You say "Remember when this HAPPENED? Remember when he DID that?".

I remember when "Titanic" came out. People at work ridiculed the movie and how rotten the dialogue was. But you couldn't deny that people responded to the movie -astoundingly well. So obviously they weren't put off by the dialogue. The characters and their situations were what people found engaging and compelling.

*UPDATE: Let me clarify that in many movies what the characters say IS what's happening. In a movie like "Ordinary People", none of the characters run away from giant boulders or anything, but the things they say to each other carry huge weight and drive the story in new directions with every revelation. So the EVENTS are driven by what people say. But the EVENTS - the subtext behind the dialogue - are still more important than the actual lines themselves. You remember what happened in the movie, but not the precise way things were stated.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

On Film and Dialogue

Many visitors to the Temple have been leaving great comments and asking great questions. Some address the problem of "too much dialogue" in recent animated films. This also seems to be a hot topic on other animation websites these days.

It's true that film is primarily a visual medium. The stage play is usually considered the place where dialogue is allowed to tell the story, but in movies - and particularly in animated movies - the storytelling is supposed to be done through the visuals.

As I said in the comments - and I fervently believe - any good movie can be watched with the sound off and still be understood completely. That's why they say "show, don't tell" - the visuals should tell the story and the visuals alone. People retain what they see so much better than what they're told. And what we see has a much greater impact on us than what we hear.

That said...someone pointed out to me the other day that Pixar movies tend to have a lot of - gasp! - dialogue. I haven't sat down and counted the lines in a Pixar movie but this strikes me as probably true. But they don't FEEL talky. And yet so many other animated films do feel that way, and probably have around the same amount of dialogue. So what gives?

I think it's because Pixar movies use dialogue in the right way. I once read that everything in a movie should either:

A) Reveal Character or
B) Advance the Plot

That's it. That's for visuals or dialogue or events. Anything that happens, is seen or heard in a movie has to fulfill one of those two objectives. In my book anyway.

Here's why other movies feel so talky: they don't ascribe to the above credo, and they add a ton of dialogue to do this:

C) have characters make wisecracks and spit out one-liners so people will think the film is funny.

That's why those movies feel talky: they're filled with annoying wise-cracking characters that get on your nerves. WIsecracks are the bread-and-butter of tedious sitcoms, not good movies. TRUE HUMOR COMES FROM ENTERTAINING CHARACTERS. Not wisecracks. When you think of Woody, Buzz, Marlin or Dory do you think "Oh yeah, remember that time Woody 'zinged' Buzz with that sarcastic insult"?

No. Woody, Buzz, Marlin and Dory are all entertaining character types, who approach life in an entertaining way and get into situations that allow their character to come out. And since they're great three-dimensional character and not a cardboard sitcom character (sorry, Webster) you enjoy watching them get into great situations and watching them suffer and get themselves out of trouble.

Even great sitcoms do this. The sitcoms that live on - think "Seinfeld" - is all based on great characters thrown into entertaining situations. Not wisecracks. Nobody's lining up to buy "Webster" on DVD but the "Seinfeld" ones are selling like hotcakes.

Here's the acid test for bad dialogue in pages - look at the lines on the page. If you covered up the names of all the characters and just looked at the dialogue, could you still tell who was saying what? In other words, every line of dialogue should feel like it could only come from one character - then it fulfills requirement A) above. And if it could have come from anybody...chances are, it's another wisecrack, or pop-culture reference, or "zinger" - all the crutches unimaginative writers fall back on.

Man, I just sat down and blurted this post out, totally unintentionally - I was gonna take a night off! I don't mean to be so virulent but this topic is a passionate one to me. And I had no idea when I started writing that I was gonna slam "Webster" - twice! I hope that guy that played Webster doesn't read this site.

Last of the Pretty Girls

Hey, I finally finished a thread! Next I gotta finish that Legacy Panel series.

For those of you printing them out to keep, I know the numbers are all screwy. The electromagnetic currents here in the temple are all goofed up - that's the problem. But seriously, there's no real order to the information, so don't sweat it. I'll try to be more organized in the future.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What's different?

Every board artist knows this one by heart but it's worth repeating. At Disney -and most other places - we board the movie in chunks called "sequences". A sequence usually has anywhere from 18-32 sequences and is typically takes place in one place or expresses one overall idea. The easiest way to explain it to someone is that the "chapter stops" on a DVD usually correspond to the sequenes of the movie.

Anyway, when a board artist is issued a sequence to board, the most important question to ask yourself is always: what's different in the movie by the end of this sequence? What conditions are there in the story that are changed by the course of the sequence? That's how you figure out why the sequence is in the movie. How does it advance the story?

Another way to look at it is to ask how the movie would be affected if you removed the sequence from the movie. Would you miss it? If not, why is it in the movie? It should be essential to story you are telling. Audiences have a built-in sense of when the story is advancing and when the story is meandering. Whenever you're in a theater watching a movie that's riveting people to their seats you can tell. When a movie hits a point that goes off-track or starts to halt the story in order to explore an unessential area you can see people shift in their seats, go the bathroom or leave to get some popcorn.

If you don't know why a sequence is in the movie then you don't know what it's about. I don't know how you can board a sequence if you don't understand the purpose it's trying to serve. It's like being an actor and not understanding what your character is doing or why. How could you deliver a performance?

There's no worse job for a storyboard artist than having to tackle a sequence you don't understand. You have no frame of reference to make decisions about how to do it, and so you can't help but struggle to try and figure out how to put the sequence across. But put WHAT across? It's like being an athlete on a team where you don't understand the rules of the sport. How would you know what you're trying to do?

This applies to every other aspect of filmmaking, of course. How can you write a scene, light a scene, edit a scene or direct the actors if you don't know what the point of the sequence is?

And when you end up pitching the sequence to a room full of people, all of those people will throw out ideas to make it better. They will have ideas about how to make the characters sharper, make the staging better and make the scene funnier. They'll be throwing out ideas a mile a minute - which is great, because that's the whole point of pitching it to a group. But your head can swim trying to figure out which ideas are right and which don't fit. So go back to your "compass" - the reason why the sequence is in the movie. Which ideas help you do this better? And which ideas push it off track?

Now don't think I'm saying movies have to be plot machines with every sequence pushing the story forward at a relentless pace. Every film has a different style and moves at a different speed. Think about the "Baby Mine" sequence in "Dumbo" where Dumbo's mother holds him and sings him a song. Or the sequence in "Lady and the Tramp" where Lady shares a romantic dinner and some spaghetti with Tramp. Obviously these sequences aren't advancing the plot, per se -and yet they are. Those sequences deepen the emotion and up the emotional stakes that drive the movie. The emotion you feel when Lady and the Tramp are separated, and then re-united, would be completely undercut if you didn't understand how much they cared for each other. That's why I would argue that the dinner sequence IS essential.

And I think a lot of Disney films recently have dropped the ball on this last one. It's hard to describe in a writing meeting why you absolutely need to spend the time developing the pure emotional parts. Some people seem to think the audience is going to be bored if the movie slows down for a bit. But the only way to cement emotion in the audience's mind is to slow down the pace and let the story get emotional. If the audience doesn't care about the characters and their problems then they're not going to feel any emotion at the end of the film. And if the film is all relentless drive, then the effect is assaultive. A film needs slow parts mixed in with the fast parts to make the fast parts FEEL fast by contrast. And it's okay in a "Die Hard" movie to be relentless, but the great Disney films have always been emotional, first and foremost.

I can't tell you how many movies I've worked on that seemed to work really well in the editing room and then fall flat (to me) when it's released and I see it in a theater. Somebody felt the need to "tighten" the movie, to "take the air out". Well, I think that's where the emotion always lives - in the quiet moments, in the "air" of the movie.

As I'm writing this I can't help but think of "Alice in Wonderland". What did the board artists tell themselves the point of each sequence was? Each sequence was an episode that explored some imaginative territory, but how did each advance the story? I think they were trying to have each sequence push her further and further into frustration and make her appreciate her rational (albeit sometimes boring) normal life. Certainly the sequence playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts and Alice's trial have a nice narrative drive, and you get what's at stake, but what would you miss if you removed the sequence where the flowers sing Alice a song?

So is this a clue as to why the movie doesn't feel as emotional as the other Disney Classics? I think so, and I think it's a good illustration of why this concept is so important in our work.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wilson on Painting

Last of the Rowland Wilson handouts, this one on Painting. I assume he did it for background painters. It would be a lot more useful if it was in color, but I only have the black and white version. Interesting nonetheless.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Rowland Wilson on Composition

I don't know if you all have this already...but here's Rowland's amazing handout on Composition.

Thanks to everyone who left a comment. Many people have e-mailed me and even talked to me at work about what they feel I should keep doing or how I should change the site. Glad so many people are excited about what I'm doing. I hear all of your suggestions and I will try to incorporate all of your suggestions as well as I can into what I want to do myself.

Again, if you're frustrated by my focus or my leanings...please start your own blog! It's free and anyone can do it. I would love to read another site like this!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Light and Shadow

So Blogger has been pretty much inacessible for the last 24 least whenever I tried to log in or read the comments. Since I started Blogging over 2 weeks ago I haven't gone a day without posting at least once. Hopefully this will work and I won't break my streak. Still it seems very ungracious to criticize such an amzing and FREE service. How does Blogger do it?

Okay, so there were a couple of requests for more stuff about light and shadow. Many drawing books do a great job of covering this, but these were done by Rowland B. Wilson and seem to be especially geared towards animation layout and story sketch.

Those of you that haunt the same corners of the internet that I do have probably seen the handouts by Rowland on "Layout" and "Painting". But this one took a lot of detective work to find, so I'm betting most of you haven't seen it. I'll post more on this topic later...I've got so many threads started and posts already saved in Blogger that it's getting unreal to keep track of it all!

I met Rowland when I started on "Hercules". Rowland sat in the cublcle across the hall from mine. I was pretty flabbergasted that this legend of illustration was in a cubicle but Rowland didn't seem to care. He was always nice to me and I wish I had talked to him more before he left the studio. He was a super cool guy and an amazing talent.