Sunday, June 03, 2007

Space and Form #1

Like many of my posts, this one started out all about something different - shadows and how they can be used to show form and space in a drawing. But as I wrote the post I realized that I have always meant to talk about getting space and form into drawings without tone and that seemed like a good topic to cover first. So that's the subject of this post - shadows will be in a future installment. All of this stuff may seem totally obvious, but I would be remiss if I didn't cover this stuff before moving into the more complicated topic of using tone and shadow to show space (which also covers some pretty obvious stuff, now that I think about it. Anyway...)

The simplest, easiest way to get depth in a line drawing (or any drawing) isOverlapping things to show which are in front and which are behind. Again, this may seem totally obvious but many beginners seem hesitant to do this - I guess covering up things and not showing all of an object seems like cheating somehow. Here's a very simple example from "Calvin and Hobbes". No tones here to speak of, just simple overlap: one piece of paper overlaps the other and the table overlaps the characters.

Another trick Bill Watterson uses here is that the notebook on the left and Susie's arm leave the picture space and their edges are cut off. That's a great trick for making it seem like the world of the picture extends past the edges of the frame and makes it feel like it has depth.
These are by an artist named Cosey and from "Lost in the Alps". In the first example, notice how the feeling of depth is achieved. There's not a lot of fancy perspective, the buildings don't have any perspective on them because they are parallel to the viewer. So there's just three flat overlapping planes: the man in the foreground, the building in the middle ground and the mountains in the background. The three of them overlap each other very simply to create space.

More of the same. Click all of these to see bigger.

Again, simplicity can be used to create depth very easily: rocks overlapping each other recede in space and create space.

Surface lines help show form and that creates depth.
The interior lines you draw on a figure, object or background should always tell the viewer something about the form that the lines wrap around or sit on top of. Lines should never be placed haphazardly without reason to be there. They describe form.
Wrinkles in clothes are the best example of this. Most animated characters have very simple suggestions as far as the clothes they are wearing, so each line must do a good job of wrapping around the form underneath. A single sloppily placed crease will destroy the feeling of a three dimensional figure.

Brom Bones: the way his vest sits on his body describes his form well, as do his rolled shirtsleeves, his collar and the way his hat sits on his head. All are carefully drawn to wrap around the form.

Why does Ariel have a strap that holds her clamshells in place? Well, yes, it probably would be creepy if her back was totally bare but it would also lead to some graphic ambiguity. There are several scenes in the movie where she is seen from behind and without that strap it would be hard to show the orientation of her torso in space - so the strap enables us to know if her torso is leaning towards us or away from us by the way the strap is drawn to describe the form of her back in space.

Milt Caniff drew the bejesus out of wrinkles. Here, he takes on the dangerous task of drawing a rather doughy figure wearing a big and shapeless garment. That's two challenges at once and in lesser hands you could easily end up with a big blobby mess. Here he uses a lot of wrinkles to describe the body under the clothes and creates a lot of depth.

We tend to think of clothes wrinkles as being the best (and only) way to describe the forms underneath the clothes, and in animated figures that is usually all we get, but in other areas artists use all kinds of textures to create a feeling of three dimensions. In these examples (again by Milt Caniff) notice how, in one panel, he describes an amazing variety of textures. In the foreground alone, he skillfully and carefully describes the textures of leather gloves and jackets, with the fleece collars drawn differently so we can tell exactly what they are supposed to be. The two main characters are each wearing a different kind of hat and each is drawn differently so we can tell what kind of fabric each is made of. The hair of both characters is drawn so we can tell where the hair is and we would never confuse the hair with the clothes. The hair is drawn (relatively) simply but very dimensionally. It is made to wrap around each person's head and the highlights show us which part is closer to us and how the light is playing across it...all of this in black and white with no middle tone to help out.

And that's just talking about the foreground. Some of the characters in the background are wearing caps and some are wearing helmets and we can immediately identify which is which. Even the rolled-up fabric awnings in the deep background are simply handled but there is no confusion as to what they are.

Caniff uses more detail on the surfaces that are close to the camera and less detail on the surfaces as they become farther away from us...another good trick for creating space. Obviously when things that are right in front of our face we can see more detail. As they move farther away from us we see less of the detail. Look at the hair of Steve Canyon in the foreground and then look at the guy standing right behind him to the left. Steve's hair and clothes are drawn with much more detail and texture than the other guy because he's closer to us (and the center of attention). Notice how many more lines there are in Steve's hair than in the other guy. Also the guy who's further away from us is drawn with thinner lines - yet another good way to create depth. thicker lines look closer to us. Thinner lines look further away.

Clothes are the most obvious example but remember that of course surface lines can describe any kind of form. Here Caniff creates some cool three dimensional planes in the street and buildings in the background by using meticulous surface lines. He also gets a lot of depth by putting tone on the foreground object and leaving tone off the background...always a good technique for separating foreground and background.

A couple more very simple Caniff examples. In both cases, the aluminum texture of the airplane plays well off the more organic texture of the ocean below. The detail of the airplane texture contrasted against the relative simplicity of the ocean below gives a simple, effective and easily-read sense of space.

Nobody is better at drawing textures and surfaces in stark black and white than Caniff, in my uneducated opinion anyway. I don't know much about comic book artists and I'm sure there are zillions of guys that do this kind of stuff well, but Caniff seems to have had a limit range and imagination when it came to depicting textures. You can just tell when an artist is "faking it" and doesn't quite know how to handle a texture, or when the artist didn't quite nail what he was trying to draw. You never get that sense with Caniff, he nailed everything and he tackled every sublect fearlessly! Somewhere in one of my Caniff books I remember seeing panels of a boat being tossed on a stormy sea at night, all depicted in black and white brush and ink. I can't imagine ever knowing how to do that, it was amazing. Someday I'll find it and post it.

Anyway, all of this is to show that you can handle these things very simply or with a lot of complexity, depending on your need. For most storyboarding and animation drawing purposes, a simple suggestion of depth is all that you need.

It probably goes without saying, but using perspective to your advantage can be very effective at showing depth in a drawing. The two easiest ways are by showing line that recede to the vanishing point or by showing identical objects that diminish in height as they recede in space.

Here are two of the simplest examples possible of these two techniques from Harvey Kurtzman. Here is a strip that takes place in a naval shipyard. In the two big panels, take a look at how much depth he gets with simple techniques. In both of the large panels, lines converge as they move back into space towards the vanishing point. Also there are repeated objects in both that diminish as they get further away from us - in both panels, look at the blocks that the ship sits upon and note how they are drawn so that they get progressively smaller as they get further away from us. This probably seems ridiculously obvious (and it is) but it's one of the best tricks for getting depth into your work. Also the way he drew the two piles in the bottom panel gets a good sense of depth because one pile is bigger than the other, suggesting perspective, and one overlaps the other.

Here the simple use of lines (in this case "crop furrows") that converge towards the vanishing point to suggest depth in a simple drawing.

Let's go back to that idea of the blocks that held up the ship and how Kurtzman used them to suggest simple perspective. If you draw objects (like those blocks) that repeat regularly and get smaller and smaller as they move towards the horizon, our eye seems to accept that very well as a depth cue (telephone poles along the side of the road are the usual example for this). Taking this trick one step further is to draw an object in the foreground and then repeat that object in the middleground and/ or background. If they are drawn to look like the same kind of object, our brain assumes that they are the same height and we can use this to our advantage to imply depth across a great or small distance.

Usually we see this with trees. You see this trick all the time. In the foreground there is a large tree and in the background a whole forest of tiny trees. Our eye assumes that all the trees are roughly the same size and it creates instant depth.

It works well with trees but can work with anything and on any scale. It works in any space where there are repeated objects...remember that. If you were drawing two people sitting across from each other in a restaurant, you could get a good sense of space by drawing their plates different sizes to show who was further away, even though the difference could be pretty slight. And you could draw another table in the BG with plates on it that were even smaller. Again, we assume all of the plates are the same size and create the space in our minds. It works with grass stalks, boulders, rocks, fences, waves, cars, etc....any time you have repeated objects space.

Check out this cool drawing by Noel Sickles (who had a big influence on Caniff). Repeated trees, as well as men, parachutes, airplanes, bomb craters and everything else diminish as they move away from us in space.

Yikes, for being all about simple obvious stuff that turned into a long post and I still haven't covered everything I wanted to say. Anyway, I'll talk some more on this topic the next time. In the meantime, if you want to hear more on this topic from a different perspective (no pun intended), Walt Stanchfield wrote a few handouts that talked about this subject in his usual illuminating way. Go here and read handout #16 "Dimensional Drawing" for his take on similar material.


Benjamin said...

Just over a year ago, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture by Isao Takahata, and he talked about some of the differences between Japanese and Western animation. One of them was what you're talking about now. Apparently, the japanese are much more eager to use the different planes technique, while we most often use the perspective one. It grew out of classic art, where east and west were different in the same way. I put my notes up HERE. (it's not wellwritten, in part because I didn't have the same understanding of it as I have now)

It's interesting because this was once again revealed to me just recently. I was watching Pan's Labyrinth for the second time, and was once again awestruck by the beautiful use of camera movement, and how it kind of danced around the scenery and Ophelia at times. I started thinking about it, and simply couldn't find a way on how you'd be able to approach this in animation, aside from using actual 3D scenes and painstakingly drawing the character on that with changing perspective etc. And then I watched Paprika... one particular shot caught my eye, and it was a close-up from the side on the detective, with Paprika behind him, while they were sitting in a film theatre, and it really felt as if the camera was rotating slightly around them at that point, in a similar way as it often did in Pan's Labyrinth. The simple trick was that they just moved each plane (detecive, Paprika, some background planes) with different speed, without even changing the perspective in the drawings! That was really a kind of lightbulb moment for me.

Keep it coming!

Judy said...

Thanks for your blog. I always learn something and really look forward to your ideas. Judy

Judy said...


Anonymous said...

What a great post! I teach art for middle school, and I do a unit on showing depth in art- this will be useful and fun! Overlapping, detail, perspective, repetition...all things I dicuss- the kids will hopefully get a kick out of it.

Great Blog- keep up the great work!


Stephen said...

Thanks, Mark. Don't worry about the chaotic blogging - you're a working man, after all. Your posts are always worth waiting for.


TS said...

I think the ideas in this post may seem basic but they are the foundations for what we do and they are incredibly hard to master. I find myself all of the time looking at a layout or design after it has gone through only to realize basic mistakes after the fact.

When you spoke of the strap on Ariels "shells" it reminded me to mention structure and drawing through. I see a lot of people who choose not draw through on things like cuffs, necklines, and pants. By not doing that they break the sensation of depth and volume. How many times have you seen a good drawing of a character that felt whacked because the lines don't connect correctly on the backside of the shapes.

Also worth noting are "T" intersections and lines that inadvertantly converge into points. Both these things will also destroy the illusion of depth.

If you have time, you may want to cover some basic ideas about planation and perspective. Most kids now days (some very talented ones actually) barely understand the difference between a horizon line and a vanishing point.

Davelandweb said...

Just stumbled onto your blog; what an awesome resource! Thanks for all the great info—keep up the great work!

JoBi said...

That's what I consider a Mastre Class in "Space and Form".


Dr.Burke said...

Hey Mark

Great post! I know your name but we've never met. I'm in the middle of a new post for SplineDoctors about design, composition, and cinematography and found this post as I was googling Bob Winquist. (fellow CalArts alum and someone who was also transformed by his class) Would love to talk to you further. Looking to find out more about Bob's design firm and try to get some facts along with the legends regarding his history.

Brett W. Thompson said...

Great stuff!!! Thanks for the post, I always learn a lot from this blog! :D

Christopher Soto said...

Hey, Great stuff. I know you have stuff you're getting ready to post backed up to the wazoo but i was wondering if you could do one of your wonderful posts on Horizon lines and effective ways to use them in storyboarding and of course just drawing in general. They drive me insane. I've gone over the "the Essential Handout" post and that's really helpful. Yes, well, thank you very much. Keep up the awesome work.

Dave said...

Yet another great post!

William said...

You seem to read a lot of European comics. I have no idea to what extent these comics are available on the American or Canadian market. My experience however is that most Americans have little knowledge of the comics that are being made in Europe.

You therefore might want to check out the following comics from Belgium, Europe, which have over the years become real monuments. Technically, they set the benchmark. I regret that most comic artist cannot display this kind of expertise. American comic artists are no exception to this.


One of the most popular adventure comics in Belgium. The comics tell the story of a Viking (Thorgal) who struggles together with his family to survive in a medieval world that is populated with magical, almost fantasy creatures. Drawings are by Rosinski, a highly acclaimed Polish artist. The story is by Jean Van Hamme, one of Belgium's finest storywriters.

Sample pages are available on the website of Lombard publishing. Just click on an album title on the right to see more of it.

Some of the thorgal comics have been translated into English and have been given the "US-comics" page format, probably for further distribution in the US. One of the disadvantages is that the drawings are printed much smaller. As you know, the standard European format for comics is A4.

- Gaston Lagaffe.

Created by Franquin in the sixties. One-page jokes only. Gaston Lagaffe works as office messager at Dupuis, a Belgian publishing company (note: Dupuis actually existed and still exists. In fact, it is the company that publishes the Gaston Lagaffe comics!).

There is however one thing about Gaston. The last thing he does at work is working. He rather spends his time working on incredulous inventions (you'll be amazed by the originality displayed by Franquin!) or playing all sorts of silly games, to the dispair of his boss and his colleagues, of course.

If you've never heard of him, shame on you! Check out this website, again with lots of sample pages. You need not to speak French to understand the humor of Franquin's drawings or to be fascinated by his wonderful technique.

Mind you, the universe created by Franquin is vast, and covers several other comic characters and endless drawings in several styles.

As you can see, both comics (Thorgal and Gaston Lagaffe) are completely different. They share however true craftmenship that has amounted to art. Blogging on Rosinski and Franquin would therefore be no a bad idea, I believe.

William said...

another sample page, so you don't have to search the website too much

William said...

and another one

Graham said...

Just a quick note to remind you ow much I love your blog. PLEASE don't stop posting!

handel said...

niiiice stuff Mark Kennedy. For some reason I like to read your stuff in a hot latin raspy voice. Very antonio bandaras.
Thats kinda my voice for you and your posts. It makes the post fun AND saucy. I dont know why I find myself having to wear my wifes undies when reading your posts though...tis a mystery....BUT FUN POSTS ALL THE SAME. You Rock.

samacleod said...

Awesome post. I didn't want to read your recent #2 post without reading this one first. Great explanation. So many things that we do without realizing it. A great teacher will help us to identify patterns and use them to our advantage. Thanks!

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Heather Larkin said...

Hi Mark!

I'm applying for the Disney Talent Development program and Dawn Rivera-Ernster recommended I read your blog. I hadn't seen it before. I'm starting from the latest entry and working my way through slowly (and happily).

It's fantastic. So many great nuggets of wisdom here! It's very inspiring reading. I certainly appreciate all the effort you've put into this blog. I feel like I'm learning a lot.

I'd love to ask you many questions, but I imagine you must be suuuuuuppppeeerrrr busy. If you have time for a rather technical question: What's the size of those story panel sheets that get pinned up to boards when a sequence is pitched?

Thank you! I look forward to many more posts. :D

Heather Larkin