Saturday, June 23, 2007

Space and Form #2

As I mentioned before, this thread started out as a post about shadows and how they can be used to create a feeling of space. Then, as I was writing the post about shadows, I felt remiss that I had never talked about getting a feeling of space and depth into line then I thought I would (quickly) jot down the basics of getting depth into drawings without tone. But, the more I jot down the more I realize I want to say about it - plus, that post on shadows is becoming bigger and more complicated every time I work on it, so this helps me put off figuring that one out for a while.

Anyway, these are some more ideas about how to get the illusion of depth, space and form into a drawing, specifically drawings without color or tone. Both color and tone are very useful tools when it comes to describing space and form, so we have to work a little bit harder to do it with just lines. Maybe all of this stuff seems obvious. Anyway, he's a few more stray thoughts on the topic at hand...

Having a form lay flat against the ground plane (or come into contact with it) can definitely describe the space of your drawing without much else being necessary. A figure laying against the flat ground will tell you a lot about the space by the way the parts of the body overlap one another and move away from the viewer in perspective. Here, the way the body hits the flat ground and the way it squashes against the flat form of the floor gives a solid feeling to the space and feels like there's definitely some depth to the scene. Plus, having the Dad overlap Dennis is helpful to sell what's in front of what (see the last post to read more about overlapping objects to create space).

Similarly to this, you can achieve a nice feeling of space by simply having your character's feet planted firmly in perspective. This can convey a very convincing sense of space when it is done right.

Obviously the same thing applies to anything which is firmly planted on the ground plane and is drawn with perspective that looks convincing. Or even an object that's up in the air.

Just planting different areas in your picture at different heights can be effective. Putting the planes that are further away higher up in the frame is the simplest way to get a sense of space in your drawing.

We all think of having forms shrink as they head off towards the horizon, but don't forget you can give your drawing perspective that recedes in the vertical plane, instead of the horizontal, when appropriate.

Alternating areas of texture against empty spaces also helps convey a sense of space because it makes it seem that there are several different areas within the same frame. This is what we see in real life. When you look in any direction, you see many, many different areas stretching out towards the horizon: grass, asphalt, sidewalk, etc. As artists we have to come up with ways to simplify so we don't have to draw everything while still making it feel like our pictures have a lot of depth. So when you alternate complex areas with blank areas it gives that kind of feel, and it's pleasing to the eye to linger on the textured areas and then rest while glancing at the empty spaces.

The blank areas don't always have to be white; they can be black silhouettes instead, of course. They could even be areas of grey tone as well.

Obviously this is a useful design principle: to balance complex areas against empty areas. It would be meaningless to put one complicated pattern next to another, or to put an empty space next to another. The two types of areas only mean something when balanced by each other for contrast.

Also you can get this same sense by having alternating areas of dark and light in your composition. Seeing several areas of light and shadow on the ground plane helps define the ground plane and make it seems as if it is receding farther back in space than if you drew your ground plane as just a blank space. It can be a better way to get depth to a ground plane than drawing a lot of textures on the ground to show the form of the ground (like if you drew all the individual blades of grass on a lawn or all the cobblestones of a street).

Lastly, never forget the benefits of aerial perspective to sell the idea of space. When you look towards the horizon, all the particles of dust, moisture and pollution between you and the objects on the horizon make things look hazy or indistinct. The farther away you look, the more of those particles there are between you and the object you're looking at. The cumulative effect makes things look hazier the farther away they are.

If you look at some of the illustrations in the previous post, the artist Cosey used thicker lines on objects in the foreground and thinner lines for objects that are far away on the horizon line, a very common solution to achieve the effect of aerial perspective.

Remember that the areas closest to our eye usually has the most contrast and will generally be darker. The areas further away will have less contrast and will generally be lighter in tone.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I thought things were going to slow down for a bit so I could post more, but things got busier instead. I will post something when I the meantime, if you've never seen them, there are some great interviews with Pixar artists on their website. The Joe Ranft interview is great and very informative about the story process. It features some wonderful artwork by Joe, for those of you who've never been fortunate enough to see his drawings.

There are many other great interviews as well here and here, representing a good cross-section of the types of jobs that are involved in the digital animation process. Check them out and enjoy another great free resource on the web.

I'll post some more stuff as soon as I get a chance.

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.

My Chaotic Blogging

Things have been very busy lately so I haven't had much time to post. You might have also noticed that I start a lot of threads that don't seem to get finished...but I dopromise to get back to all of them eventually. At some point I will scan more Ronald Searle stuff and post some more Vanderpoel chapters. Eventually, someday, all the threads will have been followed to their logical conclusion and I will make good on all of my promises but in the meantime the order of my posts probably seems a bit random. This is partially intentional, because I find that I learn better by throwing myself a lot of "curveballs" and constantly changing up the things that I focus on learning about. But mostly it's just a symptom of the way I write posts and when I get a chance to scan material. I have written many, many posts that I can't share with you yet because I haven't found the examples I need to illustrate the piece. So the order in which I post is frequently determined by when I can make time to find the books I need and sit down and find the artwork I need to explain just what the heck I'm trying to say.

Anyway, I wonder sometimes if people find my chaotic approach frustrating of if it's kind of fun to think that you never know what the heck you're going to find here. So if there's anyone that finds it frustrating, at least now you know why the stuff ends up being presented in the circular and haphazard way it does. Things have been very very busy lately but are starting to slow down just a bit so I will try to catch up on my scanning and posting in the next few weeks.