Sunday, August 26, 2007

Drawing is Organizing

The Fred Ludekens material below is great stuff for many reasons but I wanted to post it because it talks about a concept in drawing that few people seem to ever talk about.

The way he writes about being careful to draw the shadows so that they make it seem that the front leg is coming towards us and also how he organizes the shadows so they overlap the background just right to avoid confusion and tangents are the parts that I especially like. They point out something that I think about more and more as I get older. And that is that drawing is organizing.

I find that as I draw, the internal monologue in my head is a lot like what Mr. Ludekens wrote. I am always thinking about how to arrange all of the elements of the picture so that they relate to each other and get the point of the drawing across without any confusion.

You can see that for each little area of the picture, he carefully manipulates and tweaks each element in relation to each other part so that he ends up with a solid picture with an interesting composition that is immediately clear with even a casual glance.

Forgive me if I am overly emphatic about this kind of organizational approach but it's especially imperative for anyone in animation. Animating and storyboarding are all about putting over an idea with clarity and leaving no ambiguity in the mind of the viewer. Usually that relies on factors like drawing the right pose or the right expression, or finding the right shape to describe a form in space, but it also relies on organizing all of the elements to work together in imparting one idea to the audience. It has to do with making sure that important areas are in the clear, and also that unimportant areas are sublimated so that they don't detract from the important ideas. It has to do with drawing every part of the frame so that it's clear as to the intent of the whole picture, without allowing things like confusing tangents to destroy the meaning of the image.

As I said, when storyboarding I find this is where I expend the most energy and struggle the most: planning ahead so that each shot is staged right so that whatever the characters do and wherever they move within the frame the background will accommodate them and the composition will work with every pose and action. Also within each pose of the character there are so many considerations about how to place the body and all of the limbs to convey your meaning without anything detracting from the intent of the drawing.

As an animator this takes on a different shading because if an animator doesn't plan ahead and know where he (or she) is going at all times the scene will never work. If a character is going to lean to the left, the character needs to anticipate with a move to the right; if a character is going to look off to the left than the character needs to begin by looking off to the right or else the move to the left will have no meaning. Organization, control and planning ahead is the heart and soul of animating successfully.

That all may sound pretty dry, uninspiring and uninteresting. I wish I had a more exciting and uplifting way to impart all of this, but I don't....I have been trying to write this post for a while and I'm not sure of any other way to say it, except for maybe with some help from Mr. Marc Davis.

Even in the simplest of pictures, if the elements aren't organized carefully and correctly the meaning will be lost. Placing the horizon line so low in this picture really helps to keep the background out of the way of the rest of the picture, and makes the pirate sit all alone against the white with nothing touching him so that he feels even more precarious - there's no element intersecting his body to make him feel propped up or supported. The simple handling of the wharf give a great sense of depth that helps sell the idea that the boat sits in real space. But the part that really speaks to good organization is the way the hats are handled. The defining edges of each hat that make each hat shape recognizable are all carefully shown, without being covered up by feathers or anything. The way the feathers are all drawn so that they don't interfere with each other or overlap the hat shapes looks effortless and simple, but it's worked out very well. Even drawing a feather so that it actually looks like a feather can be difficult, but here Marc has made it look easy. Making each hat a different color helps a lot, too, and color is always another good way to help organize ideas for readability. Anyway, you can see that even in a very simple piece like this, organization of ideas is very important for success as a picture.

Other things that are worth noting in this sketch are the way he has placed the oar in the boat. Look what happens if you cover it up - your eye sweeps out over the top of the boat shape and off the page. The oar helps arrest your eye's movement and throw your gaze back towards the pirate.

Also interesting are the elements of the orange scarf and the bottles on top of the chest. These elements, as well as his sword, keep the image from being too symmetrical. They are also useful because they have a lot of detail, which tends to attract your eye, and so they are placed near his face to get your interest to his face and expression. The bottles, along with the hat on his head and the chest create a "frame" for his face and his expression so that even though it's so small within the image, you'll see it well. Also the downward "pull" of the orange scarf as well as his red sash help make it feel like there's a ton of weight to his load and a lot of gravity at work trying to pull him down. Try covering them up with your fingers and see what a difference they make.

I really like the small touch of his foot that is still on the wharf - it's drawn so that it's barely making contact with the solid surface of the pier and makes it look all the more precarious.

Many times in the professional animation world we are told over and over again to work faster and draw looser and rougher in order to make our always increasing deadlines. Organization and planning ahead in drawing are always the first casualty of increased speed and that's a shame because it's very important.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Famous Artists Course: Fred Ludekens

This is a great set of pages from the "Famous Artists Course" by illustrator Fred Ludekens. It's one of the few examples I can think of where an artist shows you how he works step-by-step and explains what he is thinking as he goes. Click to see these really big and read them.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I made a mistake on that last post by totally forgetting that "Meet the Robinsons" also didn't have a fast-food tie-in. Thanks to sharp reader barry for pointing that out! I apologize for sloppy blogging but I guess since "Ratatouille" is all about food it's understandable but I would make that connection while watching "Ratatouille" but not necessarily while watching "Robinsons". And as Will Finn points out, "Home on the Range" didn't have Happy Meal toys either.

While we were working on "Home on the Range" we all always assumed that it would have the usual McDonalds tie-in and the common joke was that the Big Mac would be renamed that "Big Maggie" and that a burger would come with Mrs. Caloway's hat on it. Also we figured they would start making McNuggets with a new shape to look like the chicks in the movie.

Anyway, whenever I make a mistake on the blog, I like to make up for it by relating some weird and/or painful story about my career in this crazy here goes.

When McDonalds bailed on promoting that movie I figured the same thing would happen to "Chicken Little". I always thought Chicken Little's head looked exactly like a McNugget shape, and I guess I thought the fact that McDonalds serves chicken would make somebody stop and think that a tie-in was a bad idea, but then again "Chicken Run" did it with Burger King so apparently people aren't too disturbed by the connection.

One of the weirdest meetings I ever got invited to was a meeting between Disney bigwigs and McDonalds people to brainstorm how to market "Chicken Little" with McDonalds. We were all in a big conference room, and the head promotion person for McDonald's was on a speaker phone on the table. All these people in the room were throwing out lots of ideas with tons of enthusiasm, trying to win over this woman on the speaker phone, who seemed to be so disinterested that she was practically comatose. She was just this disembodied voice that after every idea would pause and then come back with a response like "nah...." or "mmmmm, I don't think so."

Anyway before the meeting I had been told to board out some ideas for McDonald's commercials with Chicken Little. So after all the frantic boarding on the movie I had sat down and scribbled out all these ideas for commercials with the CL characters. So I'm the only artist at the meeting and I'm sitting at the conference table with a giant stack of storyboards in front of me, and as I hear this woman respond to everyone else I start silently praying that nobody will remember I'm there. I keep looking at the stack of paper in front of me and wondering if I can pull it into my lap so nobody will notice it, or if it's better to just sit still and hope nobody sees me. I'm thinking that there is no way my pitch will be comprehensible to a woman on a speakerphone and that I don't really want to work hard to sell my ideas to someone that seems so uninterested in everything.

Luckily, being a nobody is actually useful sometimes and nobody remembered me or my ideas. As I recall, nothing ever seemed to click in this meeting and the woman hung up on us with a disgusted sigh at the end of our hour together. I threw my ideas into a drawer and that was that! After that bad taste of working with McD's I decided to avoid those type of meetings from then on. The reason I remember it was because that was one of the few times I ever boarded something that nobody - and I mean nobody - ever laid eyes on. I still have them somewhere, I think...I can't remember what my ideas were, though.

Ah well, maybe some things are better left forgotten.