Friday, April 02, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part One

A couple of weeks ago I gave a lecture at CalArts. While trying to think of interesting things to talk about, I decided part of the lecture should be about the simple things that people seem to forget about when they leave school and get out into the professional world. I think that when you start working at a studio and have to start dealing with the issues of collaborating with other artists, deadlines, meetings and all the other new variables that come with that change, many artists find it hard to remember the simple basic things that can make the difference between a good drawing and a poor one. Especially with the hectic pace that artists have to work at these days it's always easy to tell yourself that there's not enough time to fix that one drawing that doesn't work, or push that one expression just a bit further....and then after a while every drawing is just a "placeholder" that's just blocked in and no drawing is very good or descriptive or helpful to the artists that have to come after you and use your work to actually make the movie.

Drawing is made up of a few rules that are deceptively simple, and it's very easy to just let one or two fall by the wayside, particularly when you can blame the schedule. But once you drop one or two of those basic drawing rules, your drawing never has even a remote chance of being good. I would say that a hectic production schedule actually makes it more imperative that we do the best drawing that we can and solve as many problems as we can for the people (layout and animators in particular) who have to follow us up because they are going to be pressed for time too. Any "leg up" we can give them - whether it's the environment and staging for layout, or the acting, the expression and the pose for the animators - will help them do the best job they can within the limited time they have.

Anyway, "Silhouette Value" is the most basic of concepts and suffers the most from being so basic that most people don't give it much thought once they're not a student anymore.

If you're not familiar with the concept, here's a quick review:



It's simple, it's obvious, and it's so basic that we learn it right away in art school and then we forget it. It's so simple and basic that I think we de-value it...we think to ourselves, "that can't be that important, it's too basic and obvious...forget that, I want to learn the complicated (and therefore better) drawing tricks!"

But the truth is that there aren't really any special drawing tricks...it's just the same basic things, repeated over and over again, used with increasing sophistication and subtlety that makes a drawing great.

I also think that 3D animators don't tend to remember silhouette value as much as 2D animators because they're not dealing with drawings as much as they animate.

I think if you took one day to walk the halls of any studio and just take stock of the artwork on the walls, the visual development, the storyboards and the animation the animators are doing, you'd be surprised how little of it actually has good silhouette value. Don't get me wrong, it would all be extremely well done and inspiring, I'm sure, but almost nobody gives this concept the respect it deserves in their everyday work. The reason silhouette value is important is because it's a great aid to "foolproofing" the clarity in your drawings - it helps make sure that everyone can tell exactly what your character is doing at all times.

Chuck Jones




Milt Caniff



This one is pretty interesting. Never seen a better drawing of a guy hitting a dragon on the head and seeing it barf treasure into a lady's skirt before.



I do have one small quibble, however...



More Silhouette goodness...






More kicks to come...

15 comments:

Gabriele Pennacchioli said...
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Gabriele Pennacchioli said...
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Anthony Holden said...

So true! And clarity is so important, especially when you're short on time. Thanks for the reminder.

Haylee said...

I applaud you for being direct and honest about this simple concept! Thank goodness there are those professionals who actually take the time to remind themselves of what makes strong work.

Also, loved that you shared the Monster House article. That was refreshing and ironically true of studios these days. There needs to be a revival of well told, complete stories that will always be timeless.

tonci said...

subtlety is terribly important in any case, otherwise clarity easily turns into just fancy diagrams... it's simple, but not easy!

Sarah said...

I'm in the sciences so I'm not sure if what I've experienced is similar, but to me "the basics" are like a skeleton key. They allow you tackle anything.

Ryan said...

Great, wonderful stuff. A kick in the head is always welcome when it comes to lessons like this.

chromasketch said...

awesome read. Would this be #1 on your list check?

CapU Lifer said...

If you don't study appealing drawings (i.e. trace, flip to, re-pose, modify, find the structure and proportions of...) then your brain doesn't have the reference it needs to draw originals with appeal (unless you're a "natural" which probably means that you did all that studying before anyone knew who you were). But we're so conditioned to the idea that copying is a bad thing. Copying in order to learn isn't the same as plagiarism as long as you don't pass it off as original. What good would any designer (cars, fashion, architecture) be if that person didn't know intimately, what went before? It's just that with students, giving permission to copy can be dangerous at first regarding originality (but usually produces great results with time).

MILLUS said...

Isnt the line of action and pose balance the things what guys forget first or dont know how to use?

I see so much times how artists never take care of the line of action.

Chuck said...

Wow, great examples, Mark! I especially love the sketch of the guy carrying the capybara under his arm. Can you tell us who did it? Much obliged!

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Anonymous said...

Understood--but too many animators, 2D and/or 3D (and you, like most, lump everyone working in CG as an "animator," which isn't the case) sacrifice SOLID DRAWING for strong silhouette, which is just as bad. Cheating a solid drawing to achieve a clear silhouette is laziness, not better.

Anonymous said...

You're completely incorrect, as a 3D animator I care most about a clear pose and solid silhouette when setting up my key poses. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about if you think 3D animators don't value the silhouette. Maybe think before you type hmm?