Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No shortcuts

I've come to terms with the notion that there are no stock shortcuts to getting a good pose. You simply have to have your eyes aimed for the prize and hack at it until the pose really sells the story. It may slow you down at first, but going for that extra subtlety every panel really pays dividends.

To me, sometimes you have panels in your storyboard that are just throwaways- your stock "auto-filmmaker panels", you put it in because it works and you leave it at that. But it's ONLY the PANELS YOU SWEAT OVER that really ARE the story.

The pose itself has very little to do with stellar draughtsmanship (it helps though). Rather it has everything to do with one's intuition about how a character is feeling, and really carefully thinking about what they would do in the given moment.

I think the hardest poses I was having trouble with at work was heroic characters standing around listening to instructions. Why was I struggling to make it interesting?? It's not that I couldn't draw them standing. It's that I kept on drawing once stance- erasing, another- erasing. I couldn't decide what that particular stance IS.

I'm starting to think I need to focus less on drawing and more on acting . . .

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Another method update

What I learned this week is to keep the fingers flowing with the wrist- and to definitely treat the legs more simply- like one big octopus tentacle.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sketch method update

This is my approach to an invented figure lately:

1. I draw the head, neck, and shoulders in a constructed way- you pretty much have to.
2. Get the sensibility lines so the pose is naturalistic.
3. Draw the big shape of the figure, as if I were trying to carve out a good outline. Its good to just use two lines to get to the waist, then two more to the knee- the silouette should be really simple.
4. When you get to the hands or feet, draw it slowly- take a pause after every line- take a lot of breathers to look at what you just put down, and see if the next finger you put down, or palm edge can PLUS it. Dont try too hard to make it a clean line- each line will be somewhat messy because you have to let each line build and explore itself in order to be expressive.
5. Add in the face, draw the hair as slowly as you would the hands.
6. Clean up slowly too. It's faster if you just clean up the hands in a continuous contour sort of way.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Establishing Shots

For me, I always find establishing shots to be one of the most difficult shots to do in storyboarding, because you have to generate viewer interest immediately and tell the story and space, without relying on your characters to do so.

The establishing shot should foreshadow what's going to happen, it should set the mood of the scene. An establishing shot is more like architecture or marketing than character acting or classic filmmaking. There should be no actual story content in an establishing shot, its just a teaser . . . I'm used to holding off the construction of an establishing shot until the very end.

And only recently, have I realized that this is probably a good habit . . . scenes are a lot like essays, they have an intro thesis rationale and summary. I feel like no writer knows what they're talking about until they've written the entire thing- and only THEN do they understand how to introduce you to what they're talking about.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Forearms & Shins

Lately Ive found you get much more accurate poses if you draw the forearms and the shins before
you draw the upper arms and the thighs, for some reason its easier to track the space that way.

I also like to construct the shoulder form nowadays as a roundish boomerang form . . .

Monday, July 5, 2010

Posing Tricks

In summary, I want to emphasize that ideally:

1. You put down lines that are contours of a form.
2. In the back of your head the form wraps around lines that have a "sensibility" of varying rigidity. Most importantly, the main line of action, which is always the centerline between the neck and the crotch.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Don't Draw Unspecific Poses

Pose priorities:

1. You HAVE to convey a specific idea. The idea must be entertaining in a way that is true to the character. The simpler the better.

Even if you make a clean nice drawing where a character is posed ambiguously, the more "animation" trained types won't be very impressed with it. Examples:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gesture: A Dramatic Purpose

I still think that gesture is about hitting a pose clearly. Before you can even reach that point, a vital step too easily overlooked is that gesture always needs a dramatic context no matter what, or else there's no purpose to the gesture. I mean, if there's no purpose to the gesture, you might as well be drawing perfect circles and ellipses anyway (which one probably should be doing from time to time anyway).

It's important to bring dramatic context to a gesture:

1. Milt Kahl did it: he would spend a whole day just staring out in space thinking about what he's going to do before he even does it.
2. It clarifies what you're doing without being very technical about it.
3. It gives you far more control and authority over what you want to achieve.
4. I have to stress that you really have to think about the dramatic context before you even lay one line down, and you have to have dramatic context even when you draw naked figures in space.

For example, lets say I was to draw a naked guy in space, inventively, . . . what are some things I would think about:

1. What does a naked guy in space do?
Stand, in some open space, like an exhibitionist, not just stand, but he's hitting a definite artistic pose, because he knows he's being drawn. He would probably look off to the side, or up in the air, because it would be weird to look directly at people drawing you . . .

I mean these sort of thoughts help you paint a visual picture, that lets your imagination fill in the clues, as opposed to jotting off lines and letting the muscle mechanics of drawing or happy accidents do the work of drawing for you . . .

Usually, you don't even intend to draw naked people in space, and an easy way to jump into a good pose when you intend to just sketch one character is to just imagine that there's some other character there that's just not shown- NOW you're character is doing something- DRAMATIC.

The only technical things about thinking things through is you want to definitely decides the hips, knees, and head are going to be for compositional/proportional purposes. Also it helps to draw the head tilt first, that way the character has a definite state of being- because a head tilt is never generic, a tilting a head a certain way is the most specific dramatic thing a human can do- they say it does more that words can.

Another technical thing I just discovered that is really awesome is to double up your lines like this:

There's something about it that absolutely clarifies every single line that you do- it's like your first line is always bad because you're finding something out, and then your second line verifies the statement.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Convex Concave other tips

Avoid right angles in poses. Make sure one side of limbs is smaller than the side facing you.

When drawing cartoons its best to exaggerate the attachment of the head, almost as if the head is a toy ball jointed onto the neck. But it can only look this way if the shape design of the head is very solid- the shape cannot look wobbly. In fact, most of the time, the head ISNT volumetrically drawn, when you overconstruct the head you loose the graphic sense of it- most of the time, the outline of the head itself, as a shape, has solid enough qualities to be graphic and solid and the same time, without overconstructing.

And the neck is something you just have to plain get right, because it's part of the spine. If the neck is off the entire body is off. 

Especially for the arms, legs, and hands, always refer to other body parts to size it out. Always know your peak, angle, and the width of a limb cross section before executing the outlines. Keep the outer contours of the limbs convex. 

Easy cartoon ryhtym (most of the time)- outer contours- convex, inner contours- concave.

If you are going to build a line don't lift your pencil to do it, execute the line as if you're coloring a coloring book. Build your lines for  inking things like hair, eyes, and lips, because they have soft complex curves.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Random stuff

It's a good idea to draw the entire line, and then build up your line around the middle when inking. Get used to building up your line when it comes to difficult curves.

Keep the structural integrity of the neck shoulder area. Keep the thighs long and triangular. compare arm sizes to leg sizes. The torso actually flows more like a volcano (head to crotch), it's just that there is stuff going on in your back that fools the silouette into being more barrel shaped.

Pause when you gesture more often. More definite shape statements.
Fool around with foot shapes more- stage it sideways often simply to make a stance clearer.

Kaizen approach- improve drawing- one drawing at a time.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pencil Movement: Watching People Draw

There's a lot of physiological mysteries in drawing. Sometimes I like to watch videos of really awesome artists draw and see how they move.

Me: My natural instinct is heavy handedness- just feel it out in the beginning, get any kind of silouette desired any way possible, no matter how messy. I draw like Wanderlei Silva, I swing for the ropes and hope it lands, and if it doesn't I keep on trying.

Artists whose pencil movement I like:

Eric Goldberg: I think his pencil movement is the simplest to understand, and is the most effective in most cases. He has almost an etch-a-sketch quality to the way he moves his pencil- it barely ever jumps off the page, so he has a quality of pushing the line to make it what he wants. He also uses his small fingers to thrust subtle smaller lines to be more confident, which is an awesome idea, as it allows speedy coverage and easy closure of shapes. He arcs his wrist frequently to make the most out of his pencil tip and get an ideal angle. When he moves to different body parts, he DOESN'T PAUSE at all, he almost teleports his pencil tip across the figure as if he intended everything as one piece.

Jim Lee: I like his pencil movements because he's brisk in a good way, the best thing about him is his CONSTANT movement. He never pauses, wherever his pencil is, it's doing something. And he does this because he wants to keep the entire image unified. He never lingers in one place for too long. Watch him draw that hard line of the Joker's jaw- you can FEEL that he felt how hard the bone is just from how swift the line was at 1:27. And he draws details he keeps it light, brisk, and easy. He switches up his grip from time to time- further back to start, tighter when things are tighter. He shows you that you can do a lot with simple tools.

Artists who are amazing, but have movements that don't work well if you attempt it:
Glen Keane: His video is actually the first video I've seen of an artist that really inspired me just watching him draw, but I think I picked up a lot of bad habits from him. He draws very heavy-handedly. He hacks down lines, and his grip is constantly stiff. When I watched this video a year ago, I felt as though the boldness of his line is how every statement should be- so not knowing any better I imitated this behavior to bad effect.

It's bad because Glen doesn't have much dynamics to his pencil movement compared to Eric Goldberg, every line is fierce- frequent elbow/shoulder movement. Less fine control. He draws more like Mike Tyson compared to Eric Goldberg's more Sugar Ray Leonard fluidity.

Skottie Young: is a huge mystery to me, he draws freakishly well and fast. I can barely analyze how, because he's left handed and he has a really odd grip on top of it, and it doesn't even appear that he has any under-drawing at all on that sketch. Furthermore, it looks like he's using a Faber-Castell brush pen, which is, in my opinion, a very difficult pen to use. He jumps around almost as if he's drawing drunk. Must be talent.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dont overlook contrast

Shape design is a tricky subject. Something I've realized just now is that you can't lump in "flow" with shape design. I think flow is something that you just have to have in your bones, you can't even think about it- flow can mess up the larger goal of shape design.

I think the most important strategy of shape design is contrast of sizes- know how to make something big, medium, or small, short, skinny, wide, fat, etc to your advantage. Thinking in this mode at least allows you to lay something out- and it works excellently with groups of figures.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that the shape of any part itself isn't important- it's the contrast of it that really matters.

Even for poses, you can look for where the body is tight, versus where the body is loose.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I can finally say what gesture is about in a way I am happy with-

Gesture is about hitting a pose CLEARLY.

The best tool to be clear is shape design- as it lends to graphic poses. When you want to draw an intended pose you have to have a graphic idea of the entire pose. To make sure you confine the pose as a unified shape design it's a good idea to mark the top, bottom and side boundaries- that way you pack in all your lines in the right places.

When you copy drawings you learn a graphic shorthand- that wont help you hit naturalistic poses necessarily. To hit naturalistic poses, you have to draw sets of graphic shorthands in relation to other sets- you have to keep all of your line placement graphically relational.

Always pay attention to where your line starts and ends.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2nd pass roughs & Inker's Mindset

So inking should be more difficult than drawing because you have that added pressure of putting down a perfect line and not making a mistake. So the 2nd pass is all about making the final inking pass easier.

Here are some things I look for in a second pass:
1. Flip the gesture horizontally, because you see problems you normally cant if you dont.
2. Quickly clarify the shape separations by solving the tangency issues and implying more line weight separations. Dont worry about drawing a perfect line. This pass is about making shapes more graphic and not tangent, because you don't want to make these decisions in an inking pass.

3. Take time to perfect the hands & feet. Generally, in a second pass, you want the hands and feet to already look as you intend them to, and when you actually ink it, you'll look to simplify it so it looks more graphic.

And when you actually ink, you might find that you didn't do everything you should have in the 2nd pass- if that's the case, don't draw things with an inker's mindset. Switch modes, rough it out enough . . .

Here, I didn't follow my second pass game-plan exactly, as my inks don't follow where the blue shapes are exactly, but I found it more effortless to rough little touch ups than to ink and guess.

Drawing vs. Cleanup vs. Inking

A huge revelation- inking is NOT the came thing as clean-up. Clean-up is not the same thing as drawing. Drawing is neither inking nor clean-up. All of these things are completely different mental processes, and I feel that understanding this has been one of my greatest leaps forward in terms of progress. This is how I perceive the three tasks:

1. Drawing- drawing is about gesture, silhouette, acting, shape design, solidity/construction, getting the proportions right. You do these things to CONVEY AN IDEA QUICKLY. This is a drawing:

2. Clean-up- This concept exists only in animation. It's about streamlining the roughs- picking the right C, S, and I lines, avoiding tangents, avoiding parallel lines, and flipping to ensure it animates as intended. And you make these choices to ultimately ANIMATE. That's why clean-up is not inking.

3. Inking- Inking is NOT drawing or cleanup. Inking is rendering. Inking is about feeling out a hard or a soft edge, texturing, varying the line weight for clarity, spotting blacks. You make choices that ultimately get you to a CLEARER PRETTIER version of a drawing. It's only similar to clean-up in that you also have to be cautious of avoiding tangents and parallel lines.

The mistake I always made is that I always thought that inking was the same thing as cleaning up a drawing, and that cleanup is just re-drawing the gesture better. NO. YOU CANNOT DO THIS. All of these things are completely conceptually different! If you misunderstand this, you only end up with a bad clean drawing, or it only looks good because you shit it out of your ass and tried super hard.

The catch is- cleanup and inking help your fundamental drawing abilities tremendously- I think mostly in a physiological/memory associated way. The simple experience of feeling what the "actual finished" lines of a character brings you a greater understanding of how the lines are spaced out, and how much pressure you need.

Monday, May 3, 2010

More random tricks

I've been finding that when it comes to legs, the outer silhouette is most important- that is, the silhouette should be drawn straight away and it should show the structure straight away.

I've been trying to wean techniques of drawing from observation into how I would draw from memory.

One thing I've noticed is that when I draw from, say, a comic panel- something with a backgrounds & complexity- I spend a lot of time observing the center of interest- namely the placement and the size of the main figure.

This is to say that the simple process of designing in a figure in a box in an aesthetic and storytelling way is a delicate thing.

Oftentimes, its worth starting over and over again, just placing one figure in a panel in a relevant and clear way. The idea of the panel should be clear with only the fewest elements possible, and such elements should be drawn first.

For other people in a panel- design their body language in angles. Other people should be used to lead you to the main person.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Huge Tip

Most lines SHOULD be thick, especially your first lines, your gesture lines- any line that delineates different shapes. It should be thick, in fact thicker than you'd normally be comfortable with. The thicker you start with the better.

Why? It's a control issue- fine lines are a lot harder to make and edit than thick lines. No matter how thick you make your first lines, you can fine tune your interior lines a lot more easily.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Line Quality

I showed my some sketches for critique a year ago on an online forum there, a wise man told me:


Unfortunately I've never heeded this advice too well, as it's still something I struggle with. Some concepts I've been playing around with that give good results:

1. Keep a good grip- a 1.5" grip distance from the tip- esp. on outer contours.
-close in up to a .5" distance on details.
2. Slide into your strokes to keep a "thin on the edges-thick in the middle" sort of quality, dont hammer and stop from point to point.
3. Practice with brush pen.
4. I'm used to sketching with lines- in the case of improving line quality step back and instead sketch with dots, and render with lines. This is to say you figure out your proportions and everything with dots in a loose way, and you try to make all your lines high quality from the get go.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soft vs. Angular

And it hit me like a brick to the face . . . I draw waay too angularly by default. I think a lot of it has to do with my tense personality, but I'm gonna try and not draw like I usually do for a while, as playing up with variation between these extremes is a concept I overlooked for too long.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Random Tricks

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Designed Shapes

So I think that there is only one kind of shape in cartooning- and that's a designed shape. Unfortunately it's really difficult to draw a designed shape, because drawing a shitty shape is so damn easy. What is a shitty shape?

It's basically any shape that's easy to draw. A square, a sphere, circle, rectangle, an amorphous blob, hairy psycholined nonsense.

So one must mold a sense of not making a drawing easy and too undesigned. One must practice a design shape sensibility, and become extremely sensitive about the difference.
There are a number or reasons why a design shape is so difficult to draw:

1. A design shape depends on all other design shapes.
2. A design shape has number of definite lines.
3. By "definite" lines- they are not wonky- they are either a straight, a C-curve, or an S-curve. But its extremely difficult to draw a "real" S-curve, and not a wonky S-curve, so for now I say only Cs or Is.
4. There's always some kind of offset- a design shape does not have parallel evenly length-ed lines, because even lengths and parallel lines make a shape INORGANIC.
5. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING- a design shape leads your eye to where you want it to go.

Because you have five difficult criteria to juggle in your head to make a design shape work- I'd say putting a straight versus a curve is never a fluke; yet drawing squares and spheres is- because easy shapes are part of a child's geometry, they're shapes everyone knows. Designing Straight vs. Curves is more like an analytic proof in some college level math class.

Those Damn Spheres!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Random habits

The best phrase to say to yourself before you put down lines is "I know that . . . _____"
that way anything you draw is confident.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Never "draw"

Always be designing. I'm coming to believe that the most intuitive state of what drawing is . . . is coming upon a generic solution of how something should be in theory . . . so when you put mere theory into practice, it will tend to look, and be . . . generic.

When you are always designing you are creating unique shape design solutions to your problems, which will always be more concise and beautiful than a 1000 gradients and hatchings. So I summed this up in a poem:

Also I've come to dislike the term "drawing the action". It's vague.

So you instead merely design the posture, because body language IS posture. Posture is a mere matter of knowing the shape design of the head entering the neck, the extent of straight vs. curves at the hips

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hand Reference Sheet & Exercise Ideas

1. Draw basic proportions of a character (shapes)- front and side view, then draw two head views- 3/4 front and 3/4 back, then draw eight action poses head to feet of just the gestural character shapes (30-50 secs each), only after that, draw in the faces and hands on all eight poses. Ink (and maybe color) the poses. Now you have a character.


1 (a). As if your character is going to be made into an action figure, design a bunch of suitable props that would be packaged with it. In the action poses, have the character interact with the props.

1 (b). Draw a 3/4 diorama the character interacts in. (It helps to design a general sense of the four walls, a ground, and a ceiling beforehand).

Dot in where you'd put imaginary cameras in this diorama. Then thumbnail the shot the camera sees off to the side- include a downshot camera, an upshot cam, and a wide establishing shot cam. Draw the character in the environment in film-aspect ratio in the shots, using only black & white- no tone.

2. Practice sketching hands from memory, and then clean them up using this hand reference sheet. (I compiled a bunch of hands from artists I liked (mostly Bruce Timm, a bit of Glen Keane, and some Belgian BD artists) and photoshoped them into a convenient reference)

3. Draw in anatomy wireframes over nude photos. Start with buffer people, as you grow more advanced put them in less muscular people where the anatomy is not obvious.

4. Find a bad photo, and write why it's bad, and how to make it better compositionally. Then find a great photo, it must be exceptional, and write why it's exceptional. Attempt to use the ideas that the exceptional composition had in a thumbnail sketch.

Usually it all comes down to a composition using some kind of a contrast device to make a focal point stand out- the difficultly is being simple about it.


5. Draw from ballet, dancers, porn, wrestlers, MMA, people swimming underwater- anything that has contextually dynamic action/interaction poses.

6. Draw animals from memory and correct them with photos.

7. Buy RapidViz, go thru that book.
8. Just draw a lot of grids, and get really good at freehandedly giving the illusion of the grids receding/densening.
9. Get really good at drawing ellipses- make sure they are sharp.
10. Exaggerate the wrap on cylinders, and always bevel edges.

8. Draw two serious looking people arguing with a cartoony-looking person in a mall, catching the attention of a crowd of diverse people in the background.

9. Take an old Marvel Universe handbook and pick a few random heroes and villians- using post-its, thumbnail them fighting from the top of a ferris wheel, transition them to fighting on a tightrope using unicycles, and then transition them to playing chicken between a Porsche and an Astrovan on a crowded parking lot while it's raining hot dogs that can come alive and suck your blood.

Feet and leg shortcuts

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Overlap- Neck to Hips

So this is the beginning of a series of tutorials on overlap systems, where I will try to point out every major overlap problem. This part covers the neck to hip system.

I plan to do one these for the arm, the leg (human and animal), and the features (lips, eyes, ears).

More on Hands

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Feet / Lower Body Momentum

I just wanted to add that you can wing the ball/ heel / and toe-bevel straights any way, it's just that those three straights are REALLY important. So long as you draw those straights first, you can connect the dots, and you have a foot shape.

Another EDIT (1/29/10)- it's actually best that every line in the foot is a straight, when I connect from the toe bevel back to the ankle, I should have used two straights instead of a curve. The ankle is higher on the inner side.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Momentum in Gesture

So this is a good thing to read when you wake up in the morning and forget how to draw.

Figure in composition

EDIT (1/29/10)- I consider this now to be obsolete advice, I have a newer, better post on composition. I'll keep it on this page as a novelty.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hand Gestures

A little addenda: