Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Drawing Game

I get a lot of newbies coming through my office asking, "How do I get into the animation biz?" I tell them there are a lot of different goat paths in, and everybody has to find their individual way. But I always mention that it's a good idea to have multiple arrows in your quiver, among them the time-tested skill of drawing.

Here's why. ...

... For 82 years, Disney’s in-studio life drawing classes have helped evolve its animated characters. But as increasing reliance on computers lures young animators away from classical drawing, three of Disney’s current master teachers are reminding them why figure drawing is still crucial.

Since 1932, Disney has been the only entertainment studio to continue an unbroken tradition of offering free life drawing classes for its artists within its studios. The idea is that understanding and capturing the anatomy and sense of motion from a live model improves animated drawings and gestures.

In the ensuing decades--while other animation and visual effects studios in the U.S. and Europe intermittently followed suit, pending budgets--Disney’s classes have not only continued unabated, but expanded beyond features to its TV animation, theme park, consumer products, and straight-to-DVD divisions. ...

The Disney life-drawing classes began in 1932 with an artist named Art Babbitt, who developed Goofy, the Queen in Snow White, Pinocchio’s Geppetto, and the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia, before leading a movement to make Disney a union shop. Babbitt, who often studied live action footage to better illustrate motion in his animated characters, began hosting uninstructed life drawing sessions with nude models at his home. Word of mouth spread until Disney got wind.

“When Disney found out, he brought it to the studio. He didn’t want it to get out that there were naked ladies at his house,” laughs Babbitt’s widow, Barbara, who demurely offers her age as “flirting with 90.” ...

The increasing reliance on computers and digital modeling tools in animation can insidiously deteriorate such skills if artists aren’t careful, because the technology encourages more of a surface rendering than getting at the soul of a character.

“3-D art often suffers from a lack of those skills by the practitioners,” says [instructor Karl] Gnass. “They’ve become accustomed to manipulating a virtual reality puppet without the skills of a puppeteer, attention to natural movement. I’m finding that many of these digital artists attend my classes to see if they can get at some of the secrets behind the sense of movement and authenticity through studying the human structure.” ...

Drawing, I think, is still at the center of animation. The art form is a visual medium, and if you know how to visualize on paper or a Cintiq, you're ahead of the game.

H/t to Jeff Massie for bringing this piece to our attention.


Joel Fletcher said...

I really enjoyed the drawing sessions at Disney during the years I was there. Speaking of instructor Karl Gnass and the CG crew, I have this little anecdote. Around the year 2000, there was a fairly large CG staff under contract with no movie to work on. Therefore Disney management insisted that ALL staff members attend the art classes to help keep them busy. This caused Karl's figure drawing class to have a bunch of tech guys in it who really were not artists. In one such session, we had a new female model that was way more attractive than usual. We had barely started drawing, when Karl asked her to put her robe back on, and announced that we were going to draw her hands! I never asked Karl why he did that, but I think it was because some of the guys unfamiliar with life drawing were gawking at the model. ;-)

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