# Thread: Animators: How Do They (Re)Draw Precise Constructed Shapes in Perfect Perspective?

1. Registered User Level 2 Gladiator: Ordinarii
Join Date
Jun 2008
Posts
56

## Animators: How Do They (Re)Draw Precise Constructed Shapes in Perfect Perspective?

Hello hello,

As you know, the better animators are capable of drawing shapes (or, in the case of characters, shapes arranged into a design) over and over again, keeping the forms consistent and rendered in precise perspective.

They can, for example, draw a character whose head is comprised of five circles, eyes and facial features, and change all of these elements in myriad ways and still have them conform to rules of proportion and perspective.

My major difficulty at this point lies in defining shapes mentally and then rendering them accurately; in both my head and on my paper, the shapes are ill-defined and inaccurate, not to mention the state of the addition construction that I attempt to apply to them.

What exercises have these top animators done to be able to keep all of their forms so perfectly consistent and create such an amazing illusion of "real" mass that their drawings differ very little (in terms of accuracy and conveyance of depth and volume) from 3D renderings? What can I do to improve in this regard?

Thank you very much.

2. They can draw so consistently because they have a solid conception of volume in space, they also use simple forms to draw, which are relatively easy to understand, and are the basis for developing more complex forms. Knowing perspective is key. For the record, they do not draw these things in "precise perspective" they just approximate it and since characters move you don't notice if they're slightly off.

You need to start thinking three-dimensionally, the fact that you refer to "shapes" is a dead give away that you're thinking in 2D terms. Form is 3D as in a cube or a sphere, shape is 2D as in a square or a circle. They're both important, but they're different elements. Constructions are made off of forms, not shapes, no one constructs heads from circles, they construct them from spheres.

Get the Vilppu Drawing Manual and Preston Blair's book, they'll both deal with the same principles of construction and have exercises you can practice. One of my teachers recommended taking a character (say bugs bunny) and drawing him 5 times from frames, etc. Then, once you break down his proportions and construction, you have to draw the character from your head 50 times in different positions.

Hope this helps,

-Ramon

3. Registered User Level 2 Gladiator: Ordinarii
Join Date
Jun 2008
Posts
56

I've Vilppu's first book, and the Preston Blair book. As a matter of fact, it was my ongoing struggle attempting to make any progress with these books (and DVD's, in Vilppu's case) that prompted me to make this thread in the first place.

In there any additional advice that you - or anyone else - could give?

I've such an impossible time "seeing" the shapes (or forms, or volumes, or masses, or however it ought to be phrased) before I begin to draw - I just don't know how to overcome it. Say a Preston Blair lesson requires that I first create a sphere - it always comes out slanty, or pear-shaped, or ovaloid, or some other mess. I've tried drawing circle after circle on page after page, and only by chance do I ever get a perfect sphere -- and this is just one kind of shape!

So I fear that something is not being processed, somehow, and that there must be some fundamental step that I am overlooking.

Any thoughts on the matter?

Thanks again.

4. Yeah, thinking 3d while drawing is very important.

You have to know where the corners of forms are in order to turn them in space. Having a keen understanding of figures in their simple forms is also important.

Animators also have the ability to stretch and squash those forms while at the same time keeping the same volume.

Say a Preston Blair lesson requires that I first create a sphere - it always comes out slanty, or pear-shaped, or ovaloid, or some other mess. I've tried drawing circle after circle on page after page, and only by chance do I ever get a perfect sphere -- and this is just one kind of shape!
I remember taking tennis lessons. I'd go on the ball machine or hit forehands/backhands against the wall. Over and over and only by chance I'd get one good shot in. After awhile I could hit that ball anywhere I wanted from anywhere on the court but it took some time. It's the same thing.

You'll have to keep practicing on that control of pencil. It's not gonna happen overnight. Just keep filling up those pages with circles, different sizes, going from elipses to circles and back (there's a exercise in Vilppu's book like that). Practice circles going left to right and right to left.

You can even practice just drawing lines with confidence. Straights, curves, S curves, parallel lines. Thin to thick and thick to thin. You're not trying to draw anything - just developing that hand to brain connection, forging those new neural pathways.

Draw squares, boxes, any of those simple shapes. But practice with confidence...and use your whole arm too. Then you can start working those confident lines into more complicated things like ... the flour sack!

How do you hold your pencil, like you're writing something? Hope not, that's very restrictive. Remember, the whole arm!

Like I said, it won't be over night but if you keep at it, you'll start to notice improvement and soon you'll be putting those spheres down like a pro!

5. Silver tone's right on the money here, really solid advice. Don't get discouraged A. Sobriquet, you just have to draw the basic forms over and over, from different angles, take it one step at a time. A few weeks after I met him, Vilppu recommended that I spend hours, filling pages with circles. I did it, it helps a lot! Even my roommates noticed improvement in my circles. Also, who the hell can freehand a perfect circle anyway? The animators you admire can't, I doubt even Ken Anderson could pull that off. Legend has it that Raphael could, but that's it

Remember,
2d shape= circles, squares, things you could cut out of paper
3d form/volumes= spheres, boxes, pyramids, etc

It's important you know this distinction.

Just give it time, and don't let those damnable boxes and sphere win!

6. Registered User Level 1 Gladiator: Andabatae
Join Date
Aug 2007
Posts
7
Originally Posted by A. Sobriquet
I've such an impossible time "seeing" the shapes (or forms, or volumes, or masses, or however it ought to be phrased) before I begin to draw
You may want to, in addition to the previously stated, play around with some 3d modeling programs like Maya PLE. I found that helped me with simply visualizing things in 3d space.

7. Originally Posted by Silvertone

I remember taking tennis lessons. I'd go on the ball machine or hit forehands/backhands against the wall. Over and over and only by chance I'd get one good shot in. After awhile I could hit that ball anywhere I wanted from anywhere on the court but it took some time. It's the same thing.
People often seem to forget that drawing is as much a physical activity as a mental one. You've got to work those muscles and those neural connections.

8. Originally Posted by A. Sobriquet
Say a Preston Blair lesson requires that I first create a sphere - it always comes out slanty, or pear-shaped, or ovaloid, or some other mess. I've tried drawing circle after circle on page after page, and only by chance do I ever get a perfect sphere -- and this is just one kind of shape!
I'd recommend three things:

1. Know/Learn your perspective. Do the fundamentals- cubes, spheres with the three major axes, cylinders, cones. If you haven't actually done all these with the vanishing points, horizon line & all, then sit down and do it. Do them all until you can do them freehand reasonably well, with an understanding of how they relate to the horizon line.

2. When/if you have the fundamentals down and go back to freehand, work with cubes for a long time. Vilppu recommends this in his drawing manual- he even says something to the effect of "become the master of the cube". It's more difficult to tell exactly which way a sphere or cylinder is facing, but with a cube it's very clear. Again, if you haven't done the legwork with the cubes, do it. Vilppu again stresses here how many of the cubes he makes his students do. I have a cheapo newsprint pad dedicated to cubes, cubes, cubes- fat cubes, skinny cubes, twisty cubes, bendy cubes, upside-down cubes, tilty cubes, etc etc etc.

3. Work in layers- again, Vilppu recommends this in the Drawing Manual. You can work in layers either with different colored pencils, a lightbox, or tracing paper. I find the lightbox to be the most effective and probably the cheapest in the long run (I like using the pegbars too so I don't have to muddle with tape so much). This way you don't have to ever draw that sphere right on the first shot. Your first layer should be feeling the pose out. As long as you've really felt in your body/mind that the head's a sphere it doesn't matter if the circle you scribble down is slanty or pear shaped- you can clean all that up on later layers. In fact you shouldn't bother trying to get it right on the first layer- don't get caught up on getting any one part right, just get the whole pose down onto the paper and into your body. You can do all the thinking & analyzing on another layer(s). As long as you can recognize what's off it doesn't matter how it looks when you get it down. This really goes for any layer- you can always just try again or work it out on another layer.

This is where the homework in step 1 pays off- it's really critical for this. In the end you're not figuring out all the persective and stuff- you're just recognizing what's off and correcting, correcting. But you have to have done the homework first to be able to see what's off and know what you need to do to correct it. I usually end up with six or seven layers before I end up with the pose really worked out- and that's not even cleaned up. I imagine that might go down with more experience, but that doesn't particularly matter at all to me. Maybe it would matter if I was an animator and had 100 more drawings to do. Eventually your spheres will get better- like others have said your body will learn- but at least this way you can keep moving and not get hung up on whether or not your circles are good on the first shot.

Working in layers is IMHO a large reason why animators tend to be good draftsman. It allows you to separate out the problems of drawing, and takes quite a bit of pressure off since you can always just add a new layer. I think it's a pretty intelligent way to work.

Hope this helps

Tim

9. Ramon ,besides Raphael..Giotto could too!! sobriquet..not only you draw cubes from imagination..but also from life.. to get familiar with the volume from a correct model..get a set of geo solids...study them..deeply.. here's the link... http://www.elementsofhome.com/catalo...3c6c9c3c4d4d07

10. Registered User Level 2 Gladiator: Ordinarii
Join Date
Jun 2008
Posts
56
Hello, and thanks again for all of the replies.

I don't know how I ought to hold my pencil - I typically hold it as if I were writing, yes, or I make sort of a "Bill Clinton fist" around it, holding it sideways. Unfortunately I can't work that way with my Cintiq, as the included pen doesn't really connect at that angle, and it's on the computer that I work if I must do things in "layers." I wish I knew a better way to hold the Cintiq pen, but it's so fat I don't know what to do with it. If I can find a lightbox, though, then I'll give it a go on paper - but I haven't one at the moment. I'll search online.

One thing that I don't understand about how animators draw is that, in these Preston Blair lessons, you're almost drawing something of a wireframe of the character, what with all the visible axes, drawing through forms, etc. But I've been looking at tons of animation art, and I don't think I've ever seen a character constucted quite like that (in a piece of production art.) If they don't mean for you to draw precisely that sort of wireframe guide, with all the shapes perfect (as they are in the lesson) then just how the heck are you really supposed to do it - how is it actually done by those who do it well?

I'm rather good at drawing cubes in perspective - but I've never tried a cone or pyramid, and haven't any real idea how to account for the pointed tip in terms of perspective. Spheres, I know, can simply be drawn within cubes, likewise with cylindres. But it's tough for me to imagine how one could keep an organic construction (figure, character, etc.) in perspective in this fashion, as it would mean a tremendous amount of rather messy guiding lines (of perspective) over and every frame of animation, not to mention every none-cube component of that organic shape requiring a cube to contain it.

I know that's not how it's done, of course - but the point is I don't see the alternative and wish to know, if you please.

Pancho, when you say that you practised circles, what exactly was the method of your practice? I've just been swirling my pencil around - did you do anything more elborate?

Thanks again, bye.

11. More etymologies added to the list. Good ones too, nice and old.
Thanks Ramon

Form
c.1225, from O.Fr. forme, from L. forma "form, mold, shape, case," origin unknown. One theory holds that it is from Gk. morphe "form, beauty, outward appearance" (see morphine) via Etruscan. Sense of "behavior" is first recorded c.1386. The verb is attested from 1297.

Shape (n.)
O.E. gesceap "creation, form, destiny," from root of shape (v). Meaning "contours of the body" is attested from c.1393. Meaning "condition, state" is first recorded 1865, Amer.Eng. In M.E., the word also had a sense of "a woman's private parts." Shapely "well-formed" is recorded from 1382.

(v.)
O.E. scapan, pp. of scieppan "to create, form, destine," from P.Gmc. *skapjanan "create, ordain" (cf. O.N. skapa, Dan. skabe, O.Fris. skeppa, O.H.G. scaffan, Ger. schaffen), from PIE base *(s)kep- "to cut, to scrape, to hack" (see shave), which acquired broad technical senses and in Gmc. a specific sense of "to create." O.E. scieppan survived into M.E. as shippen, but shape emerged as a regular verb (with pt. shaped) by 1500s. The old past participle form shapen survives in misshapen. Phrase Shape up (v.) is attested from 1865 as "progress;" from 1938 as "reform;" shape up or ship out is attested from 1956, originally U.S. military slang, with the sense being "do right or get shipped up to active duty."
Last edited by Jasonwclark; July 7th, 2008 at 04:26 AM.

12. Sounds like you need to learn about the animation process. There are varying methods of getting the job done, but it's very rare in classical animation that someone just sits down and bangs out the final drawings. Generally, they start rough, with all the constructions lines & everything. Then they gradually clean it up on separate layers until it's just outlines (actually, usually an assistant will do the cleanup). Rough -> Tie Down -> Clean Up -> Inking. When you see a piece of production art, you're seeing the inked version. You're missing out on all the thinking that's behind it, which is usually done on many separate sheets of paper through the lightbox.

Here's a great example of a Milt Kahl rough animation (you should know who Milt Kahl is). This one is all construction lines:

Here's an example of a small segment taken from rough to tie down to cleanup. Notice how the construction lines are there until the cleanup:

Here are some videos of animator Glen Keane drawing for his class at CalArts. The sound is terrible but if you can make out what he's saying it's very helpful. Also note how rough he works at the beginning:

There are tons of videos of rough animation on YouTube. Try searching for "pencil test", "rough animation", "animation line test".

If you don't understand how to construct a cone or pyramid from a cube it's clear you need to work on your perspective. And you need to go far past simple intellectual understanding of how to do it- you need to practice it until you can do it without thinking about it, so you can concentrate on other things. Doing it a couple times and saying you get it isn't good enough- an intellectual understanding is not enough. You couldn't get by as professional athlete with just an intellectual understanding of how to dribble a ball, kick a field goal, or make a putt. You need to get it into your bones.

And don't take my word for it, take it from Glenn Vilppu:

http://mag.awn.com/index.php?ltype=C...article_no=402

13. to add to what dose said, listen to what I said before, a lot of this stuff is only approximated, obviously no one's going to spend the time (or give a damn) if your cubes are perfect, of if the ellipses on your cylinders are perfectly accurate, it's not like they're making boxes, then making cylinders from them, then making those into arms, at least, they don't do it mechanically. There's a difference between perspective in its mechanical aspect and how it is actually applied in practice.

However, in order to have the intuitive knowledge to be able to draw a box reasonably well freehand, you have to go through the mechanical perspective. If you can't construct a pyramid, I would be very surprised if you can construct a cube, you might be able to do a box, but to do a cube you have to know how to measure depth so that all sides are equal. The bottom line is learn perspective, learn it really well, check out rex vicat cole's book and study the hell out of it, also look up other volumes on the subject.

You can be sure that all good animation artists are thinking about these principles, the production art that often goes in books is of the more polished variety, not always the nitty-gritty stuff. Sometimes these artists don't explicitly draw cylinders,etc, but they're sure as hell thinking about them, that however, comes with practice. Good drawing is a marriage between knowledge and expression, you need both to succeed.

Since your interest is in animation, I would say don't really sweat how you hold the pencil, holding a pencil to swing from the arm is useful mostly for drawing on a larger scale, so one sweep can cover the whole page if needed, or to improve line quality, among other reasons. In animation, you won't be drawing very large anyway, so worry about the knowledge rather than that.

Like I said before, study the Vilppu book, everything you need to know in order to see the "wireframe" is in there. The wireframe/xray vision only means that you can visualize the whole form, so you know where how the parts that you can't see fit in. It's not that hard after awhile, but don't expect to learn it overnight. If you wan to practice circles, just do circles, I didn't have any special procedure, apart from doing it for hours on end.

-Ramon

14. Registered User Level 2 Gladiator: Ordinarii
Join Date
Jun 2008
Posts
56
Thanks again, everyone.

I had seen the Keane videos before - it struck me, and confused me, how "linear" and angular his method of getting a picture down is, compared to Vilppu's method (at least as I've read it.)

I still feel a bit lost - I've all sorts of books and videos: Preston Blair, Vilppu, Loomis, Mattis, Nicolaide, etc., and it seems like there's nothing for me to do but continue doing what I've already been doing.

Giving the matter a little more thought, it occurs to me that it would be quite easy to make a pyramid or cone; just cross the corners of the side of the cube on which the point is to be, in order to find the center, and then draw from the corners of the opposite plane to that point which has just been created. Of course it wouldn't be useful for a shape that is asymmetrical with the point or tip not centered, and I haven't tried it out yet in any case, but it seems logical.

I don't know what you mean by "measuring depth," though, unless that's just another way of saying what I just did. I haven't any sense for gauging degrees of corners, if that matters to the undertaking.

If only there were some good classes in my area, with competent instructors -- but I've given them a go and they've been no help; they weren't instructional, they were just workshop-clubs for people who already knew exactly what they were doing.

I'd love to move to California for a few months at least and take some classes there, as the area seems to have a great concentration of talented students and instructors - but I'm not sure where exactly it might be most availing to go. I've also noticed that certain users here sometimes offer to act as critics, consultants or tutors of a sort - that might be helpful, but how do I know who's available in that regard?

My long-term goal is animation, yes, as you've recognized - but it's also essential for my purposes (and to my sensibilities) to become a proficient artist in the classical sense as well. So I'm not trying to learn only a particular method of drawing, but this aspect of drawing has confused me.

I can see in Milt Kahl's loose animation drawings some similarities to what is in the Preston Blair book. After reading your advice, I suppose now that I've been in error in attempting to copy exactly the wireframes and guides in the book - it's more about visualizing those guides, outlining them in the most basic manner on the paper (loose, light strokes, not worrying about perfection of the forms) and then achieving a consistent accuracy in the organic composition at the next stage, during which one constructs the major defining forms around/on top of the loose, sketchy outline stage. Is that an accurate view, do you think?

Watching animation, or even just looking at a series of animation drawings, it baffles me how they're able to keep the whole thing consistent (at least when the quality of the animation is high) - without, you know, wobbling, jumping, strobing, bulging, boiling, wavering, or anything like that. It amazes me - and even discourages me a little, though not for long - to imagine the kind of skill that must take, and I marvel that it can be made to look so natural that the feat itself generally passes unnoticed.

All right, thanks again very much.
Last edited by A. Sobriquet; July 8th, 2008 at 10:20 AM.

15. Yes- it really is amazing what good animators are able to do. It's really a shame they don't get more recognition- especially in this day and age of 3D and flash animation.

As for how they do it- a lot of it is bootstrapping. You learn a lot by doing. Keep in mind that animators draw many, many drawings a day. They don't necessarily go in knowing everything and producing amazing work- one of the great things about animation is that it forces you to think about things in volume, and viewing the animation will show you whether or not you kept the conception of the volume consistent from one frame to another. In other words, you learn a lot by trial and error as you work, and a lot of the stuff that baffles you right now will become obvious in the context of actually trying it.

What I'm saying is- get out there and do it! No better way to figure out how to avoid wobbling/jumping/strobing in your animation than to try some animation. Start now- there are lots of free programs around. Having recently started experimenting with animation, I can assure you that it will help your drawing. Maybe not all at once, but it is a very useful tool. If I was to teach drawing right now, I would incorporate some rudimentary animation- even if the students had no interest in a career in animation.

I'd recommend starting a sketchbook thread and adding a link to it in your signature. Keep it updated. Visit other people's sketchbooks and comment, and take part in discussions. This will drive traffic to your sketchbook and hopefully get you some feedback. If nothing else it will let people see what your work is like- I usually prefer to see someone's work before commenting. If you get one started and keep it updated, I'll be happy to make comments as I can.

There's also a mentor/mentee forum you might want to check out. I'm not sure the state of it right now- I know for a long time they were short on mentors.

But above all, just keep going- make a lot of drawings and pay attention to what works and what doesn't. Try some animation. Read and re-read all those books you've got. Things that never made sense before will make sense 300 drawings later, and small bits of wisdom that were overlooked will open new doors. Look at lots of art- especially when you can see a process or preliminary work. Watch people draw & paint- on YouTube and in person when you can. After 4 years of art school, 5 years studying with a crazy old Russian guy, and 2 years as a professional artist and I'm still piecing it all together and making connections and new discoveries. It doesn't really ever go away- eventually it becomes the great part about doing art. Get out there now- most of the good stuff is only to be had with experience and practice, and time's a-wasting!

Hope this helps

Tim

#### Posting Permissions

• You may not post new threads
• You may not post replies
• You may not post attachments
• You may not edit your posts
•