Before the advent of computers in the majority of today’s Animation, the essential skill of drawing well was vitally important. Pixar, Dreamworks and a host of other CG studios now rely more on puppetry than illustration, but the ability of animating well is no less essential and revered.
Many people have the ability to draw an image with beautiful form and line, but it’s much harder to do this frame after frame in a consistent and appealing manner. To update this principle for more modern applications, we should include the concept of strong Design as interchangeable with Drawing.
The principle of Solid Design/Drawing means taking into account forms in three-dimensional space, giving them volume and weight. The animator/modeler needs to be a skilled draughtsman and has to understand the basics of three-dimensional shapes, anatomy, weight, balance, light and shadow, etc. For the classical animator, this involved taking art classes and doing sketches from life.
Every frame of an animation should be able to stand by itself as well as in a sequence. It’s surprising how often fixing a single frame can help the flow of motion, and conversely how a bad pose can muddy a sequence.
The principle of Solid Design/Drawing is all about lines and volume: the ones that describe the shape and form of an character, and the lines that describe the balance and gesture of a character.
It isn’t necessarily a naturalistic or photoreal rendition, but one that describes a form as having volume and mass rather than being flat. This principle needs to be applied consistently through an entire sequence. If shapes lose their mass, jitter or change perspective, it can completely distract the viewer from the story.
You might think that 3D would have made the principle of solid design obsolete, but the application of line is not limited to a pencil stroke. Line plays a significant part in any object’s form and influences its presentation to the viewer through the screen.
Another incredibly important of Staging to keep in mind is the concept of Twin-ing. Twin-ing is the accidental symmetry created from a pose that is too alike on both sides. It can even sneak into the animation of the most veteran artist.
Regardless of how you create animation, your ability to describe weight, form and balance makes a massive impact on your illusion of life.
3D relieves you of the ‘struggle’ to render beautiful drawings for every frame of animation – but it doesn’t let you off the hook in creating interesting, dynamic and readable forms.
From Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson:
The way you draw cartoons, you draw in the classical sense, using pencil sketches and drawings for reproduction of life. You transform these into color and movement giving the characters the illusion of three-and four-dimensional life. Three dimensional is movement in space. The fourth dimension is movement in time.