frozencrown said: Thank you for the answer to my question :) I just also wanted to ask how to improve on drawing expression? My expressions are always flat and dull :/ Thanks



Watch movies with great actors - watch for the subtleties in the acting. I always love watching Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Steve Martin, John Candy,etc.
Draw the simplest, clearest statement of the expression/pose and try to capture the subtext or what I like to describe as “what’s happening behind the eyes.

Michael Caine did a great series that’s on youtube on acting - you can watch them here: Michael Caine - “Acting on Film”

also -

Here’s some AMAZING advice from Ollie Johnston:

by John Lasseter, Pixar Reference: SIGGRAPH 94 Course 1 - Animation Tricks

“When I was an animator at the Disney Studios, I had a xeroxed list of simple notes from one of the great Disney animators, Ollie Johnston, pinned to my drawing table. The list was originally written down by another great Disney animator, Glen Keane, after working as Ollie’s assistant for a few years.”

“These notes have been an inspiration to me for years. Even though they were meant for hand-drawn animation, I believe that they still apply to computer animation.”

  1. Don’t illustrate words or mechanical movements. Illustrate ideas or thoughts, with the attitudes and actions.

  2. Squash and stretch entire body for attitudes.

  3. If possible, make definite changes from one attitude to another in timing and expression.

  4. What is the character thinking?

  5. It is the thought and circumstances behind the action that will make the action interesting.

    Example:A man walks up to a mailbox, drops in his letter and walks away.


    A man desperately in love with a girl far away carefully mails a letter in which he has poured his heart out.
  6. When drawing dialogue, go for phrasing. (Simplify the dialogue into pictures of the dominating vowel and consonant sounds, especially in fast dialogue.

  7. Lift the body attitude 4 frames before dialogue modulation (but use identical timing on mouth as on X sheet).

  8. Change of expression and major dialogue sounds are a point of interest. Do them, if at all possible, within a pose. If the head moves too much you won’t see the changes.

  9. Don’t move anything unless it’s for a purpose.

  10. Concentrate on drawing clear, not clean.

  11. Don’t be careless.

  12. Everything has a function. Don’t draw without knowing why.

  13. Let the body attitude echo the facial.

  14. Get the best picture in your drawing by thumbnails and exploring all avenues.

  15. Analyze a character in a specific pose for the best areas to show stretch and squash. Keep these areas simple.

  16. Picture in your head what it is you’re drawing.

  17. Think in terms of drawing the whole character, not just the head or eyes, etc. Keep a balanced relation of one part of the drawing to the other.

  18. Stage for most effective drawing.

  19. Draw a profile of the drawing you’re working on every once in a while. A profile is easier on which to show the proper proportions of the face.

  20. Usually the break in the eyebrow relates to the high point of the eye.

  21. The eye is pulled by the eyebrow muscles.

  22. Get a plastic quality in face — cheeks, mouth and eyes.

  23. Attain a flow thru the body rhythm in your drawing.

  24. Simple animated shapes.

  25. The audience has a difficult time reading the first 6-8 frames in a scene.

  26. Does the added action in a scene contribute to the main idea in that scene? Will it help sell it or confuse it?

  27. Don’t animate for the sake of animation but think what the character is thinking and what the scene needs to fit into the sequence.

  28. Actions can be eliminated and staging “cheated” if it simplifies the picture you are trying to show and is not disturbing to the audience.

  29. Spend half your time planning your scene and the other half animating.


Drawing from films

Drawing from films is a ridiculously useful exercise. It’s not enough to watch films; it’s not enough to look at someone else’s drawings from films. If you want to be in story, there’s no excuse for not doing this.

The way this works: you draw tons of tiny little panels, tiny enough that you won’t be tempted to fuss about drawing details. You put on a movie - I recommend Raiders, E.T., or Jaws… but honestly if there’s some other movie you love enough to freeze frame the shit out of, do what works for you. It’s good to do this with a movie you already know by heart.

Hit play. Every time there’s a cut, you hit pause, draw the frame, and hit play til it cuts again. If there’s a pan or camera move, draw the first and last frames.

Note on movies: Spielberg is great for this because he’s both evocative and efficient. Michael Bay is good at what he does, but part of what he does is cut so often that you will be sorry you picked his movie to draw from. Haneke is magnificent at what he does, but cuts so little that you will wind up with three drawings of a chair. Peter Jackson… he’s great, but not efficient. If you love a Spielberg movie enough to spend a month with it, do yourself a favor and use Spielberg.

What to look for:

  • Foreground, middle ground, background: where is the character? What is the point of the shot? What is it showing? What’s being used as a framing device? How does that help tie this shot into the geography of the scene? Is the background flat, or a location that lends itself to depth?
  • Composition: How is the frame divided? What takes up most of the space? How are the angles and lines in the shot leading your eye?
  • Reusing setups, economy: Does the film keep coming back to the same shot? The way liveaction works, that means they set up the camera and filmed one long take from that angle. Sometimes this includes a camera move, recomposing one long take into what look like separate shots. If you pay attention, you can catch them.
  • Camera position, angle, height: Is the camera fixed at shoulder height? Eye height? Sitting on the floor? Angled up? Down? Is it shooting straight on towards a wall, or at an angle? Does it favor the floor or the ceiling?
  • Lenses: wide-angle lens or long lens? Basic rule of thumb: If the character is large in frame and you can still see plenty of their surroundings, the lens is wide and the character is very close to camera. If the character’s surroundings seem to dwarf them, the lens is long (zoomed in).
  • Lighting: Notice it, but don’t draw it. What in the scene is lit? How is this directing your eye? How many lights? Do they make sense in the scene, or do they just FEEL right?

This seems like a lot to keep in mind, and honestly, don’t worry about any of that. Draw 100 thumbnails at a time, pat yourself on the back, and you will start to notice these things as you go.

Don’t worry about the drawings, either. You can see from my drawings that these aren’t for show. They’re notes to yourself. They’re strictly for learning. 

Now get out there and do a set! Tweet me at @lawnrocket and I’ll give you extra backpats for actually following through on it. Just be aware - your friends will look at you super weird when you start going off about how that one shot in Raiders was a pickup - it HAD to be - because it doesn’t make sense except for to string these other two shots together…

Couch Potato Monster. Pen and Ink on Paper.

Couch Potato Monster. Pen and Ink on Paper.

Mark Tansey “The Innocent Eye Test”

Mark Tansey “The Innocent Eye Test”

"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it." -Henry Ford

My Friend Larry dressed as Harry Potter on The Conan O’ Brien Show!

"To know oneself is to study oneself in action withanother person." -Bruce Lee

Oliver Vernon

Oliver Vernon

"Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed." - Mark Twain

All sytrofoam cups sculpture by Tara Donovan

All sytrofoam cups sculpture by Tara Donovan

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