Animators deal with art, story, etc. so there is a lot of intuition and “feel” required. At the same time, effective design is key; Animations have to communicate concrete ideas and emotions. It’s an interesting intersection of intuition and reason. The drawing class notes (book form) of Walt Stanchfield, drawing instructor for Walt Disney Studios, provide a fascinating look at the process. Below are excerpts from Stanchfield’s handouts (all links go to PDFs, bold emphasis mine).

Simplicity for the sake of Clarity:

The artist, when he first gets an inspiration or tackles a pose in an action analysis class, sees the pose, is struck by its clarity, its expressiveness, then after working on it for a while that first impression is gone and with it goes any chance of capturing it on paper. That’s the reason. we should learn to get that first impression down right away – while it’s fresh, while it’s still in that first impression stage – before it starts to fade…

The reason I keep harping on ‘forget the detail’ for this particular type of study is, the detail doesn’t buy you anything at this stage of the drawing. Doodling with detail will cause you to lose that first impression…When I say locate and suggest, that is exactly what and all you need. What you are drawing is a pose not parts. The simplest kind of suggestion is the surest way to a good drawing. I have xeroxed a little series of drawings from “The Illusion of Life” to show how an extremely simple sketch can express so much and thereby be a perfect basis for the final drawings.


Draw Verbs Not Nouns:

A sure way to keep from making static, lifeless drawings is to think of drawing “verbs” instead of “nouns”. Basically, a noun names a person place, or thing; a verb asserts, or expresses action, a state of being, or an occurrence. I speak often of shifting mental gears, and here is another place to do it. The tendency to copy what is before us without taking time (or effort) to ferret out what is happening action- wise, is almost overwhelming.

(A similar thought can be found at The life of products: “Products are not nouns but verbs. A product designed as a noun will sit passively in a home, an office, or pocket. It will likely have a focus on aesthetics, and a list of functions clearly bulleted in the manual…but that’s it. Products can be verbs instead, things which are happening, that we live alongside…a product designed with this in mind can look very different.”)

Abstracting the Essence:

Getting At The Root Of The Problem:

By cleverness and superficial arrangement of line and flurries of “action lines”, one can very often come up with a nice looking drawing. But to continually draw meaningful drawings that portray a desired effect (tell a story), you have to develop the roots of draftsmanship, that is, the principles of good drawing, fertilized and watered by a good feel for acting, story telling and some plain old fashioned insight. If you try to make a nice looking drawing without including all the above, you are batting against pretty high odds. In tennis we call it a low percentage shot. Any line or shape you put down on the paper should mean something to the pose. If it doesn’t the odds get higher. If it helps to reveal the pose or the gesture, good, that helps you to proceed because you have something down for all the rest of the lines and shapes to relate to. For surely, every line and shape you put down should relate to every other line and shape and to the over all gesture itself. Every line and every shape!

Learn to Cheat: