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Book Review: 'Gardner’s Guide to Drawing for Animation'

Thomas J. McLean chats with vfx supervisors John Knoll, Boyd Shermis and Mark Stetson about their Oscar-nominated work and the selection process. Includes QuickTime clips!

Gardners Guide to Drawing for Animation by Dave Brain.

Dave Brain, one of the better known animation directors and teachers in the industry and certainly one of the nicest, has written a book titled, Gardners Guide to Drawing for Animation. Concerned mostly with the fundamentals of structural drawing, the book has a narrow focus on beginning drawing skills, so that you understand how things are constructed. In this way you can learn to draw something and make it believable. This book will teach you the basics of drawing for any art form. As Dave says, "Whether you are dealing with characters or locations you'll have the skills to state the drawing problem to be solved."

Dave starts with a clear introduction that explains what to expect from the exercises he outlines. He illustrates every step and all of the drawings are his, many from his own sketchbook. Dave says, "The plan is that the artist, given these methods of analysis and procedure, will have a firm method in place to enable him to draw humans as objects made of defined special shapes that have weight and move by shifting balance at the hinged points of their bodies." In a statement that acknowledges the realities of the animation process, he says, "The nearly absolute measurements that make up a structural drawing are what allows dozens of artists on an animation project to appear to be one single artist animating a character."

Dave first outlines the skills you will need to build and the tools you need to have to do the exercises. Then you start with basic drawing examples using rectangles, circles and triangles. He explains how your drawn line can lead the eye, slowing it or making it move quickly across the page. His perspective section is especially well done, with very clear illustrations. As in any book that teaches you how to do something, you will get out of it only what you put into it. You have to do the exercises, not just read the book. The more you draw, the better you will understand what Dave is talking about.

In an exercise on observation, Dave asks you to look at a common object and really think about it. He teaches you the artist's age-old method of measuring -- holding your pencil up and using that to tell you how long your line should be on the paper. Every art student has to know how to do this. He gives you tips on how to measure an angle and how to give an object weight.

The lesson on hinging is quite important, as everything a living subject does involves the use of hinges. Your elbow, knee, wrist -- all these are hinges and learning to draw hinged objects will help you understand how the body works.

Dave gets into a little bit of the history of animation halfway through the book, but it is only two pages. Tom Sito did an introduction for the book and he just did a great book on that subject, so if you'd like more go find Drawing the Line in your bookstore.

In section three, Dave gets into drawing the human figure. He tells you how to measure, and how to make use of the structural drawing techniques the first part of the book taught you. He says, "Animation drawing is about action. Action comes out of shifting balance points." Then he gets into showing you where those hinges are in the human body. He explains the line of action and shows how that changes as the body moves. He talks about balance, rhythm, shape and contrast. In the next section, he leads you through exercises in storytelling using simple movements in your drawings. He tells you how to drape cloth to show volume and how to set a mood over the course of several lessons.

Dave completes the book by telling you about some of the jobs available and suggesting further sketching you should do. He lists some reference material. He stresses the importance of criticism, saying, "You need a person to person situation for that criticism and, as you improve, you will become your own critic to a great extent. You will get no better than your criticism leads you to get." He advises, "As you complete the exercises in this book, show them to people whose art opinions you respect and make the corrections their criticism requires."

You can listen to an interview of Dave Brain on Dave's book is one of the series of how to books put out by Gardner's, which includes books on writing, finding colleges, web design and multi-media.

Gardners Guide to Drawing for Animation by Dave Brain. Washington, D.C.: GCC Publishing, 2006. 176 pages with illustrations. ISBN-10: 1589650239, ISBN-13: 978-1589650237 ($27.95).

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the 50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.