Book Review-Character Mentor: Learn by Example to Use Expressions, Poses, and Staging to Bring Your Characters to Life
This how-to guide is one step up from the basic how-to-draw books. It assumes that you have already learned how to design a character. But beginning animators too often design characters who just pose lifelessly. Character Mentor shows how to bring your characters to life through dynamic expressions, body language, posing, shading, use of backgrounds, and similar artistic “tricks”
Bancroft, an animation veteran going back to the 1980s who has worked on such Disney features as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Brother Bear, has titled his book Character Mentor in honor of his CalArts instructors and the first long-established professionals he worked with who shared their “tricks of the trade” with him. “Mentorship as a way to learn was used by Disney animation also. In 1989, when I got my first job in animation at the [then] new Disney Feature Animation in Florida, the studio trained the young artists by having them work alongside experienced mentors. […] I feel honored to have been trained in the lineage of such incredible artists. It is one of the reasons I write these books: to pass on that knowledge.” (Introduction, p. ix).
Character Mentor consists of seven chapters, each of which ends with a “celebrity artist assignment” in which a veteran artist – a comic-book creator, an animation storyboard artist, a TV animation character designer, and so forth – draws an image that illustrates the lessons of that chapter. The guide is art-heavy, with drawings (usually in color) on every page. Bancroft shows examples from rough sketches to finished color poses. Each chapter has an “Assignment” in which one or two amateur artists try to illustrate the goal of that lesson, followed by Bancroft’s “mentor notes” (corrections or approvals) of their work.
One of Bancroft’s favorite examples, which he uses often, is “silhouette value”. “A good way to check your character’s silhouette value is to shade it in on the back of your paper. Figure A, if shaded in would be very unclear what the boy was pointing at – or even that he was pointing at all! The pose in Figure B, clears that guesswork up!” (p. 6)
The chapters are “Now What?: Drawing Basics for Posing and Expressions”, “The Face: Breaking Down the Elements of Expression”, “Posing Your Character: What Are You Trying to Communicate?”, “Acting: Characters Acting and Reacting the Way You Want Them To”, “Staging Your Scene: Using the Elements of Your Scene to Create a Composition”, Leading the Eye: Prioritizing by Design”, and “ Putting It in Action: Creating a Character-Driven Illustration From Start to Finish”. Within these chapters, Bancroft covers such elements as “twinning” (avoid poses in which the left side and the right side are identical), the use of clothing, line of action, clarity, the elements of the face, thumbnailing, and many others.